Garlic — you either love it or you hate it! You certainly couldn’t escape from it at the recent Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, however you felt about it. The pungent aroma pervaded the Growing Tastes Marquee for hundreds of yards helped by the hot, humid air close to the River Thames. Once inside, the ‘Garlic Dalek’ (as it was dubbed by the other exhibitors) was plainly evident. This modern black structure was immaculately studded alternately with pristine garlic cloves (in shades of pearl-white and dusky pink) and allium flowers. It won the best in category and tallied the number of garlic golds to seven in all.

The cloves had been grown on sunny fields on the Isle of Wight at The Garlic Farm (tel 01983 865378/ The company was set up more than 30 years ago by Colin Boswell after the hot summers of 1975 and 1976 prompted a bumper crop in the family-owned garden. The subsequent summers, although not as hot, proved adequate, and cooks and gardeners enjoyed buying premium bulbs of garlic to eat and grow. The company flourished by growing some of their own bulbs and importing the rest. It soon became the country’s largest supplier The benign island climate allows the Boswells to plant their garlic in autumn and harvest it from late May. In Oxfordshire, we need to lift our garlic in August, so ideally we need to plant it between September and January. Choose a sunny position and try to improve the fertility of the soil by adding garden compost because all members of the onion family (including shallots, leeks and onions) are shallow-rooted and need fertile, moist conditions to grow well. Their short roots haven’t the ability to plumb the depths for water or food. But don’t fertilise garlic with a nitrogen-rich feed: it will make the bulbs soft and unappetising. Aim for a fine tilth and then break up the bulbs into small cloves with great care. Plant the sections (pointed end up) between one and two inches deep (4 cm). A top dressing of potash in February is recommended by Colin Boswell once the leaves show. Keep the bulbs moist until a week before harvesting.

There are three types of garlic: softneck, hardneck and elephant. Hardneck varieties (ophioscorodon) are the hardiest and they produce a flowering stalk that needs snapping off. Once this is done, the bulb doubles in size. Softneck varieties (sativum) store for longer and these plump, scalloped bulbs are the ones seen most often in supermarkets. Softnecks aren’t as hardy, so they may need planting in spring here.

If your garden is cold like mine, stick to a hardneck variety unless you have a crystal ball and can see a glorious summer coming. If only!

‘Early Purple Wight’, originally from China, is the earliest hardneck variety to mature. ‘Purple Moldovan’ (originally from Khazakstan) is a very aromatic hardneck and it’s considered the best for garlic bread.

‘Tuscany White’ (a softneck) is widely grown in Tuscany where summers are warm and winters are cold. The large, white cloves are used in Umbrian dishes with chicken, ground olives and herbs. Cloves could be planted in December and January. Elephant Garlic is closely related to the leek and the six-inch-wide cloves are usually roasted round meat. This needs planting in September and October.