garlicky leek seed?

Jim McKenney
Sat, 01 Aug 2009 07:19:06 PDT
Diane’s seeding garlic is probably what local grocery stores sell as
elephant garlic, and most references say it is a form of leek (Allium
porrum). In other words, strictly speaking it is not a garlic. Or just as
likely it might be a survivor of an old planting of culinary leeks. Culinary
leeks and elephant garlic are both very ornamental in the garden. Elephant
garlic gets to be over six feet high and the developing inflorescence is
contained in a spathe with the shape of a Russian cathedral onion dome. It’s
an exciting sight in the late spring garden. Culinary leeks are worth
growing for their flowers, too: although they tend to be a dirty gray-white,
some have clearer, cleaner colors and are a ornamental as any of the Allium
sold as ornamental onions. 

The question of what garlic itself is is a puzzle. Although it is given a
botanical name (Allium sativum – that literally means cultivated garlic or
cultivated onion) there is no naturally occurring sexually reproducing
population which corresponds to what we know as garlic. It appears to exist
only in cultivation. Cultivated garlic does not produce viable seeds as far
as I know (and that is why Jan wrote “Seed bearing garlic is new for me, and
I think it is quite of an interest for every Allium fan” ) and that makes it
hard to explain the diversity of cultivars now grown. Have they arisen by
somatic mutation of one original plant? The fact that garlics divide into
two general groups, the hard neck or rocambolle types and the soft neck
types, only complicates the picture and suggests that garlic originated at
least twice – whatever its source. 

The hard neck/rocambolle types are the ones which are typically grown in
harsh climates and are autumn planted. In mild climates, the soft neck sorts
are also autumn planted, but in harsh climates some do not perform well when
autumn planted and so they are sometimes planted in the spring. As Jan
points out, spring planted soft neck garlics do not produce large bulbs –
one reason many gardeners in cold climate areas prefer the hard
neck/rocombolle types. 

In our local grocery stores, the garlics usually sold are soft neck types.
These are the ones which are seen braided into decorative swags. Hard neck
garlics on the other hand seem only to be grown in home gardens locally. 

Hard neck garlics are worth growing in the ornamental garden for their very
decorative, sinuously coiled scapes (which give them the name ophioscordum,
from the words for snake and garlic in Greek). These garlic scapes are
delicious chopped up and sautéed in olive oil.  

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, 39.03871º North, 77.09829º West, USDA zone
7, where various unidentified clumping Allium are blooming prettily. 
My Virtual Maryland Garden
Webmaster Potomac Valley Chapter, NARGS 
Editor PVC Bulletin 
Webmaster Potomac Lily Society

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