Casual Gardener: Eating the enemy

One way to control the invasive three-cornered garlic is to turn it into a meal...

The white flowers of Allium triquetrum or three-cornered garlic

WHILE there are other flowers in bloom during February, the month undoubtedly belongs to the snowdrop. The diminutive Gilanthus is a harbinger of spring, the first in a series of successive flowering bulbs that will take us all the way through to high summer. At their most alluring in places where they've has been allowed to naturalise in the thousands over decades, there are fewer greater surprises in nature than stumbling across an expansive carpet of snowdrops on the floor of ancient woodland.

But as I tidied my borders at the weekend, removing the debris of 2021 in order that my snowdrops, and other spring bulbs, could be seen and enjoyed in all their splendour, I spotted close-by a similar plant, whose beauty almost equals that of the snowdrop yet rather than being treasured, it is widely maligned. Allium triquetrum, known more commonly as three-cornered garlic, flowers later than the snowdrop but the two are sometimes confused. On closer inspection they are quite distinct - Allium triquetrum is taller and its umbel flowers droop in the manner of a bluebell, with up to 15 clustered on one stem. It is the lime green stems, three to every plant and triangular if sectioned, that gives three-cornered garlic its name. Often misguidedly called ‘wild garlic’, this member of the onion family should not be confused with our own native Allium ursinum, though the two do share many characteristics, such as their white flowers and the rich, pungent smell from their bulbs.

You may well begin to wonder what the problem is with the ostensibly benign sounding three-cornered garlic but it’s simple – it doesn’t belong here and spreads at an incredible rate. Left unchecked it will quickly cover a shaded bank or verge, crowding out native flora. The plant originates on the Iberian peninsula and is thought to have been introduced into Ireland some 300 years ago, spreading extensively but tending to stick to the coast, where the climate is milder. It is particularly common in the south-east counties of Waterford and Wexford.

Like many of the botanical world’s ‘Trojan horses’, Allium triquetrum may at first look like a good low maintenance, ground cover plant, ideally suited to a wooded area but within a matter of years it’ll be springing up all over the garden at a nuisance rate. Even in the era when resorting to chemicals was an acceptable option for weed control, few people would have applied them to three-fingered garlic. The most straightforward method of control is to dig up the plants and cut back each spring before flowering, disposing of it all into your brown bin.

You can also apply an increasingly common and logical method of dealing with invasive aliens, which is to eat them. A solution that has been used with some success against grey squirrels and Japanese knotweed, eradicating an unwelcome plant or creature by turning them into a meal does sound like a win-win – as long as the fare is to your taste. Unlike disturbing the native wild garlic on your foraging expeditions, Allium triquetrum isn’t protected so can be lifted liberally. In fact, the more the better. Three-cornered garlic can be used as garnish, in a manner similar to chives, though its flavour is rather more robust. It is recommended with fish and seafood, and makes a good pesto when combined with nuts or seeds.

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