Helen YoungBook review: ‘Garlic’ by Penny Woodward

I’ve just finished reading Penny Woodward’s latest book, ‘Garlic’ – subtitled rather lengthily ‘An organic guide to knowing, growing and using garlic, from Australian Whites and Tasmanian Purples to Korean Reds and Shandongs‘. When it arrived I pondered about the possible audience for such a specific subject, but by page 3 it had me in its grip.

GarlicFrontCover (2)Confession at the outset – I have tried and failed to grow garlic in my Sydney garden, and was unsurprised as I ‘knew’ it preferred cooler climates. But the book has inspired me to try again and I now have a much clearer idea of what factors affect success or failure. In Penny’s words

“Garlic seems to have its own idiosyncratic nature, due to its clonal origins. As well as day-length, it is the combination of climate – temperature and rainfall in particular – and soil type that determine which cultivar will grow best in a certain region.”

Garlic Southern Glen from 'Garlic' by Penny Woodward

Garlic Southern Glen from ‘Garlic’ by Penny Woodward

The book includes details of around 60 different cultivars grown in Australia (apparently I should try day-length neutral cultivars such as Southern Glen and Italian Pink). Worldwide, there are thought to be more than 1000 cultivars of garlic.

Hang garlic in bunches in a dry, airy position. From 'Garlic' by Penny Woodward

Hang garlic in bunches in a dry, airy position. From ‘Garlic’ by Penny Woodward

Penny engagingly starts the garlic journey with broad ranging observations about the naming of garlic, its chemistry, history and an examination of garlic breath and body odour. (Tip No. 1: full fat milk drunk during a meal is most effective at reducing garlic breath. Tip No. 2: freshly grown and prepared garlic never leaves as much odour as commercially prepared garlic pastes.)

The chapter on growing garlic is wonderful, full of the hands-on detail so rarely found but invaluable to learn. Both home growers’ and commercial growers’ viewpoints are covered. I learn along the way what I can do to increase my chances of success, next time. And that if my garlic fails to form bulbs I can always use it as green garlic.

Italian purple garlic picked as green garlic. From 'Garlic' by Penny Woodward

Italian purple garlic picked as green garlic. From ‘Garlic’ by Penny Woodward

By now, I’m thinking, “who knew there was so much to know about garlic?” I love books like this that are full of original information that you won’t find anywhere else. It’s knowledge gleaned from Penny’s years of experience growing the stuff and distilled from conversations with others who’ve been trialing, experimenting, failing and succeeding for years. In one section, Growers’ Stories, we are privileged to learn the growing tips and tricks of a range of growers around Australia. They are very generous to share their accumulated wisdom. In the words of one, Peter Hackett in the Koraleigh region of NSW,

“All you need to grow garlic successfully is years of experience!”

He’s been at it 23 years.

Plaited garlic. From 'Garlic' by Penny Woodward

Plaited garlic. From ‘Garlic’ by Penny Woodward

There are chapters on growing other garlicky plants; harvesting, curing, storing, plaiting and preserving; on cooking with garlic and on medicinal uses. Smoked garlic? I might give it a go. Black garlic? I had no idea it took 30-40 days to prepare. I have new respect for those who’d bother.

Black garlic cloves. From 'Garlic' by Penny Woodward

Black garlic cloves. From ‘Garlic’ by Penny Woodward

The review of selected garlic cultivars available in Australia and the major garlic classification groups rounds out the book. Excellent photographs throughout add a lot of useful information.

Penny Woodward holds a BSc in Botany and Zoology. She has written seven best-selling gardening books, contributes to ABC’s Organic Gardener Magazine, is a radio gardening talkback expert and travels the country talking about edible and useful plants. She is on the board of the Australian Garlic Industry Association. Penny has won 3 Horticultural Media Association Laurel Awards for her books and writing. More at pennywoodward.com.au

WIN A COPY OF ‘GARLIC‘ by Penny Woodward! I have 2 copies to give away! Visit Penny’s website to find out the names of 2 garlic cultivars that she mentions when describing her book. CLICK HERE and scroll down through her books until you find ‘Garlic’. (Tip these are different cultivar names than the ones Helen mentions in her blog post above). Once you’ve got your two names, email those as the subject line to competition@gardendrum.com by 10pmAEST on Sunday 12 October 2014. I’ll draw 2 correct entries and notify the winners by email and also announce them on GardenDrum on Monday 13 October 2014. (Sorry – the book can only be posted to an Australian address)

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Helen Young

About Helen Young

Helen is a regular garden columnist for the Weekend Australian, horticulture editor for Australian House and Garden, presenter on ABC702 radio's weekend gardening program, consulting horticulturist, author of 'Balcony Gardening', and garden tour host. Sydney, NSW

3 thoughts on “Book review: ‘Garlic’ by Penny Woodward

  1. Hello Helen

    Great article.

    Like you, I have given up growing garlic. The only “garlic” I can grow in Brisbane is the large cloved Elephant Garlic – which I understand is more closely related to leeks than true garlic – and definitely doesn’t taste like “real” garlic.

    However I’m a great fan of all Penny’s books and your article has inspired me to purchase a copy for my library. She is a wonderful writer – with a rare talent to cover topics thoroughly, yet in a totally engaging way.

    I’ve seen Garlic being grown in South east Asia and in South America, so I know there must be clones that will perform in warm, summer rainfall climates (a killer for most Mediterranean plants), like those we have in the northern half of Australia. I’m hoping that one of the 60 cultivars Penny describes may be for me. Fingers crossed.


  2. Dear Helen, I have a client in Roseville who grows her own garlic. It is the common white, but it does have gorgeous blue flowers on tall spires. She uses a lot of (her own) compost when planting. The book does sound like a good read. How fun of you to make a review about a book about Garlic sound so fascinating! Hugs, Bernard

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