Wild Garlic, Allium ursinum: “Bear’s Garlic”
Like bluebells, which enjoy similar shady conditions, wild garlic is an elegant thug. A ground-covering blanket of green and white, Allium ursinum can be a joy or a nuisance, partly depending on whether you like the smell of garlic. Its Latin name (and nickname) hints at one method of herbicide: bears. Brown bears will dig deep holes to unearth the delicious bulbs, a habit shared with wild boar.
Photography by Britt Willoughby Dyer.
Brown bears are in short supply however (certainly in the UK) and wild garlic is a persecuted species. Listed with crow garlic on the Royal Horticultural Society’s website, more space is given to the eradication of wild garlic than to its benefits, though it is described as a “pleasing sight.” Wild garlic’s ambition is to be a monoculture but it finds some resistance in bluebells, which have the same idea.
Also known as ramsons or ramps, wild garlic is a basic staple of the forager’s basket, its leaves taking the place of basil in ramson pesto, as a gentler garlic butter, or as an addition to salad (both leaves and flowers). As any forager will tell you, good identification practices are essential, and the similarity between the foliage of wild garlic with that of lily-of-the-valley can be problematic, since the latter is poisonous.
• With its low-key palette and structure, wild garlic covers areas of shaded ground with great style. It can look smart bordering a driveway, or the edge of a property.
• Wild garlic flowers over a long period, from April to June. Its early appearance is appreciated by pollinating insects.
• Allium ursinum deserves closer inspection: with its six-petaled flowers, growing in clusters on leafless stalks, wild garlic is more similar to decorative garden alliums than first appears.
Keep It Alive
• Away from flower beds, where it can wreak havoc, Allium ursinum takes care of itself and crowds out other weeds.
• A wood of beech trees is typical of the kind of place where wild garlic thrives: a light canopy in spring followed by a more dense covering in summer keeps the bulbs cool. Slightly acid soil is preferred.
• Dig bulbs out of flower borders, and keep digging every year; do not add them to compost as they’ll only wait to be distributed around the garden.
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