Fiddleheads, that fleeting spring delicacy, were in evidence everywhere last week, with foragers gathering them in ditches and on the banks of brooks and markets selling them by the pound. While I like the idea of fiddleheads — love finding their tightly furled heads and snapping them off into a basket — I must confess that one meal of them is plenty; the idea is more appealing than the actuality. There’s a bit of wet-hay flavor about them that I don’t enjoy.

But when it comes to ramps, there could never be too many. About this time each year we take a four-wheeler high up the slope in back of our house and traverse the roughest trails into the stony ravines where the the green flags signal to us from deep in the leaf litter that is their favorite growing medium. We are fortunate to host huge swaths of them, but we’re still careful to only take a few from each location. Ramps take years to grow and, in order to set seed, need very specific growing conditions. If the conditions are not met, the seed will apparently sit, ungerminated, until the following season. So the population of ramps in the wild is a fragile one, too fragile perhaps to keep up with demand.

While ramps grow from the southern Appalachians right up to Canada, in the Southern U.S., ramp season is celebrated like a holiday, with ramp suppers run as fundraisers by chambers of commerce and volunteer fire departments. The suppers are major tourist attractions, and the large volumes of ramps consumed are wild-gathered. As if this weren’t enough pressure on the ramp population, they are a celebrated gourmet item at fine dining sites across the country. It’s quite likely that the fact that they are wild edibles, both local and in short supply, adds to their allure, sort of like an American version of the truffle.

Whatever the reason, the popularity of ramps is well-deserved. Ramps are actually wild leeks that combine the flavor of garlic with a taste of onion, with an additional undefinable “rampiness” that makes them unique. The leaves can be used raw in salads or tossed into stir-fries, and the whole plant, bulb and leaf, chopped and scattered atop a pizza or folded into an omelet. Last year I made a double-ramp special for breakfast: ramp biscuits with ramp gravy, gorgeous green-flecked oniony deliciousness to serve alongside eggs. Eat your heart out, Waffle House.

But besides being delicious, ramps can actually be a handsome landscape plant for the shade garden. Whether in the wild or in a shade garden, ramps emerge from bare ground in early spring, sending up smooth, broad, lily-of-the-valley-like leaves that disappear by summer before the white flowers appear, standing about six inches to a foot in height. When the leaves disappear, 8- to 12-inch-tall sturdy stems emerge, to be topped with lovely white flowers very similar to starry onion blossoms, which is no surprise, as ramps are in the allium family. These flowers eventually get pollinated and reveal shiny black seeds, like other lily seeds. Ramps grow naturally under a forest canopy of beech, birch, sugar maple, and/or poplar. A forested area with any of these trees present provides an ideal location for planting a ramp crop. Areas that host trillium, ginseng, bloodroot, trout lily, bellwort, and mayapple should be suitable for growing ramps. All of these are common understory wildflowers in our area. If you don’t have a woodland area or shade garden available, a shade structure can be erected over a planting site. Once you establish a patch, you can collect the seeds to grow more. In addition, the bulbs usually double annually, forming new bulbs that you can pull apart and replant, doubling your population.

If you’d like to start your own ramp patch, it’s a good idea to plant bulbs or young plants instead of sowing seeds. Since germination of the seed can take up to 18 months, transplants or bulbs can be a good alternative for the beginning ramp grower. Planting large bulbs (1⁄4" diameter) can provide harvestable ramps within two to three years. Bulbs can be purchased from Southern seedsmen or you can try transplanting early in spring, if you have a patch or two on your own land. Gently dig the ramps, taking great care not to damage the roots or bulbs. In a prepared planting bed, transplant the bulbs approximately 3 inches deep and 4 to 6 inches apart, allowing all the roots to be buried and keeping just the very tip of the bulb above the surface. Planting bulbs at the proper depth is important for survival. If you’re late to the party, transplant leafed-out plants at the same depth they had been growing and space 4 to 6 inches apart. If space is limited, clumps of four or five plants can be grouped together. Mulch the planting bed with at least 2 to 3 inches of leaf litter. Once you establish a patch, the ramps should slowly spread on their own, and you can harvest them judiciously.