Riddle me this – when is an ornamental plant associated with a flavoring? When it is society garlic! This common perennial ornamental has a garlic scent when touched, but its main landscape feature is as an ornamental as it sports lavender flowers spring through fall. Reported to taste like garlic without the resulting pungent breath offensive to high society and the upper crust, this dual purpose perennial is a mainstay in local home grounds.
A native of South Africa, society garlic is not a true garlic, but is in the onion family. As far as I can find in the literature, it is edible and can be used as you would garlic or garlic chives. However, as this plant is grown as an ornamental, be careful of any pesticide application that may have been made prior to consumption. As an ornamental, society garlic is often used in mass plantings or in borders as the leafy mounds only grow to about one-foot tall. This perennial is also ideal for containers, so keep this in mind for small space gardens. A flower cluster emerges about two-feet above the grass-like leaves. The blossoms are tubular and have six petals. The flowers are normally lavender in color, but cultivars can be found in white – ’Pearl’, and pink. Most of the flowers occur from spring through fall, but there may be some year-round. There are also different foliage colorations beyond all-green including ‘Silver Lace’ with cream striped leaves, and ‘Tricolor’ with pink and white variegations.
Society garlic prefers sandy soil and should be planted in full-sun locations for best flowers. As the clumps enlarge, they can be divided to make more plants. Although not overly salt-tolerant, society garlic is drought tolerant once established. Some gardeners do find these plants odoriferous – especially when touched – so keep this in mind if situating society garlic where passersby frequent.
Readily available at nearly every garden center, society garlic is not hard to find. You may have to do an Internet search for the fancier cultivars, however. Society garlic is not an invasive plant as per the UF/IFAS Assessment of Non-native Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas and are also well-known as Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ approved plants.
Society garlic is practically a mistake-proof plant suitable for both new and seasoned gardeners. Embrace society garlic as a must-have in your garden today! For more information on flowering perennial plants, or to ask a question, please visit https://www.facebook.com/CharlotteCountyExtension . You can also call the Master Gardener Volunteer Helpdesk on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer. Ralph E. Mitchell is the Director/Horticulture Agent for UF/IFAS Extension Charlotte County. He can be reached at 941-764-4344 or email@example.com.
UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions (2021) Society Garlic. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
The Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Guide to Plant Selection & Landscape Design (2010) The University of Florida Extension Services, IFAS.
(2022) The UF/IFAS Assessment of Non-native Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
The National Gardening Association (2022) Plants Database – White Flowered Society Garlic (Tulbaghia violacea ‘Pearl’).
Society Garlic (2022) Cypress Basin Master Gardeners – AgriLife Extension of the Texas A&M University System.