Happy St. Patricks Day. I was tempted to talk about shamrocks or green carnations, but instead I'm talking about another green plant that's more Italian than Irish. It's the globe artichoke.
Artichokes are one of the oldest foods known to humans. Originating in the Mediterranean, the Italian word for artichoke means "pine cone," since the immature flower bud or "choke" resembles one. In America, artichokes are mostly grown in coastal California because of its cool summers and mild winters.
Globe artichokes are a perennial in warm climates and produce immature flower buds or "chokes" the second year after planting.
This thistle family plant can produce dozens of artichokes, but in Connecticut, 10 to 12 good ones per plant is more realistic. Purchase transplants from a local garden center or start seeds indoors now.
The best varieties for our climate are ‘Imperial Star’ and the purple, 'Colorado Star.' They won't overwinter here but these varieties produce artichokes the first season -- provided you trick them. Expose artichoke seedlings to two weeks of outdoor temperatures between freezing and 50 degrees to fool them into thinking they’ve gone through a winter. They'll send up flower buds by mid-summer.
Artichoke plants can grow four to six feet tall and wide. Plant in full sun, on well drained, loose, fertile soil.
Artichokes have taproots, so don't disturb the roots when transplanting. Water regularly and feed them monthly. Set plants out in April for their vernalization, but protect them from frosts. Harvest the artichokes in mid-summer before the buds open and while they’re still firm.
Consider leaving a few buds on the plant to open into an attractive purple thistle flower.
Next week on the Connecticut Garden Journal, I'll be talking about seascaping. Until then, I'll be seeing you in the garden.