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Tulbaghia violacea

Updated: Apr 2

Pssssst......landscape designers......over here...make sure your client or the users of your landscape LOVE garlic before planting this member of the onion family. Why? When in bloom, or more intensely, when freshy pruned or bruised, the surrounding air permeates with a scent that only comes from the garlic festival in Gilroy, California. Chefs might include the delicate blossoms or chopped up leaves in their culinary works, but I cannot promise every passerby will enjoy the heady scent in your landscape design. The garlicky scent comes from "volatile sulphur-containing compounds, especially marasmin," as referenced by Steven Harris from the University of Oxford.

Speaking of pruning, this is another perennial maintenance workers find easier to deadhead by shearing the entire plant back to the ground or just a few inches above it. The odor can be intense at this time, and the poor plant will be slow to recover. If this bald plant is undesirable, then gardeners should be directed to individually hand prune the flowers stalks while manually removing dead leaves. Sound tedious? It is, especially when designers love to specify them in large masses. At some point specimens will likely need dividing to refresh the clumps. This, too, is not a general practice by landscape maintenance companies, meaning the service may be an added cost.

While the common name, society garlic, suggests a desirable trait of not degrading one's breath after eating, apparently a critical concern among high society, landscape designers should specify this plant where it will not challenge people's senses. For example, T. violacea, a member of the onion family, might not be a good choice for planting at the entrance of a professional office. We might not want to plant it around a restaurant's terrace either, where it would compete with the dining experience of patrons. Instead, a more purposeful location is within a kitchen garden.

Its usefulness in ornamental landscapes has exploded, in part because society garlic can compete with Agapanthus praecox orientalis of Dietes iridioides in hardiness, color, and low maintenance. A smaller stature will also allow it to be in the foreground, along borders and pathways where, um, people will brush up against it. If at this moment readers are thinking I dislike T. violacea...not true, but it truly should be smartly placed in the right situations.

West Valley College Campus Location: Tulbaghia violacea

Administration (west planter)

Lat: 37°15'50.59"N

Long: 122° 0'39.82"W



Botanical Name: Tulbaghia violacea

Tulbaghia: Honoree, governor of what was the Cape Colony, Ryk Tulbagh

Violacea: Having a violet color, as in the flower

Common Name: Society garlic

Family Name: Alliaceae

Origin: South Africa

design considerations

Positioning: Foreground

Garden Themes: Rock, perennial, cutting, Mediterranean/drought, sub-tropical, patio/courtyard, kitchen/herb, rain

Uses: Culinary, borders, small mass, edging, green stormwater infrastructure

identifying characteristics

Type: Herbaceous perennial

Form: Clumping, erect

Texture: Medium

Size: 2' tall and spreading

Outstanding Feature(s): Flower, culinary use

Stem: Rhizomatous


  • Type: Simple

  • Arrangement: Rosulate

  • Shape: Linear

  • Margin: Entire

  • Color: Light green

  • Surface: Fleshy, smooth

Flower: Spring, summer to autumn. Small umbel of lavender/violet, star-shaped flowers. Showy, fragrant, edible.

Fruit: All seasons following flower. Triangular segmented capsule, green turning tan.

cultural requirements, tolerances & problems

Sunset Zones: 13-24; H1, H2

USDA Zones: 7-10

Light: Sun to partial shade

WUCOLS SF Bay Area Hydro Zone: Low


  • Texture: Sand, clay, well composted

  • Moisture Retention: Saturated to dry between waterings

  • pH: Very acidic to neutral

Tolerances: Deer, rabbit, drought, heat, humidity

Problems: Odor, slugs, snails

  • Branch Strength: N/A

  • Insects:

  • Disease:

citations & attributions

Bayton, R. (2019). The Royal Horticultural Society's the Gardener's Botanical: An Encyclopedia of Latin Plant Names. London: Mitchell Beazley.

Extension Gardener. "Tulbaghia violacea". North Carolina State University Extension, Raleigh. Accessed on August 8, 2021, from

Harris, S. (n.d.). "Oxford Plants 400, Plant 397." The University of Oxford, Oxford. Accessed on April 2, 2024, from

Norris Brenzel, K. (Ed.). (2012). The New Sunset Western Garden Book. New York: Time Home Entertainment, Inc.

Plant Finder. "Tulbaghia violacea". Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis. Accessed on August 9, 2021, from

Water Use Classification of Landscape Species. "WUCOLS IV Plant List." University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Davis. Accessed on August 9, 2021, from


  • All photos by TELCS.

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