June 2nd, 2010
Cynara cardunculus, Artichoke

globe artichoke
2010-05-27. The artichoke finally opens its flowers.

Sometimes it’s better not to do any research before impulsively buying a plant you love. What if I had read about the growing requirements of artichokes?

“While climate is a more important factor in production of tender buds than soil, artichokes are heavy feeders requiring large amounts of nitrogen and moist but well-drained soil…winter temperatures should be above freezing and summers should be cool and foggy. — How to Grow Vegetables and Fruits by the Organic Method (Rodale)

Could Austin be any less ideal for growing artichokes? My soil is dry, poorly draining black clay. Cool and foggy? Austin? I planted my artichoke in the spring of 2009, smack in the middle of our 2-year drought and just before Austin faced the summer of 67 days 100° plus temperatures. The artichoke struggled but somehow I managed to keep it alive all summer. Luckily, all I knew about growing artichokes was that someone up the street had one and it produced beautiful huge purple flowers.

In September 2009, it began raining in Austin and rained all fall, winter, and early spring. The artichoke liked that.

globe artichoke
2010-01-04. Artichoke plant just before the big freeze.

But in January, Austin got three days of freezing temperatures in a row that were unusually low for us (in the teens). I threw a sheet over the artichoke but was too busy worrying about even more tender plants to do anything else for it. It looked a bit shocked after the experience but as temperatures warmed it perked up. An afternoon of snow didn’t faze it.

globe artichoke
2010-02-23. The artichoke weathered Austin’s snow day.

A perennial, it sent up suckers, one of which I managed to remove and transplant successfully. By April 2010, the plant had doubled in size and the first bud was visible. Some bug ate it.

Soon other buds formed.

globe artichoke
2010-04-26. Artichoke bud.
For six weeks, I watched the globes get bigger and bigger. We considered eating some but as neither of us really like artichokes decided to hold out for the flowers.

globe artichoke
2010-05-11. Is it ever going to open?

On May 18th, we went on vacation. Still no flowers. When we returned a week later, the flowers had finally opened. Unfortunately, with temperatures in the 90s and no water in a week, the stems had bent to the ground under the weight of the huge flower heads. One had snapped. Talk about blooming its head off.

globe artichoke
2010-05-27. Collapse of the monster plant.

Was the artichoke worth the trouble? Oh, yeah!

globe artichoke

The flowers are impressive. Even if they are upside down. Maybe next year we’ll eat a few buds.

globe artichoke

by M Sinclair Stevens

14 Responses to post “Cynara cardunculus, Artichoke”

  1. From Mr. McGregor's Daughter:

    What a great story. I love artichokes, to eat & to look at. The foliage is just fantastic & the flowers are cool. It’s funny how artichokes like Austin, contrary to the common wisdom.

    I don’t know if artichokes actually like Austin but they at least can tolerate it and survive. They really struggle during the heat, their huge leaves looking sad and droopy. But they keep sending up new fresh leaves. We’ll see what the next summer brings. — mss

  2. From Caroline - Austin:

    Those flowers are SO COOL. I’ve often thought about growing them just for the flowers. Nice to know they will grow in black clay.

    Give it plenty of room. These plants get huge. I planted it much too close to the path. When they send up the bloom stocks, they double in size. — mss

  3. From Annie in Austin:

    The flowers are fun, MSS- so glad you didn’t miss them and how lucky it lived through the cold winter!

    I’ll probably be thrown out of Austin for saying this, but growing the plant for the flowers sounds better than messing around with fresh artichokes…canned artichokes work just fine in my recipes!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    We read several recipes for preparing artichokes and they all seemed to have drowning them in butter in common. This made me think that perhaps that artichokes themselves don’t taste all that great. — mss

  4. From Jenny Austin:

    This is an impressive plant with an impressive flower. I planned to put one in the center of one of my vegy. beds this year but never saw any for sale. Wrong time of year? Where did you get the plant? Perennial? I could tell you a funny story about some friends serving artichokes for lunch after D had just done an 18miler. Maybe you can imagine!

  5. From Dorothy @ Gardening with Nature:

    I’ve wanted to grow artichokes, but here? I’m just outside of Houston, hardly artichoke territory. But nothing ventured, nothing gained. You have inspired me! I think I’ll give it a try.

  6. From Linda Lehmusvirta Austin Texas:

    I love this story! And the topper is that neither of you like to eat them; the flower is enough to make you happy. Just lovely, thank you so much.

  7. From Vertie:

    Gorgeous! i grew one a couple of years ago. Jenny, i bought one in September or October. I did eat mine but don’t remember it much. i ended up pulling it out because it took up too much room, but maybe i’ll try again to find more room for one this fall.

    Do you know if cardoon flowers are as pretty?

  8. From M2:

    WOW! How pretty … and I’m ashamed that I never wondered what an artichoke would look like if it went ahead and bloomed.

    I knew it was a thistle, but that’s a fabulous thistle!

  9. From compostinmyshoe:

    They are so architectural in the garden. I love growing them in Charleston. Ours are flowering right now as well.

  10. From Steve Mudge (Fort Worth):

    That growing advice from Rodale was for growing the perfect “edible artichoke”…the plants themselves are much tougher than that, as you have found out. Out in Southern California the artichoke’s wild cousin has naturalized (from Europe) and thrives on the meager 10 inches of rain a year out there—as much as I don’t like it as an invasive out there it sure is beautiful to see fields of them in bloom in the spring.

  11. From Diana - Austin:

    Love how you chronicled your artichoke adventure! I’ve had them in a previous garden, and let them bloom as well, because they were so stunning. I have a new one now, planted this spring. Thanks to your research, I think I might feed it a little bit. Mine will get enough water, but that cool, foggy thing is gonna be a problem! At least it’s in a slightly shadier spot in the garden!

  12. From angelina:

    I love eating artichokes but when I’ve grown them before I couldn’t resist letting some of them flower just because they’re so magnificent. Thistles are one of my favorite flowers and artichokes are essentially mammoth thistles.

  13. From Donna California:

    Are artichokes still edible after they flower? Mine are still smallish, but they are flowering. Be nice to have the beautiful flowers and then eat them!

    When we eat a globe artichoke we are eating the flower bud. After a flower bud opens it’s no longer a bud. Is it edible? Do you mean do they suddenly become poisonous. I don’t think so but I don’t know for sure. Do you mean are they tasty? Why don’t you try it and find out? — mss

  14. From Borislav, Bulgaria:

    Dears, I’m impressed! I would like to cultivate this flower in Bulgaria. But here the climate is not so soft and that make me sad. Please, provide me with detailed information about the method for cultivation of this amazing flower.
    Thank you in advance!