I recently had the pleasure of attending the Koonya Garlic Festival. Where is Koonya I hear some of you asking? Set in Tasmania alongside a picturesque inlet of Norfolk Bay on the Tasman Peninsula, this small settlement hosts a thriving horticultural festival in February each year. 2016 was its third year, and it has grown steadily over that period.
Many visitors make the hour and a bit journey from Hobart to experience various horticultural pleasures, most of which centre around the star of the show, Allium sativum and its various pungent plant relatives. Various forms of garlic are, of course, the star attraction, but there is also all manner of other local produce on display and for sale. Raspberries, heirloom tomatoes, locally produced ciders, wines, gins and the somewhat legendary South Arm pink eye potatoes were just some of the delights to be sampled.
But back to the garlic. The highlight of my visit to the Koonya Garlic Festival was undoubtedly the honour of being asked to judge the obligatory garlic competition. There are actually hundreds of different cultivars of garlic that have been selected around the world. They reflect the vastly different environments in which this culinary favourite had been grown. The so called ‘hard neck’ cultivars tended to predominate at Koonya because of their ability to adapt to the cooler climes of Tasmania. There were, however, some ‘soft neck’ cultivars there as well.
Judging a garlic competition is serious business, and a variety of criteria is applied to separate the entries. The overall appearance and presentation of the bulb, trueness to cultivar type, absence of pests and diseases, and of course, taste. A late season busy of wet weather had played havoc with the bulbs with respect to fungal diseases such as Penicillium mould. After much deliberation with fellow judges, the ‘best in show’ and gold award went to Cecylia Katny for a very fine specimen of elephant garlic.
As a regular visitor to Tasmania for the festival and other horticultural events I am always blown away by the fabulous gardening culture that still thrives there. The many gardens that are open to the public are generally full of unusual perennials and interesting trees and shrubs. Tasmania has also rightly earned a reputation for fresh produce so there is a great deal to recommend gardeners from all over Australia to come for a visit at the end of summer to enjoy the wonderful produce on offer throughout the state at this time of year.