There are probably more than 1000 cultivars of garlic grown worldwide. They vary in colour, size, pungency and flavour. Often cultivars are named after their place of origin. Increasingly today, seed lists for home gardeners in Australia include numerous different cultivars. This website is designed to attempt to make sense of garlic in Australia. We will be adding cultivars all the time and welcome feedback through the contact page about anything to do with garlic cultivars. This website is by no means an exhaustive list of cultivars available and with the increased interest in garlic and new imports from overseas it is highly likely that more cultivars will become available. We will add them as we can.
In 1994 the Australian Garlic Industry Association (AGIA) imported more than 130 cultivars and varieties of garlic from the USA. This garlic came originally from many different parts of the world. It was trialled in South Australia in an attempt to find higher yielding, disease resistant cultivars that were suited to the Australian environment and market. In the second season the 101 surviving cultivars were grown again and then passed to garlic growers all over Australia. Many of these have found their way into the domestic market, although quite often their names have been changed. When we ask growers for the story of the garlic they are growing, more often than not it starts with, ‘Well, I bought it at the market …’ Others from the original import are still being grown by garlic enthusiasts in different parts of Australia. The mid-1990s brought deregulation and the importation of cheap Chinese garlic. This caused the virtual collapse of the Australian garlic industry, which has been recovering slowly over recent years.
Garlic is very responsive to the environment in which it is grown, and cultivars that do well in one region may struggle in another. The way they respond depends on temperature, soil type, moisture levels, humidity, latitude (which determines day-length), altitude and cultural practices. One thing we are sure of is that garlic cultivars have been renamed many times, as they have been bought, sold and given away. It is clear that many cultivars have identical genetics but unique names. Australia has no system in place to authenticate the identity of each cultivar. At best it is a knowledgeable grower’s educated guess, at worst a marketer’s great idea to sell more of a particular type. Only with several seasons’ growth in the field is it possible to attempt identification, but even then there are ambiguities. For instance, a virus infection can affect the way a plant grows. Long term, genetic testing is the only way to greater certainty. In the meantime we can work towards consensus by collaborating and coming up with some good descriptions and photographs to identify cultivars.
Some of the cultivars imported in 1994 have been grown and re-grown by individuals for 20 years, so we can be fairly certain of their identity. And new cultivars being imported from the USA, Canada and France are named and of more certain origin although it can take many years for these cultivars to make their way onto the market. Some cultivars have been developed in Australia over decades.
We are all indebted to all the garlic growers and enthusiasts who have endeavoured to keep various cultivars growing every year, year after year. Garlic is not the same as plants that are grown from seed which can be stored for years and still remain viable. Every unique cultivar must be grown every year for the cultivar to be maintained.
It’s important to remember that the strongly coloured bulb skins of some cultivars will fade over time. Recently harvested bulbs can be burgundy red, changing to strong purple stripes as they cure, and by the time we get to plant them the stripes and blotching have often completely disappeared. In contrast, coloured cloves will usually hold their colour although this might change, with reds turning more brown, for instance. And, once unwrapped, clove colours will fade and darken.
There are also many cultivars that have been passed from person to person, grown by Chinese, Greek, Italian, Polish, Russian, Turkish, Yugoslavian and other immigrants and probably brought to Australia from their homelands.These cultivars are unlikely ever to be traced back to their source, but we can try. (It is very important to note that garlic grown in Australia is free from many of the pests and diseases that plague overseas crops. It is essential that any garlic brought into Australia goes through customs and is fumigated to stop these pests and diseases taking hold here.)
We hope this website will help to add to garlic knowledge in Australia. Please note all text and photographs are covered by copyright. Please ask if you want to use any photographs or information. In the interests of furthering garlic knowledge requests will not be unreasonably refused as long as the use is not-for-profit.