Tulbaghia violacea ‘Silver Lace’ (Variegated Society Garlic) – A clumping perennial with fat, tuberous roots from which emerge flexible grass-like 1 foot long by 1/4 inch wide blue-green leaves that have white stripes along the margins, giving the plant a silvery appearance. From spring into fall, and sometimes longer in frost free areas, arise slender stalks to 18 to 24 inches high topped by an umbel of about 10 to 20 small lavender flowers. The foliage has a strong garlic-like odor on warm days and when bruised by touching or from frost. Plant in full sun to light shade with occasional to regular irrigation – somewhat drought tolerant but always looks better with more regular watering. Hardy and evergreen to around 23°F but root hardy to around 10°F and useful in USDA Zone 8 and above. This plant is useful as a low border plant or for the edge of the lawn, a pond or even in shallow water but one must keep in mind the smell when they decide where to plant as it can be very strong and some find it objectionable. This smell is noted to keep animals (cats, dogs, deer away and perhaps even snails and slugs) but use rubber gloves when deadheading and resist the temptation to use the flowers indoors for flower arrangements. The leaves and flowers can be used raw or cooked in food preparation. This plant comes from southern Africa (KwaZulu-Natal and Cape Province) where it grows along forest margins and stream banks and was used for food and medicine by the indigenous Zulu tribes. The genus was named to honor Ryk Tulbagh (1699-1771) the early governor of the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa and the specific epithet means violet-like in reference to the color of the flowers. It is called Society Garlic, possibly because the scent is not quite as strong its relative, true garlic (Allium sativum) and sometimes also called Pink Agapanthus, but this name better applies to the larger Tulbaghia simmleri (AKA T. fragrans). This cultivar and the species both received the coveted Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit in 2012. We grew this plant from 1983 until 2010 and only discontinued it because it was readily available throughout the nursery trade. The information on this page is based on research conducted in our nursery library and from online sources as well as from observations made of this plant as it grows in our nursery, in the nursery’s garden and in other gardens that we have observed it in. We also will incorporate comments received from others and always appreciate getting feedback of any kind from those who have additional information, particularly if this information is contrary to what we have written or includes additional cultural tips that might aid others in growing Tulbaghia violacea Silver Lace.
TULBAGHIA VIOLACEA SILVER LACE
Tulbaghia are from southern Africa where they enjoy a range of habitats, but, as you might guess, the key factor to growing them here is to give them full sun and a soil that drains reasonably well. Silver Lace is hardy to around -5C so, should things go particularly cold in winter, you might want to protect by straw or mulch to avoid damage to the foliage. Mind you, it’s a good pot specimen, having that attractively variegated evergreen foliage and a constant succession of lilac flowers held on airy stems, so that would allow moving it out of the danger zone if necessary. Best, in any case, to give it a position sheltered from north and easterly winter winds, as with any evergreen.
Society garlic is the common name given to Tulbaghia on account of the scent and flavour of the leaves when crushed (milder than the real thing, mind you) and the leaves and flowers can be used as flavouring or in salads. That slightly odd sounding genus name was coined to honour Rijk Tulbagh, Dutch Governor of the Cape of Good Hope in the 18th century. The species name Violacea is easier to fathom, being a reference to the colour of the flowers. You will find Silver Lace offered under the alternative name Variegata: it’s the same plant.
This (very) brief video focuses on what is admittedly a fine clump of Tulbaghia Siilver Lace.