Lots of people are familiar with the artichoke at the grocery store. The artichoke head is nothing more than the bud of the artichoke flower. With heavy feeding and watering you can even coax your artichoke to produce those great big round heads now selling commercially from the globe artichoke variety. Sometimes, however, forcing large buds are done at the expense of flavor. But even without much care, the artichoke can grow excellent buds for eating. Some people feel smaller artichokes are more flavorful. There are even varieties now available that are best grown as annuals and pulled after harvesting.
The artichoke is a bold plant that not only can provide you with many delicious meals, but will still reward you with giant electric blue-purple, brush-like flowers when the last of the artichoke buds are left un-cropped and allowed to open into these curious, but showy flowers. Some artichoke varieties — especially those with the rich purple coloring more commonly grown in France or Italy — are even decorative in bud. They make interesting dried flower arrangements, too. You can spray paint the dried flower heads or let them stay natural, removing all the fluffy parachute-equipped seeds before they go floating off around your household.
The artichoke likes plenty of full, baking sun and will grow willingly with less water than many other vegetables (though it won’t object to more water, either). Watch out for the aphids that cluster beneath the scales of the flower buds. They will draw lots of ants, which will then farm more aphids. I recommend spraying with water and using Safer’s horticultural soap. Feel free to release the dramatic artichoke from the vegetable garden to the flower garden or even use it as a solitary focal point. (Be prepared to disguise it after it has faded because there is a pretty raggedy period between the end of flowing and when the new foliage comes up).
A tough plant for drier, hotter climates, the artichoke has impressive leaves that can almost look tropical. With its fast-growing, wide-spreading habit it can fill an empty space quickly with decorative foliage, fascinating flowers and tasty, nutritious buds. This is one vegetable that is probably best left OUT of the raised vegetable garden as it doesn’t need the coddling most other vegetables prefer and it will take up too much room. And since it should look great in many other parts of the landscape, growing artichokes in the garden is both easy and ornamental.
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