There’s garlic and garlic and there’s garlic. All tasting and smelling of garlic, but from different plants, closely related, mostly alliums. There’s the garlic we are familiar with in the kitchen, Allium sativum. It’s a bulb and we break off cloves for cooking. Breaking off cloves is also the easiest way of growing it. Simply plant a clove in compost.
A friend and I, on a walk, were talking about wild garlic and after some puzzlement we realised we were talking about two different plants. I was talking of Allium triquetrum, the one that looks like a white bluebell. We have quite a bit of it here in the community garden. My brother hates it as he says it runs rampant and he savagely digs it out. An over reaction, I feel. It’s a pleasant looking flower. Live with it, I have tried saying, but to no avail. It’s also known as three-cornered leek, so the New British Flora says, but I have never heard anyone actually call it that.
My friend was talking about wild garlic, seen in the woods this time of year, Allium ursinum, also known as Ramsons. The ursinum part of the botanical name is said to be because brown bears like it. You can see large sweeps of it, at bluebell time, filling the area between woodland trees with a sea of white flowers (but no brown bears). The leaves are wide and blade-like and can go in salads, you can cook with it, and while on a walk I put a leaf in my cheese sandwich.
And yet another garlic is Jack-by-the-Hedge; it’s not an allium but in the cabbage family. The botanical name is Alliaria petiolata, also known as garlic mustard. Its small flowers with four petals, although white, are similar to the mustards which in general are yellow. Rub the leaves and you’ll smell garlic.
The confusion of names is why there are botanical names, distinct for each plant. But we like the common names, often more interesting than the Latin tags.
We have a new sign, it’s six feet high and in six languages: English, Romanian, Portuguese, Urdu, Bengali and Tamil. It reminds me of the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum, always with a crowd of tourists around it. The stone dates from 196 BC, and is in three languages: Ancient Greek, Demotic script and Hieroglyphics. With the stone Jean Francois Champollion, knowing Ancient Greek, was able to crack Hieroglyphics. And maybe in a 1000 years, and alien visitor will crack the language on our sign, to find out what happened to humanity.
We are clearing the sleeper platforms for our Americana project, food plants from the continent that have enriched our diet. We have potatoes, maize, sugar cane and peanuts ready to plant out, but we are still having cold mornings, and these plants don’t like frost. So warm up, May.
We have been donated an Amelanchier shrub for which we are most thankful. We have planted it near our buddleia. The shrub should flower in a few weeks, and I am looking forward to it, as it is not one I am familiar with.