The "Stinking Rose", Isn't a Rose. It's a Lily!

Garlic lovers, unite! My nephew, Al, called me a couple of weeks ago and asked if he and his wife, Joy, could get together with me and Diane and visit with each other and at the same time enjoy the Garlic Festival in Saugerties this coming weekend. I was elated. I don't get to see these Long Islanders as much as I'd like, and I'll only have to do a third of the driving I'd normally do.

It's garlic time! The harvests are in. It's time to taste and think about planting. What a great opportunity. Taste ten, twenty, thirty garlics and purchase the ones you can't live without and bring them home to plant. How does the commercial go? "Priceless".

A few years ago, I grew a dozen different garlics given by friend and colleague, Trina P. My success was phenomenal. I had seventy-two or more beautiful bulbs to share. I might characterize the different tastes, but that's too difficult a task in a column of this length. Suffice it to say that they ran the gamut from fiery, spicy, to buttery and mellow. My nephew got some of each. I even instructed Joy on how to grow some, and she did with moderate success. Another garlic lover had been cultivated. My nephew was already on board.

Back to my title. Allow me, if you will, a self-indulgent moment or two. I have been plagued with the origins of that expression, 'the stinking rose", and have searched high and low and sideways, and I almost came up empty, save David Stern, the founder and president of the Garlic Seed Foundation. If you are a garlic lover, you will want to find out more about this organization and its publication the Garlic Press.

Garlic has for many thousands of years been championed as a magical, medicinal and gastronomic savior of the human population. It has also been reviled for an equally long time as vulgar, associated with Satan and the dead, foul smelling, and promoting flatulence. Two camps, pro and con, for a very long time.

A few interesting things I've noticed in reading some of the literature: the word "apple" has for a long time been a euphemism for "allium". Garden of Eden stories and tales from ancient times refer to the presence of garlic at the foot of Satan. It has even been suggested over hundreds of years that the "apple" in Eden was an "earth apple", an "allium".

The rose family, Rosaceae, is an extremely important plant family. It just turns out that Malus (apple) is a member of the rose family. If you were to observe a simpler rose and then an apple blossom, you'd see their similarities. Cut open a rose hip and cut open an apple; voila! Both roses, or, if you like, apples. It might surprise you to know that wreathes of roses and rose buds were found in ancient Egyptian tombs.

There is also documentation that wild garlic grew 10,000 years ago (bulbs and remains found in caves) and that garlic was cultivated 5000 years ago. Early notions of companion planting were written about in the Old Testament (Leviticus) as nurse crops, to build up and reinforce chosen crops. Isn't it a pretty good bet that if people were selecting and cultivating the best, they might also be planting companions (nurses)?

Somewhere along the way, careful observation gave way to the fact that a rose's performance is greatly enhanced when planted with garlic. I guess the first question we wish we had an answer to is, "For how long a time?" We can only speculate. Whenever bigger, better, more fragrant flowers began to appear, and, plants that were more disease resistant and had fewer insect problems. These were the gifts garlic conferred on its companion rose. Sounds like a romance, doesn't it?

Is the rose a highly cultivated inbred member of the plant world yearning for the wild and exalted primitive, the common allium? What hidden force or deep-seated motivation exists that propels this union? Is there such a thing as vegetative longing? My theory was that the term "stinking rose" evolved from this marvelous marriage of an allium and an apple. Excuse me ... a lily and a rose. Garlic is, after all, as wonderful and beautiful and desired as any rose could be. No? Should I be writing romantic novels?

So before we go off to see the wizard at Saugerties, and eat and reek of garlic, and talk about planting some, I have to tell you the origins of the phrase "the stinking rose". I called David Stern and asked the guru of garlic. He told me he believes it was a term created by a group of English gentlemen, members of a private drinking club. The motives were something like getting away from their wives, drinking, and enjoying eating garlic. (Garlic, at the time, was "declasse" in both England and America). David did tell me he thought it was explained in an article in the Garlic Press. I'll bet if you subscribe to the newsletter, David might send you a copy or re-publish the article. Worth a try, no?

So much has been written about garlic. I won't begin to delve into the long history of its medicinal values as a curative. There are more than 700 varieties of garlic grown worldwide. Most are probably mutations or adaptations to varying environmental conditions. I grew mine in raised beds, well-drained clayey-loam soil, pH 6.5, and full sun, planted three inches deep in mid-October. I side dressed my planting with a modest amount of 5-10-5, and repeated again in the spring. I irrigated weekly when there was insufficient rainfall until the ground was frozen. I then mulched with pine needles two inches thick.

I recently read a recipe for "Baked garlic, stuffed with garlic, topped with garlic sauce, sprinkled with chopped garlic and served with garlic bread". Alliophiles, celebrate!


From The Garden of Ed. Submitted for publication in The Towne Crier on September 24, 2003

© 2003 Ed Mues. All Rights Reserved.