Garlics grown for food are conventionally divided into hardnecks (Ophioscorodon) and softnecks (Sativum). The hardnecks are more closely related to wild garlic ancestors and they will produce “topsets” or “bulbils” which are very small cloves which appear at the top of the flower stalk. The softnecks do not have the woody [hard] flower stalk. They are commonly used to make garlic braids which the hardnecks are not suitable for.
We do not grow softnecks. We could and someday may grow them, but the hardnecks are more suited to our climate, are more visually interesting, have fewer cloves/bulb for easier cooking preparation, and have better flavor than the more common softnecks.
Perhaps because of their close links with their ancestors from the Russian steppes, hardnecks will grow well in climates with cold winters. The cold seems to be needed to cause the dormant cloves to bulb. It also seems to add to the robustness of the flavor.
The flowering appearance of the hardneck garlic is decidedly ornamental with a large purple flower bundle waving at the top or off to the side of a looping flower stalk.
The hardneck bulb can have a few as three cloves in the bulb which means that much less peeling must be done to get the same amount of garlic vs. the softneck varieties with as many as 20 or more cloves per bulb. Our varieties commonly have 6 to 8 cloves per bulb.
Them three main types of hardnecks are Rocambole, Purple Stripe, and Porcelain. Their respective varieties and general characteristics are listed on the linked pages.