The globe artichoke is highly ornamental and looks terrific in the flower border and vegetable garden. It is not known in the wild, and is derived from the cardoon, a native of the Mediterranean. It was imported into Europe by the Greeks and Romans. The edible part of the huge plants – the base of the mature flower bud – is small. Juvenile flower buds can also be eaten whole.
The best sites and soils
Globe artichokes aren’t fully hardy and need a sunny, sheltered site with well-drained, moisture-retentive soil to which plenty of organic matter has been added. Avoid growing globe artichokes in shade or a frost pocket. Also avoid heavy soil that gets waterlogged in winter. The best yields are obtained in cool, moist summers that allow plants to build up plenty of foliage.
Sowing and planting
Buy globe artichokes as small, pot-grown plants, seeds or offsets. Grow plants 90cm (3ft) apart, or space them out in a big flower border, and remove any flower heads produced in the first year.
Potted plants are often sold as a ‘globe artichoke’ rather than a named variety, which implies that they have been grown from seed, in which case the quality will be variable. Named varieties are more reliable. Plant at any time, but ideally during spring or autumn.
Sow seed at 15C (59F) in late winter to early spring, sowing one seed per 9cm pot filled with seed compost. Harden off seedlings gradually, and plant out in early summer. Since plants are very vulnerable to frost in their first winter, mulch them well and protect with a double-layered tent of horticultural fleece during frosts. Seed-raised plants are of variable quality, so remove weaker plants as they start to crop, and then propagate the best ones by offsets.
Cultivating the crop
Weed and water plants well in their first year. Though mature plants are drought-tolerant, better yields are obtained if they are watered during dry spells, especially during the period when flower buds are forming.
If one large flower head is required, remove the side shoots on each flower stem.
Regularly propagate offsets because globe artichokes crop best in their second and third years, after which they can be discarded. In autumn, cut off the old flower stems and tired foliage, and in spring mulch with well-rotted manure, keeping it away from the stems. Also apply a high potash liquid feed in spring and summer, alternatively add a general fertilizer in early spring. In exposed areas likely to experience prolonged frosts, mulch crowns with straw in late autumn, and remove it next spring.
At harvest time
Large terminal heads are produced in summer followed by a smaller, secondary flush. Harvest the artichokes with secateurs before the scales start to open or they will become tough. Since heat and drought can cause the heads to open rapidly, check plants regularly in such conditions. If you don’t intend to eat the head straight away, leave a length of stalk attached and stand in a glass of water in the fridge, where it will keep for a week.
Storing and cooking tips
Braise whole heads for 40 minutes in stock flavored with wine, herbs, diced bacon, mushrooms and onion, and baste regularly. The tender sepals (like overlapping, fleshy leaves) of small heads, sepal bases of large heads, and the basal disk can be eaten in this way. Alternatively snap or cut off the sepals, remove the immature flower, and pare the base with a sharp knife to leave the artichoke heart. This can then also be braised. Plunge in water and lemon juice if not cooking immediately to avoid discoloration.