The globe artichoke (Cynara scolymus) belongs to the thistle family. It is also known as the French artichoke and the crown artichoke, but is not related to the Jerusalem artichoke, which is actually a tuber.
The artichoke ‘vegetable’ is actually the flower head which is picked and eaten before it blooms. Only the heart and the fleshy base of the leaves is edible. The floral parts in the centre and base of the flower (the choke) must be removed before eating.
Artichokes need a bit of space to grow – a mature plant will end up about 1.5m high and across. Because the plants are perennial and will stay in the same place in the garden for a number of years, the initial preparation of the soil is important. They prefer an open, sunny spot in the garden, with well-drained soil, improved with decomposed manure or fertiliser.
Artichokes can be planted from seed in spring, but it is far easier to plant suckers.
A mature plant typically has a main stem and a number of lateral suckers. Carefully separate the sucker using a spade, trim back any woody leaves or roots and plant in a suitable place in mid-late winter.
Water plants well until they are established and protect them from water and heat stress when young. Once mature, they are fairly resilient.
Build up mulch in autumn, and cut stems back once the leaves go yellow. Mature plants will appreciate a boost of fertiliser and mulch each spring.
It is recommended that you remove any flower heads as they form during the first year (generally 4-6 heads), so the young plants have a chance to grow and produce leaves.
From the second year on, pick the artichokes (generally 10-12 heads) once they are swollen, but before the scales have started to open. When harvesting, leave a few centimetres of stem. Buds harvested early in the season tend to be the best quality.
The major problem in this region is susceptibility to crown rot. This is unlikely to arise if drainage is good and the soil has been well prepared.