Globe Artichoke, Cynara scolymus
When Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt threw a high-society dinner for Prince Henry of Prussia at her home in Manhattan in 1902, the exotic dish she put on the menu to impress both friends and royalty was artichokes (served right after the lettuce salad, the New York Times duly reported).
How lucky we are, a century later, to be able to grow our own Cynara scolymus in the garden instead of having to wait for ships to arrive carrying this delicious import from France.
If you’re concerned you don’t have room to grow artichokes, consider that the Mediterranean vegetable is also ornamental, adding texture and structure to a flower bed. (See Companion Plants: 14 Vegetables Pretty Enough for the Flower Borders for inspiration.)
“Artichokes are an easily cultivated perennial,” the Times reported in 1902, when the only evidence of the plants’ cultivation stateside was in the American South. (In those days, many of the better hotel restaurants in New York City felt the imported European vegetables were a superior product.) The bias is outdated; today Castroville, California considers itself “the artichoke capital of the world.”
Is it time to add artichoke plants to your edible (or ornamental) garden beds? Read on to learn more:
Artichokes are a noble vegetable with a distinguished history. The ancient Greeks reported seeing them growing near Carthage, which should tell you something about the climate in which they’ll thrive: a moist, coastal region with sandy, well-drained soil is ideal (hence, Castroville).
Edible artichokes are a variety of thistle, which won’t surprise anyone who has cleaned one and met the bristly choke at the base of its bracts (which look like leaves). After you scoop out the choke, you will encounter the tender, edible artichoke heart (the stem and leaves also are delicious).
You can slice and sauté baby artichokes. You can stuff large artichokes. You can shave stems into a salad. Or you can treat artichokes as ornamentals and leave them to flower in the garden. This is a truly versatile plant, and is perfectly at ease even in a formal floral arrangement…
- After harvesting the first tender young artichokes, leave some on the stalk to flower. That way you’ll get both edible and ornamental benefits from a single plant.
- Artichoke size and shape may vary: you can grow round, cylindrical, conical, or oval varieties.
- Wondering what kind of artichokes to grow? Here’s tip from Food52: “Speaking of taste, you might find that purple artichokes taste a little different from their green counterparts — slightly stronger or heartier.”
- Favorite varieties, recommended by UK gardening virtuosa Sarah Raven, include ‘Green Globe’, ‘Violet de Provence’, and ‘Gros Vert de Laon’. See Ask the Expert: 10 Tips for a Kitchen Garden from Sarah Raven to see how they look interplanted with ornamental alliums in her garden.
Keep It Alive
- If you’re gardening in a colder zone than USDA 6, artichokes will behave like an annual vegetable. Plant them in early spring.
- Expect to wait for from 150 to 180 days for an artichoke to mature.
- Perennial artichokes can be counted on to yield a harvest for up to five years after planting.
- Mature plants can reach a height and a diameter of 4 feet. Give them space to grow.
Read more growing tips in Artichokes: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design in our curated guides to Edibles 101. Read more tips for a kitchen garden:
- Behind the Hedges: Catherine Horwood’s Hidden Kitchen Garden
- How to Successfully Grow Edible Gardens: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design
- Companion Plants: 14 Vegetables Pretty Enough for the Flower Borders