In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
May, 2004
Regional Report

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Artichokes make an intriguing landscape plant.

Artichokes

Catherine de Medici, it is said, saw globe artichokes growing in Florentine gardens and introduced them to French cuisine. Native to Mediterranean areas, these delicacies that we slurp with butter are actually immature flower buds. The center of the flower is the prized artichoke "heart." Some folks love to eat globe artichokes, but the plant is well worth growing for its varied and intriguing characteristics.

Decorative As Well As Delectable
While globe artichokes can be grown in the vegetable garden, they also lend a dramatic sculptural presence to perennial gardens and other areas of the landscape. The sharply divided leaves remind me of prehistoric fern fronds. (Not that I'm old enough to have seen a prehistoric fern.) The silvery green foliage is a soothing color and provides a nice backdrop for bright, flowering plants.

If you can resist harvesting, allow some of the globes to mature on the plant. They turn into fabulous, lavender flowers that resemble giant thistles about 6 inches in diameter. In fact, artichokes are related to thistles, and it's easy to see the connection. The fragrant flowers attract beneficial insects, such as pollinators. The blooms also dry beautifully and retain their color. The flower stays purple and the outer leaves are a pleasing, soft tan color. I've had some dried artichoke flowers for years, and they still look good.

Growing Artichokes
Artichokes do not always produce consistently from seed, so it is easier to buy transplants or propagate from root divisions. Plants grow about 4 feet tall and wide, although they will become larger if conditions are optimum. In the low desert, transplant in fall or late winter for late-spring harvest. They like a rich soil with lots of organic matter.

Artichokes take full sun yet benefit from a bit of protection from afternoon sun as temperatures rise in hot climates. They need consistent soil moisture, so layer several inches of compost or organic mulch around the base of the plants. Artichokes are perennial but are often treated as annuals to avoid nursing them through the heat of summer.

Cut the main flower stalk close to the ground after harvesting. The plant will produce another generation of flower stalks.


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