The Garlic of Polite Society
Photo by Melody

The Garlic of Polite Society

By Marie Harrison (can2grow)March 20, 2010
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Some plants prove themselves in the landscape. They do so by performing in an exceptional manner over the long haul. Such traits as attractive flowers throughout the summer, low maintenance requirements, and other desirable characteristics combine to make these plants high performers in the landscape. Society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea) is one such plant.

Gardening picture

(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on May 14, 2009.)

Society garlic sends up clusters of lavender, sweet-scented flowers from early summer through late autumn. Individual flowers are tubular at the base but spread out at the tips into inch-wide, star-shaped flowers. Foot-tall, grasslike foliage smells like garlic and prompts the gardener to wonder how it earned its common name. Legend has it that eating society garlic is less offensive on the breath than regular garlic, so it maybe that is why it is called society garlic.

Culture

Light to fertile, well-drained soil with adequate moisture gives the best performance. Although plants will grow in dry, sandy soil, they will not be as vigorous as those grown in better soil with adequate moisture. Flowering is best in full sun. I have some society garlic growing at a rental property where it never gets watered and seldom gets fertilized. It grows and blooms each summer, though it is not as large and floriferous as that in my yard that gets watered by the sprinkler system on a regular basis.

Very little maintenance is required to keep society garlic looking good. Occasionally, spent flowering stalks can be removed. Fertilize with slow-release fertilizer in spring. If foliage is damaged by cold temperature, cut it off at ground level. When warm weather returns, it will reappear.

Society garlic can be bought at most nurseries in gallon-size containers. If you have a friend who grows it, ask for a start when the clumps are divided. Plants spread slowly and are not aggressive, but they can be divided every two or three years. Seeds can be planted, but it takes two or three years before they reach blooming size.Image

Kinds

Several different species of Tulbaghia exist, and several cultivars of T. violacea can be found.  The most common cultivars are ‘Silver Lace' which has green leaves edged with white, and ‘Variegata' which has a white stripe down the center of each leaf. ‘Pearl' has white flowers and may be difficult to find. ‘Tricolor' sports blue-gray, white margined leaves and lilac-pink flowers. None, however, are as vigorous as the species. Tulbaghia fragrans  is a species with wider, gray-green leaves and larger flowers. It does not bloom as frequently in my yard as the plain old society garlic.Image

Flowers and foliage are edible and are frequently tossed into salads for flavor and color. Flowers are attractive decorating deviled eggs, stuffed celery, and other foods. The garlicky leaves can be used in soups as a garlic substitute. Crushed leaves repel fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes (and perhaps humans, as well) when rubbed on the skin. Plants are said to repel snakes and moles in the garden. Some Dave's Garden readers report that it repels deer. This herb has been used to treat colds and coughs, pulmonary tuberculosis, and intestinal worms. Flowers are attractive to bees, butterflies, and other pollinating insects.

Society garlic is a dependable, long-lived perennial for the South. Moderate salt tolerance makes it a good choice for those who live near bodies of salt water. Get a few of these remarkable plants, plant them in a sunny place, and enjoy them many, many years.

                         At a Glance

Say: Tul-BAG-ee-uh vy-oh-LAY-see-uh

Family: Amaryllidaceae (Amaryllis Family)

Other names: Wild garlic

Origin: South Africa

Zones: 7-10

Light: Full sun to part sun

Water Use Zone: Medium

Size: 18-24 inches tall, moderately spreading

Soil: Well-drained, moderate fertility

Salt tolerance: Moderate 

Thanks to Philomel for the image of Tulbaghia 'Silver Lace' and to Soilsandup for the image of Tulbaghia fragrans. 

 


  About Marie Harrison  
Marie HarrisonServing as a Master Flower Show Judge, a Floral Design Instructor, instructor of horticulture for National Garden Clubs, and a University of Florida Master Gardener immerses me in gardening/teaching activities. In addition to these activities, I contribute regularly to Florida Gardening magazine and other publications. I am author of four gardening books, all published by Pineapple Press, Sarasota, Florida. Read about them and visit me at www.mariesgardenanddesign.com.

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Discussion about this article:
SubjectTopic StarterRepliesViewsLast Post
Thanks for the info! nedweenie 2 26 May 23, 2009 8:57 PM
Society Garlic... KGinCA 0 14 May 23, 2009 8:14 PM
Garlic Lover's Reply Potagere 3 71 May 19, 2009 8:55 PM
Society Garlic sehites 0 25 May 16, 2009 11:54 PM
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