Globe artichokes (Cynara scolymus) elicit one of two reactions: love or hate. Some people don’t see the point of growing something, the best part of which you throw away after first harvesting and then cooking it. Perhaps the ‘best part’ wasn’t exactly the phrase to use here, since it is actually the best part that you eat: it’s the small fleshy bit at the bottom of each petal, and the heart of the flower itself that makes all the effort worthwhile. I love the ritual of eating globe artichokes. It’s the sort of thing that you really can’t eat with any decorum – it’s fingers or nothing!
They so remind me of Mediterranean markets where you see them piled high, as ubiquitous there as potatoes are here! You also find tiny artichokes, no bigger than the size of a walnut, which are often fried in a little olive oil, with a tablespoon or so of water added and then gently cooked until they are tender. They’re eaten just as they are with a little vinaigrette, or used in a pasta sauce. You never see them this size in greengrocers here – it’s just not cost-effective to harvest them this young in this country, so the best way is to grow your own!
You can grow globe artichokes easily from seed, but it is best to start them off under cover, in modules, then pot them on into their own individual pot, and plant them out when they have formed a good, strong root system. You can also buy seedlings from a number of suppliers. Globe artichokes need a bit of space, so plant them about 60cm apart. As for soil and aspect, they like a good, rich, weed-free, free-draining but moisture-retentive spot in the sun - and they will appreciate a mulch of well-rotted manure in the spring and autumn.
They will come back year on year, and you will get a progressively better harvest each time. After four or five years, however, they will start looking a little weary and the number of flowers will diminish. Now is the time to sow more seeds. Alternatively, you will find that each plant will start producing babies: these are plants which spring up from the base of the plant and are in every way like their parent. If, therefore, you have a ‘favourite’ plant which produces a tasty harvest and is strong and robust, take plantlets from this artichoke and continue the line.
If you can bear to leave any of the buds to develop fully into flowers, they will attract no end of bees, and you can even use them as cut flowers.
As for varieties, there are plenty to choose from, some more readily available than others. ‘Green Globe’ is popular, as is an improved version of it called ‘Tavor’. If you fancy a purple variety there a couple that stand out - ‘Violet de Provence’ and ‘Tizio’.
So if you have room in your garden or veg plot, give them a go and enjoy a taste of the Mediterranean.
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