Updated: Sep 22, 2021
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, 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.
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)
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
Garden Themes: Rock, perennial, cutting, Mediterranean/drought, sub-tropical, patio/courtyard, kitchen/herb, rain
Uses: Culinary, borders, small mass, edging, green stormwater infrastructure
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Form: Clumping, erect
Size: 2' tall and spreading
Outstanding Feature(s): Flower, culinary use
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
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 https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/tulbaghia-violacea/.
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 http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?taxonid=282153.
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 https://ucanr.edu/sites/WUCOLS/Download_WUCOLS_IV_List/.
All photos by TELCS.