Growing Globe Artichokes
History has not recorded the name of the adventurous gourmet who discovered that the base of the flower scales of the thistle-like globe artichoke — and also the base of the flowers themselves — could be eaten. But, whoever it was, he put into his debt generations of gourmets to come. The delicate yet unmistakable taste makes artichokes one of the most prized of garden vegetables.
They are, moreover, an asset in the ornamental garden, for their silvery-grey leaves provide a perfect foil for summer flowers. For this reason, they are often to be found in herbaceous borders.
Planning the crop
Globe artichokes need an open sunny position where the soil is rich and well drained.
Except in the south of England, however, the plant will not always survive the winter and it is best to grow it in a sheltered, but sunny, part of the garden.
In the winter before planting, dig in some well-rotted compost, manure or similar organic substance and leave the ground rough until the spring. Then rake the soil to a fine tilth and spread on 3 oz of general fertiliser per square yard (90g per square metre).
How many to grow
Each mature artichoke can be expected to yield up to six heads, so the number grown will depend partly on its popularity in the household, partly on the space available. Place them 3 ft (1m) apart in each direction.
The three or four varieties available differ mainly in their degree of hardiness: `Grand Camus de Bretagne’: large heads; full flavour; most suitable for southern counties.
`Green Globe’: suitable only for southern counties; less flavour than the French varieties.
`Gros Vert de Laon’: perhaps the best-flavoured artichoke; suitable only for southern counties.
`Purple Globe’: a hardier variety, suitable for the north; similar quality to ‘Green Globe’.
How to grow globe artichokes
Artichokes will continue to grow and flower for up to six years, but the heads tend to be smaller, and sometimes tougher, after the third and fourth years. Try, therefore, to replace a few each year so that you always have new plants maturing and some old ones dying down.
To start a crop, buy young plants or suckers in April, and plant them in well-manured soil to the same depth as they were in the nursery bed or pot. In May, apply a liberal mulch of manure or compost around the plants.
The new plants will provide some heads by August or September, but it is better to encourage growth in the first year by removing the buds as soon as they appear. Your patience will be rewarded by larger heads in subsequent seasons.
In their second and third years, allow each plant to develop only four to six stems. Leave the flower on the main stem — called the king head — and several others at the end of lateral shoots. Nip off any extra buds on side-shoots to ensure a good crop.
In November, cut the main stems down almost to ground level, draw the surrounding soil around them and cover the soil with a layer of straw. Enclose this with wire netting and cover with a sheet of polythene.
In dry periods, especially when the plants are growing strongly, make sure that they are well watered.
Raising new plants
In April or November, select strong shoots about 9 in. (230 mm) high on plants that are at least three years old. Cut vertically alongside each shoot, using a spade or sharp knife and retaining part of the rootstock beneath it.
Discard the rest of the plant after removing the shoots.
Shoots removed in April can be planted out immediately in their permanent positions.
If you remove shoots in November, pot them in potting compost and keep in a cold frame during the winter. The following spring, plant them out in their permanent positions.
Pests and diseases
Artichokes are generally free from pests, although in damp conditions slugs and snails may sometimes be a problem.
The major disease is Petal blight.
Harvesting and preserving
Mature plants should produce ripe heads in June or July. Pick the heads, starting with the king head, when they are still green and tightly wrapped.
The flower heads on the lateral shoots are best picked when about the size of a hen’s egg.
Use secateurs to cut off the heads, then cut back each stem to about half its original length.