Monday, July 14, 2014

Elephant Garlic

Weather: Lots of dramatic clouds, more wind, a little thunder, and less rain in the nights.

What’s blooming in the area: Trumpet creeper, hybrid roses, yellow potentilla, silver lace vine, daylily, datura, bouncing Bess, pink evening primrose, alfalfa, sweet pea, yellow yarrow.

Beyond the walls and fences: Tamarix, velvetweed, purple mat flower, pink and white bindweed, showy milkweed, Hopi tea, goat’s beard, plains paper flowers.

In my yard, looking east: Maltese cross, snow-in-summer, large-flowered soapwort, Jupiter’s beard, baby’s breath, hollyhocks, winecup mallow, sidalcea, coral bells.

Looking south: Betty Prior, Fairy and rugosa roses.

Looking west: Elephant garlic, Johnson’s Blue geranium, catmint, blue flax, Shasta daisy.

Looking north: Coral beard tongue, butterfly milkweed, golden spur columbine, Mexican hat, black-eyed Susan, chocolate flower, blanket flower, coreopsis, anthemis.

In the open, along the drive: California poppy, larkspur, white yarrow.

Bedding plants: Snapdragon, sweet alyssum, blue salvia, moss rose, French marigold.

Animal sightings: Geckos, small birds, bees, grasshoppers, small black ants.

Weekly update: An alien appeared in my phlox border in June. I noticed something with flat leaves that flexed outward up along a stem like corn. I said to myself, I hope that’s not that thing growing in some ditches that gets eight feet high. I must get it out before the roots get established.

I repeated that to myself every time I walked by. Unfortunately, I never remembered it when I was out cleaning. It had become surrounded by purple coneflowers and wasn’t visible.

In July, I noticed the volunteer had produced long stems that curved ninety degrees. White swollen balls were at the ends. Extending from them were three-inch long needles of green.

Last week I discovered the white skins were splitting on the underside to expose tiny bulbs. I thought, that’s some kind of allium, but not anything I’ve ever planted. A friend agreed, and suggested various forms of garlic.

I wondered what could some neighbor have planted that blew this way. The phlox bed is next to the west facing side of the garage that stops the wind. It’s the place that collected the dandelion seeds from my southeastern neighbor.

The man across the road from him grows vegetables in a raised bed. I considered what would a serious gardener try and remembered elephant garlic is always treated by plant catalogs as an exotic novelty. Henry Fields calls the bulbs "gigantic." Gurney promises the bulbs "commonly weigh a pound or more." Territorial seeds shows one next to a baseball in a catcher’s mitt.

Some add it’s not really a type of garlic, but a leek. Jung says it has a "very mild flavor" and "leaves no garlic aftertaste." The word "subtle" often is used.

My plant doesn’t look like the Allium Ampeloprasum shown in pictures. The stem can rise five feet with the tips pointed straight up. Penny Woodward says that round stem can curve when "left without water for a long time." It straightens when it rains, but the kinks remain.

The flower heads are usually filled with the six pink or purple petals typical of Amaryllis family. The stamens extend outward. Tiny bulbs may be scattered among the florets, but Woodward says "these are usually absent."

So far, all I see are buds and bulblets. It may be too soon to see flowers. It also may be this is an unusual specimen, the child of a bulblet kidnapped by a ferocious wind last fall.

Nichols claims to be the one who introduced it as elephant garlic in 1953. It bought its first stock in 1941 from a gardener in Scio, Oregon, in the Willamette river valley where Bohemians had settled. The native ranges along the rim of the Mediterranean basin from Northern Africa through the Levant and Balkans over to Iberia.

Nichols doesn’t say why it used the term elephant, but every catalog assumes the term refers to the size of the underground bulb. The white-skinned heads with their long curving snouts reminded me enough of pachyderms to prompt me to look up the species.

The plant is a biennial that multiplies from bulblets. Since it needs lots of moisture, I doubt it will become a nuisance. We rarely have the wet falls and warm winters it prefers.

Current catalogs from Henry Field’s Seed and Nursery Company, Gurney’s Seed and Nursery Company, J. J. Jung Seed Company, and Territorial Seed Company.

Nichols Garden Nursery. "The Story of Nichols Elephant Garlic," company website.

Woodward, Penny. Garlic and Friends (1996)

Photographs: Elephant garlic growing near my garage.
1. 10 July 2014
2. 4 June 2014, purple coneflowers and phlox in back, daffodil leaves in front
3. 10 July 2014
4. 10 July 2014, phlox in back, Silver King artemisia at right
5. 10 July 2014
6. 10 July 2014
7. 8 July 2014
8. 10 July 2014
9. 8 July 2014
10. 10 July 2014

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