Giant thistle-like plants, artichokes and cardoons are beautiful as well as edible. Their prickly-silver leaves make an excellent backdrop in any garden. Artichokes and cardoons are fun and relatively easy to grow in our coastal gardens. By mulching and cutting them back in the fall, they can survive our occasional cold winters. I like to grow them even as an annual; their dramatic bold outline in the flower bed is a wonderful addition.
Green Globe and Imperial Star are two of the most common artichoke varieties.
Plant artichoke starts in deep, well-amended soil in full sun. Space them three to five feet apart. Since they can grow three feet or more in height, think about the shade they will cast when planning your garden. Mulch and water regularly.
By mid-summer, your artichoke plant should send up flower buds, which should be harvested before they open if you want to eat them. If you let them flower, they will produce a huge purple thistle that can be dried and used in arrangements. If you harvest all the flowering heads, artichokes often send up a second crop of flowers in the fall in milder climates.
An artichoke will produce well for about three or four years. After that time, it is best to dig and divide it, as it produces off shoot plants that may crowd the original plant. In the fall, cut back your artichoke plant and mulch it with a covering of leaves or straw. After mild winters, new plants will sprout from the old parent plant in the spring. Uncover them in April. Cold winters, such as this past winter in western Oregon, may kill artichokes, whether or not they are mulched. Cardoons are a close relative of the artichoke, grown for their thick fleshy leaf bases.
Harvest, peel, steam and enjoy!