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Organic Seed Garlic Varieties

The navigation bar on the right shows a few of the cultivars on the garlic varieties pages sorted into their major groupings. They include many heirloom and heritage garlics. The hardneck varieties are Porcelain, Rocambole, Purple Stripe, Marbled Purple Stripe and Glazed Purple Stripe. The other garlics are three varieties of weakly bolting hardnecks and two varieties of softnecks.


Garlic beds in early May      

Garlic originated in the wild in Central Asia and has more than 5000 years of history as an important horticultural crop. Since under normal circumstances garlic does not produce true seed, there is no cross fertilization of cultivated varieties. It is hard to say how many genetically different garlic clones there actually are under cultivation today. Garlic is extremely adaptable and after a few years in a particular locality it will take on a shape, size, colour and flavour characteristic of its new location. So it is difficult to tell when differences between garlic plants are environmental and when they are genetic.

Researchers are now working to restore the fertility of garlic. Dr. Rina Kamenetsky is one of these researchers and we are delighted to be able to feature her article True Seeds in Garlic on our website.

Variety is a term that is used loosely. Sometimes it is used colloquially to refer to each named cultivar and sometimes it is used technically to refer to the major groupings. Although the term is used both ways on this website, on this page it is being used to attempt botanically correct classification.


Hardneck and Softneck Garlic

True garlic (species: Allium sativum) has two subspecies, softneck (sativum) and hardneck (ophioscorodon – ophios for short). Allium sativum sativum has two varieties, Silverskin and Artichoke. Softneck garlics can be planted mechanically and so the garlics found in supermarkets are almost all softnecks.

Our understanding of the structure of the garlic family tree is evolving as mapping the genes of the varieties and subvarieties continues. Previously there were thought to be five major groupings referred to as varieties. Hardnecks were classified as Porcelain, Rocambole and Purple Stripe (with the subvarieties Marbled Purple Stripe and Glazed Purple Stripe), and softnecks were classified as Artichokes (with the subvarieties Creole, Asiatic and Turban). Currently there are considered to be ten varieties, eight ophios and two softnecks. The ophios (Allium sativum ophioscorodon) include five true hardneck varieties (Porcelain, Rocambole, Purple Stripe, Marbled Purple Stripe and Glazed Purple Stripe) and three weakly bolting hardnecks that often produce softnecks (Creole, Asiatic and Turban).

The true hardneck varieties do well in the cooler Canadian climates. Hardneck refers to the scape, or flower stalk, with its topset of bulbils. Hardnecks take a little more care to grow because they need to be hand planted right side up, and to have their scapes snipped off. They repay that effort with a wealth of large bulbs and a dazzling choice of robust and subtle, intriguing and delicious flavours.

This information has been gleaned from Bob Anderson’s overview of the garlic family tree. His article gives more information on the varieties of garlic and the ongoing research.

An Artichoke softneck garlic

A Purple Stripe hardneck garlic


Help Making Your Selection

If  you find the selection of garlics bewildering allow us to make some suggestions.

Hardiest Garlics

We consider the Porcelain variety to be the hardiest and recommend it for novices in cold climates. Leningrad, Music, Northern Quebec, Romanian Red and Susan Delafield are very popular with backyard gardeners and commercial growers alike.

Next we would recommend Marbled Purple Stripes. They have more plantable cloves per bulb than Porcelains and do well under a wide variety of conditions. We particularly recommend Khabar and Wenger's Russian as well as the milder Linda Olesky. In wet summers the Marbleds need carefull attention to curing as they can hold moisture.

All the other true hardneck varieties - Purple Stripe, Glazed Purple Stripe and Rocambole are also good choices anywhere in Canada. The standard Purple Stripes, Chesnok Red and Persian Star, are popular with growers because you get more plantable cloves per bulb; these garlics like hot summers to size up well. Glazed Purple Stripes have fragile wrappers which makes the timing of harvest critical.

Rocamboles are more fussy about watering than the other varieties; they like heat and do not tolerate overwatering well. If that is not a problem where you are we recommend getting some because of their outstanding flavour. The ones we found did best at Boundary Garlic were German Red, French Rocambole and Spicy Korean Red. They are all rich in flavour.


Full Selection

If your climate is moderate you may be able to grow the weakly bolting hardnecks and softnecks more easily than we could in our zone 4. In addition to true hardnecks recommended for hardiness you can choose from the other garlics we had.

There is great diversity in the three varieties of weak bolting hardnecks and there are two varieties of softneck garlics.


Garlic Bulbils

If left on the plant to mature the topset or scape of a hardneck garlic will produce a number of bulbils which can be planted. This is a way of rapidly increasing your garlic planting stock. For details see our Garlic Bulbils page. We recommend you use this approach to refresh or expand your planting stock.


Garlic Varieties

Garlic Family Tree
For more information on the relationships between the garlic varieties see Bob Anderson’s The Garlic Family Tree and Where Garlic Came From from the Gourmet Garlic Gardens website.

Rocambole Garlic - Organic Seed in BC