The Art of Growing Artichokes (and Eating Them Too)

They thrive in frost-free regions with cool, foggy summers, but growing artichokes in dry and/or frosty climates is feasible with a few adjustments. Their ornamental qualities and tasty buds make them worth the effort.


| March/April 1979



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After successfully growing artichokes, enjoy the fruits of your labor dipped in butter sauce.

PHOTO: JUANITA BROWNE

Though many folks are unfamiliar with artichokes, these plants are among the most beautiful and versatile additions that you could make to your garden. Their decorative gray-green leaves, stately pineapple-shaped heads, and blue-purple, thistle-like flowers are pretty enough to adorn a flower bed or to be mistaken for a piece of fancy shrubbery ... and there are endless ways to cook 'em!

Artichokes (Cynara scolymus) are usually considered a vegetable, but they're actually an herb of the Compositae family, native to the Caribbean region. The plants were introduced into the United States—in Louisiana and California—by French settlers, Spanish explorers, and Italian immigrants.

Those transplanted herbs found central California particularly to their liking. As a result, about 90% of all of America's commercially grown artichokes are found near Castroville, California, a town that really deserves its title of "Artichoke Capital of the World." The tasty plants thrive in this frost-free region of cool, foggy summers and light, sandy soil. However, artichokes can be cultivated in other climes, too! I know, because I've had success growing artichokes in the dry, hot San Fernando Valley as well as in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, where early and late frosts and some heavy freezes are common.

So, if you have rich soil, can protect the plants against freezing, and will mist the leaves to prevent dehydration, chances are that you'll produce a reasonable 'choke crop no matter where you live. If you do, the harvest will more than make up for your efforts!

Where to Get 'Em

Artichokes can be grown from seed, but this method is "chancy" at best. Although seeds might produce a good plant, they may also yield an herb that has reverted to its thistle heritage; artichokes don't always grow true to variety.

You can avoid this problem entirely, however, if you transplant sections of rootstock (commonly called "stumps"), or use offshoots (sideshoots) taken from the base of an old plant.
And—if you have a choice—rootstock will produce better plants than offshoots will, since the stumps provide stored nutrients that immediately force new leaf and root growth. A root section of several inches in diameter and six inches or more in length can—if it's planted after spring frosts are over—give you a small crop of artichokes during the very first year.





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