Society garlic and how to grow it, by Jack Wallington

Society garlic
Society garlic Credit: age fotostock / Alamy

Gardening expert and no-dig allotmenteer Jack Wallington provides weekly advice on how to grow food yourself

While my allotment’s herb bed comprises mainly familiar herbs, I’m experimenting with useful lesser-known plants, too. One of these is society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea), an allium with edible garlic-flavoured leaves and flowers. The name derives from the traditional belief that it 
is less likely to make your breath smell 
after eating it. This is, of course, 
completely wrong.

Society garlic is native to the southern 
tip of South Africa. It is borderline UK hardy in full sun and free-draining soils, so those of us who can leave dahlia tubers outside over winter will succeed with this. Otherwise, grow it in a terracotta pot, sink the pot into soil from spring until autumn and then lift and place it into a conservatory or cool greenhouse over winter.

Like other perennial edibles, this plant is increasing in popularity among millennials; the promise is a garlic substitute that comes back every year, spreading via rhizomes with no effort required except for weeding and picking. Easy to grow, yes, but you’ll probably still want some regular garlic as a recipe ingredient, T. violacea being best used in salads, soups and for flavouring cooked veg. The lilac flowers in particular, which last from mid-to-late summer, 
make an attractive and garlicky garnish 
like our earlier-flowering native wild 
garlic, Allium ursinum.

I’m a member of Plant Heritage 
(, the charity responsible for hundreds of National Collections of valuable plants. This altruistic gesture offers 
a personal reward; if you can demonstrate you’re adept at not killing plants, you can unlock a gold mine of rarities as part 
 of their plant guardian scheme. Thanks to Frances Moore, Tulbaghia National Collection holder, I’m now growing the rarer Tulbaghia acutiloba.

Alternatively, buy society garlic from Beth Chatto Gardens.