Sweet garlic, society garlic or pink agapanthus are common names for this very pretty plant. Sweet garlic is a reference to its less pungent taste than the ordinary kitchen garlic, and its flowers and leaves are edible. Although not well-known, it is becoming more popular. It is grown widely in holiday destination countries. Society garlic is a reference to its crowded stems. Pink agapanthus is a misnomer because it is not an agapanthus species.

Botanical name

The botanical name for society garlic is Tulbaghia violacea. The first name, which is the genus name, Tulbaghia, is easier to remember as it is known to be named after the town of Tulbagh, which in turn was named in honour of an eighteenth century Dutch Governor of the Cape of Good Hope by the name of Ryk Tulbaghia.


Tulbaghia is closely related to the onion branch of the greater lily family. Its leaves and stems have a garlic smell when crushed, but the flowers themselves have a sweet scent like hyacinths.

Garden value

Tulbaghia is a wonderful addition to the late summer border. Its flower stems and leaves are quite like the better known agapanthus, but they are lighter and more delicate in shape and structure. When grown well, the plants produce a series of flower heads, lasting several weeks. The colour of the flowers is a soft pink or lavender shade and it needs a good many plants to achieve a striking effect. Groups of plants can be located here and there throughout a border, or indeed throughout the garden itself.

Growing Tulbaghia

Society garlic needs well-drained soil, but not so dry that the plant is stunted. The soil should be fertile and provide adequate nutrients for growth, otherwise the plant gets weak and does not flower so well, making just a clump of wispy leaves. It needs a warm sunny position, usually at the front of a bed or border and without competition from neighboring plants. All this sounds like tulbaghia is very delicate, which it is not, but for best results the right conditions must be provided.

The plant does well in deep pots and looks particularly effective in clay pots on a paved area. In a pot, it needs a mixture of soil, compost and sand in equal parts. It is not fully hardy, and may suffer in frosty weather. In colder areas, the pots can be taken under protection in winter, and it makes a lovely greenhouse or conservatory plant. The foliage of this species stays green until a hard frost burns it, but sometimes it does not die back fully.

Tulbaghia tends to become run down after a few years, unless it has deep well-drained soil and it is fed in spring each year to maintain its vigour. The fleshy roots can also be divided and replanted every three or four years into well-prepared soil with good compost. In pots, it should be fed with a high-potash liquid feed every three or four weeks from early summer to mid-autumn.

Kitchen garden

Looking after asparagus

Despite being a choice vegetable, asparagus is not widely grown in kitchen gardens. Asparagus is a long-term, perennial vegetable crop, a facet that it shares with globe artichokes, seakale and rhubarb. The main crop of asparagus shoots is harvested in early summer, a few shoots being left to build up the crowns for cropping in the following year. It is not unusual for the crowns to send up a scatter of late shoots. It is best to allow these to develop and build up the plants yielding capacity for next year. However, if they are plentiful, a portion of the number can be picked.

Asparagus, once it has produced the edible shoots in early summer, tends to be rather overlooked. Weeds can take hold and spread among the fern-like foliage of the asparagus. It is important to remove all weeds that have become established. Watch out, too, for bright red berries on female plants as the plant energy goes into making seeds. Most varieties of asparagus are male clones and the problem does not arise that much, but berrying plants should be rooted out.

Watch out for bright red berries on female plants as the plant energy goes into making seeds. Most varieties of asparagus are male clones and the problem does not arise that much, but berrying plants should be rooted out.

Asparagus is generally grown in a bed about one meter wide with plants about 30cm apart, and as long as space allows. A bed can be started off with purchased crowns or from seed sown in April. After the tidy-up in summer and the subsequent withering of the foliage, the fern can be cut away and a layer of good, well-rotted garden compost spread over the surface.

This week's reminders

Trees, shrubs and roses

Due to wet weather, there has been plenty of blackspot and leaf spot disease on roses, if they were not sprayed or aren’t naturally resistant. Soil moisture has recovered and has been adequate to keep young trees growing. It is time to clip hedges of all kinds before the wood gets tough.


Plants in containers of all kinds get very little water from rainfall and will need frequent watering, every second day or even every day for small containers if the weather is hot and dry. Feeding is also essential and can be given in every third watering, if slow-release feed was not used.

Fruit, vegetables and herbs

Pick summer fruits as they ripen and many vegetables are now ready too. With wet weather, potato blight control should be kept up, especially for maincrop potatoes. The early varieties will generally be used up, and the tops can be cut away if they are badly damaged.


Around the country, lawns have got a good mixture of moisture and sunshine and are mostly looking well. If a lawn is pale or yellowish, due to leaching by heavy rain on light soil, it probably could do with feeding, but delay for a few weeks so as not to create extra mowing.

Greenhouse and house plants

Take the tops out of tomato plants and do not allow any more flowers to develop. Continue watering and feeding greenhouse plants. Cuttings of shrubs of all kinds can be taken now, first deciduous kinds and in a few weeks the evergreen sorts. Cover with white polythene.

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