Guest blogger Carole Patilla writes about her love of all things artichoke!
Giants of the garden
“What’s that huge, gorgeous silver-leafed thing?” is one of the most frequently asked questions by visitors to my garden. The answer, surprisingly for many, is a globe artichoke.
Striking for their architectural foliage alone, I wouldn’t be without them as they add height and drama to the flower border. Their muted greys and jagged, arching shape make them a superb plant to grow at the back of the border to set off dark coloured flowers.
And if that is not enough to earn these would-be six-footers a place in your flower bed, in addition to producing delicately flavoured, delicious edible flowers in July and August, they are loved by visiting bees (who need all the help gardeners can give them at present). If you choose not to harvest the immature flowerheads for the table, they open to reveal spiky purple hearts resembling thistles on steroids, which have a lengthy vase life as a stunning cut flower. The leaves also are a revelation when used as filler foliage in vase arrangements.
If I have now persuaded you to put these on your gardening wish list, there is still better news to come – they’re one of the few items of perennial ‘veg’ (though technically, the globes are flowers, not veg) AND they are easy to grow.
I always sow globe artichoke from seed, starting them off indoors in a propagator in late January or early February. (If you don’t own a propagator, a sunny, bright windowsill and a plastic bag, secured with an elastic band, to cover the pot will do). You can sow the seed either singly or two per 7.5 cm pot, just in case one seed does not germinate. If both seeds sprout, you’ll need to transplant one as soon as they are large enough to handle. Take them out of the propagator when the shoots have emerged and keep the seedlings indoors to grow on in slightly cooler conditions for a couple of weeks.
I usually start to usher my babies towards the outdoors in stages – putting them in my unheated porch during the daytime only at first, then they get to stay out for night too. When the stems have started to harden off (you can tell this just by feeling them), I release them into my unheated greenhouse but during the colder weather, tuck them up at night in horticultural fleece until they are really growing strongly. Look after them well and they will reward you. When the roots are visible at the bottom of the pot, don’t forget to pot them on to keep them nice and vigorous until late March when they can be planted out into the garden.
If this all sounds far too complicated, and (unlike me) you are able to restrain your gardening urges until the gardening season proper begins, you can sow them outdoors between March and April. Prepare a seed bed and mark out rows 30 cm apart, then sow two or three seeds every 25-30cm along the row. You will need to thin them out later, leaving only the strongest seedling in each group to develop further.
Once you have established plants dotted around your plot, it is also easy to propagate new ones by division in early spring. Using a sharp knife, separate a cluster (at least two growing points) of emerging shoots from the edge of the foliage clump and ensure you also get some of the attached roots. Grow them on until established in pot of multipurpose compost and then plant them out into their final positions.
They need plenty of room (about a square metre) but will earn every centimetre of it with a glorious display from spring onwards. If you leave the dried stems standing, they even provide a dramatic focal point in the winter garden.
Artichokes are a little fiddly to prepare as the tough outer leaves and stem have to be removed. When you have peeled them away and are left with the lighter coloured middle of the flower, scrape away the thistly bit and the pale green heart coveted by chefs is finally revealed!
Artichokes do discolour after peeling, so if you don’t want them to brown for aesthetic reasons, rub them with a cut lemon. They still taste great even if they do!
Fried slivers of artichoke with oil, fresh herbs and garlic
- 4 fresh artichoke hearts, sliced into sixths
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 chopped garlic cloves
- 1 tablespoon fresh mint (chopped)
- 1 tablespoon fresh parsley (chopped)
- salt and pepper
- 2 crumbled dry chillies (optional)
Heat the oil until smoking hot and add the sliced artichokes. Keep stirring them until they change to a light brown colour, which should take about 5 minutes. Turn down the heat, then add the garlic. Lower the heat to medium and when the garlic starts to colour, add 3 tablespoons of water, then add salt and pepper. Cover with a lid and cook until the water has evaporated. Add the chopped herbs and chilli if using. Check the seasoning – add a little lemon juice to suit your taste.