The globe artichoke (cynara scolymus) is a native of the Mediterranean area and related to the thistle. It has been documented to have been eaten in Greek and Roman times.
Globe artichokes can be planted from August to November so there is still time to include this wonderful architectural plant if you have the space in your garden.
Growth habit and planting needs
The globe artichoke grows to about 1.2 -1.3m tall with a spreading width of around 1.2m, with silvery leaves that are about 50-80cm long. This perennial is long lived and can bear its tender, edible flower buds for about five years. With this in mind it is important to place the plant in its permanent position, making sure that there is adequate room and that it will receive full sun to partial shade. Artichokes need light, fertile well drained soil with compost worked into the soil and do well in sandy soils. They do not like to be waterlogged, so good drainage is important. Fertilise the plants once a month.
Plants should be spaced 160 to 200cm apart and watered well during the growing season. Inadequate watering during high temperature days will cause the leaves to wilt. To help conserve good moisture during hot periods it is good to have a thick layer of much around the base.
The first years flowers should not be allowed to develop to allow the plant to establish well. It will be hard to do this but worthwhile in the long run. In the second year you can expect as many as 12 flower heads to develop. Each branch will have a top bud with many small emerging buds growing from the leaf axils. The plant will also develop pups at the base that can be carefully removed and re-planted. This is a way of preparing new plants to replace and older plant.
The flower heads should be allowed to develop well and picked while they are still a firm tight bud. In the picture to the left the artichokes have begun to open and have just passed the optimal picking stage. If the flower head is allowed to open up it will become progressively less tender and eventually a purple thistle like flower will form. As the top buds are removed the lower buds will develop but will be smaller but just as tender.
The globe artichoke, fully matured is a spectacular plant that is both beautiful to look at and delicious to eat.