THE artichoke is a show-stopping plant with a bonus: fantastic to look at and delicious to eat. The edible buds are produced by plants with statuesque form and foliage; and they’re perennial too, returning reliably year after year in most areas. Artichokes will add glamour and drama to your veg patch or allotment, but they look so good that they can be used to bring something edible to the party in an otherwise ornamental border.
The globe artichoke, Cynara cardunculus ‘Scolymus Group’ is the most sought-after form. The characteristic large, round globe-like flower buds have a good flavour, and the typical height of around 1.8m adds to the architectural drama of the silvery green, leathery foliage. There are several different varieties to choose from, some with attractive, purple-flushed buds that give added ornamental value.
Culinary treat with health benefits
The entire flower buds, with bracts and the top of the stem are the culinary treat and packed with antioxidants and health benefits. However, the choke is the thistly and inedible centre that has to be discarded after cooking. The heart that lies beneath the choke is the prize – tender and delicately flavoured.
For a traditional artichoke serving, harvest the top or ‘king’ bud when it has reached about 2-4in (6-10cm) in diameter. Most plants will produce around 8-10 large buds in a growing season. I like to cut the buds when they are still small, before the spiny choke has formed at the centre of the flower. These are tender, delicious, easier to prepare and preserve too – and less fiddly to eat.
Of course, you can let the buds open into flowers – the bees will thank you for the enormous thistle-like purple blooms that make a perfect landing platform. And if you leave these on the plant overwinter, the birds will enjoy feasting on the drying flowerheads.
Replace to keep it cropping
Plants should be replaced every three years to keep them cropping well. If you already have an artichoke plant, now is the time to propagate by division and it’s easy to take offsets. Lift an established plant and cut a side shoot with some root and replant it after trimming back the leaves and watering well. Or, if you’ve grown from seed sown in February and March or your plug plants have arrived, pot them on, and harden them off before planting out from the end of April.
6 artichoke varieties
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