Thursday, November 25, 2010

Innocent bystander

"I wasn't doing nuthin' officer. I was just growing here, minding my own business, when these pelargoniums muscled their way in. If there's anyone trying to take over this garden it's them, not me."

Poor old society garlic, it's the innocent bystander in my garden. Other plants cause trouble, while it either becomes their victim at worst, or just ignores all the kerfuffle and keeps on growing, at best. Right now it's in bloom, so it's time for this shy little person to take centre-stage in Amateur Land for a moment.

Formally, it's known as Tulbaghia violacea, and the violacea part of its name refers to the violet-coloured flowers. It's a native of Southern Africa, and I've seen photos of mass plantings of it in bloom over there, and they do look spectacular. Here in my garden there are just a handful of plants and they hardly stand out, even when in bloom.

My plants must be at least 10 years old now. They've been dug up, divided and moved several times as planting plans change. They tend to come last in my plans. "Well, where will I put the society garlic now?" is one of the last decisions during a revamp. No matter where I put it, it grows.

I didn't buy the plant for its flowers. I knew nothing about it. I thought it was a foliage plant, and I just liked the variegated grassy foliage. When the first flowers appeared, I just considered them a very pleasant, unexpected bonus.

Very probably I am not growing them correctly. They're in a semi-shaded spot that gets direct overhead sun in the middle of the day, but is shaded both in the morning and afternoon. This probably explains why its flowering is fitful, just a couple of spikes per plant.

However, my abiding view of this plant is that it's always being beaten up by other plants. Weeds infest it easily. That lime-leafed pelargonium is always reaching over to cover it up. There always seems to be something muscling in on my society garlic's patch of ground. And yet it has been here 10 years at least, is never attacked by pests and survives almost exclusively on natural rainfall and the scant flow of nutrients that rolls downhill from nearby vegies in sunnier spots.

Last year I dug up the society garlic clump (it grows from small bulbs) and separated it into 10 smaller, distinct clumps of bulbs, which I have planted in a circle around my frangipani tree. Call me a slow learner, but I am starting to think I am onto a good thing with my tough little society garlic. (And no, it's not related to garlic. Its leaves and bulbs just pong in a garlic-like way, hence the common name).


Lanie at Edible Urban Garden said...

I love society garlic too Jamie. My oregano completely smothered the border of society garlic I had...but when I trimmed the was still alive underneath. So I do relate to your post.

patientgardener said...

I've havent heard of society garlic - sounds frightfully posh!

Melinda said...

I had a society garlic in a pot with a convolvulus to create a cascading silvery/purple effect. It decided it didn't want to share the pot and pretty much pushed the convolvulus out!
Jamie would you mind checking out my blog post:
I'd really appreciate your opinion on what could be going wrong with my plants! Thank you.

Chookie said...

What a lovely-looking plant! Might have to get some myself.

Lucy said...

That's one of the nice things about photographs - it's possible to show how beautiful things are which would otherwise be easily overlooked.


KWombles said...

I love your blog and your photos! I've been looking back through older posts, and I had to share it was awesome to see the love-in-a-mist photos, see that I'm not the only one who adores them and photos them so zealously!