Plant Description

Tulbaghia violacea

Tulbaghia violacea with Agave americana

Tulbaghia are tough South African plants from the Amaryllidaceae. They are clump-forming plants with narrow strappy leaves and tall flower stalks holding umbels of pretty, star-shaped flowers from late spring until autumn. They can be grown in pots where space is limited. The most commonly seen species is Tulbaghia violacea (ht 60 to 75 cm), sometimes known as society garlic, which has pungent-smelling leaves. Its dainty lilac flowers are produced over a lengthy period and it survives heat and drought very well. The cultivar 'Alba' has white flowers. Society garlic is fairly cold tolerant. The corm-like rhizomes multiply into a good clump and I have successfully used them for edging a paved area.

An attractive cultivar is 'Silver Lace', which has cream-striped leaves and similar lilac flowers to the species; it is less cold tolerant, however. The hybrid 'John May's Special' is said to be the tallest of all the genus, with stems up to 80 cm. The flowers are larger and coloured mauve-pink. The leaves are also a little broader than the species. I find it doesn't flower as freely was the basic species. Occasional removal of deadheads and shabby foliage, and division of the clumps every couple of years are usually all that are required to keep the plants in good order. If the foliage becomes very ratty, you can cut it to within a few centimetres of the ground in winter (or probably at any time of year!) and it will regrow with fresh new leaves. They flower best in a sunny, well-drained position, with some compost dug in at planting time. I find it is best to grow the plants near the edges of garden beds, with lower plants around them, so they are not swamped. They can also be grown in pots, perhaps paired with containers of grass-like plants with interesting coloured foliage - such as black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens'). The colour of the flowers looks effective with silver or purple foliage, and with purple or burgundy blooms.


Tulbaghia violacea
Flowers from October to April.
Plant Family: Amaryllidaceae

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