For the last few weeks, my 6 artichoke plants (8? 10? More? They’ve multiplied so much that I’ve lost count) have been going off. Each plant bears beautiful spiny buds of the Purple of Romagna variety, an Italian heirloom that’s said to be more tender than the typical green globe.
I love to grow artichokes because they’re ornamental and edible. I wasn’t much of an artichoke eater until I had my own plants — I just liked the way they looked. They were exotic and easy to grow and I soon found the stems just as scrumptious as the hearts. They’re lovely for landscaping because in ideal growing conditions, the root system can live for up to five years and produce countless new plants each year. (In colder climates, artichokes are grown as annuals unless overwintered in containers indoors.)
In my coastal climate, which stays fairly mild year-round (not too hot in the summer and not too cold in the winter), artichokes (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus) are perennials. They die back (become dormant) over winter and re-bloom in spring. Throughout the warmer months, my plants are constantly sprouting new buds and sending up shoots that then grow into new plants.
Each plant terminates in a large, beautiful bud, with smaller buds growing from the leaf nodes.
Despite being Purple of Romagna artichokes, not all of mine turn purple. Some are tinged in green, and that often happens when you grow artichokes from seed. The seedlings don’t always grow “true to parent” — that is, bearing the classic genetic traits of their variety. The only way to ensure a plant with desirable traits (such as color and size) is to dig and divide a mature plant exhibiting those traits, as its offshoots will share that same genetic code.
One plant will give me a dozen delicious artichokes before it’s spent, with each subsequent artichoke becoming smaller in size. If given plenty of room to spread (and divided regularly so new shoots aren’t crowded), it’s not uncommon to harvest a couple dozen artichokes from just a single plant. Even in my limited space, my artichoke plants grow to about 3 feet wide by 3 feet high.
Toward the end of the season when I can’t possibly eat anymore artichokes, I like to leave a couple of buds on the plant to bloom. Artichoke flowers are an amazing sight with bursts of bright purple florets.
Once the show is over, you can simply cut the plant down to the ground and wait for next season’s stunners to spring up.