Society Garlic

Tricolor Society Garlic

"If you've 'eard the East a-callin'
you won't never 'eed naught else
But them spicy garlic smells,
An' the sunshine an' the palm-trees
an' the tinkly temple-bells;
On the road to Mandalay."

-Rudyard Kiplilng


Tulbaghia violacea 'Tricolor' (or Tri-Color) Society Garlic is named for the pink, white, & green turf-like foliage, though the pink is generally seen only on new growth & it soon darkens to cream-&-green not really noticeably different different from 'Silver Lace' Society Garlic.

The species grows in rocky grasslands of the Transvaal, Natal, & eastern Cape of Good Hope. Despite its African heritage, it does very well in temperate gardens, holding up to mild frosts. It wants a light sandy soil in full sun. In shade it will remain pleasantly grassy but will not flower well.

It can bloom all summer. Ours has not bloomed continuously, but in a typical year (2005) it bloomed in May then rebloomed in August. The six-point starflowers are a pale violet-pink or lilac-pink in umbels looking rather like true garlic flowers but with each bloom quite a bit bigger & the umbels not as dense. The flower stalk can reach two feet tall, though ours are usually no taller than a foot to eighteen inches, with the tight clump of grassy foliage shorter. The foliage is decorative spring through part of autumn.

The root can withstand long periods of drought, but will not be growing until moisture returns, so it isn't really for the xeriscape garden. In its native habitat there is seasonally heavy rainfall, & in the garden it requires a fair amount of water during the growing season, a little less water when it is in full flower, with far less water when it is finished flowering & preparing for its winter die-back & dormancy. During its dormancy it can be dug up & its tough, rhizomitous rootball divided.

Besides the open garden, it also makes a good container plant. It can survive indoors as a houseplant though not many will enjoy the garlic odor of the leaves in a confined area.

It can be included in the herb garden & used as a garlic substitute or in lieu of chives. The flowers as well as the leaves are good for salads. The name "Society Garlic" came about because White South Africans in the late Victorian era believed it gave them all the flavor of garlic with none of the bad-breath after-effects, though how this belief came about is a wonder since it certainly does make the breath smell of garlic.

There is a belief that Society Garlic repels aphids from the whole vicinity where it is growing. This is doubtful, though the plant itself is resistant to insect attack.


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