GLOBE ARTICHOKES - a gardener's notebook
Globe artichokes are the ones that look like thistles - the other kind, Jerusalem Artichokes, are in the sunflower family and completely unrelated. But the flavours are similar . . .
Globe Artichokes are a useful "hungry gap" vegetable, as they produce a crop after the winter leeks, brassicas and so on are finished, but before the summer veg start. They are easy to grow and will potter along happily for many years in a corner, as long as you feed them well with something like well-rotted manure or mushroom compost each March.
You can buy plants but don't be fooled by named varieties - old favourites like Vert De Lyon or Early Violet are just grown from seed, so grow them from seed yourself and save money. Sow the seeds in January and you'll have your first crop the same summer. In the years thereafter they'll crop in spring. Plants grown from seed will vary - you can propagate the best ones by taking a spade and chopping vertically down through a shoot at the edge, taking some root with it. Do this in March.
Some books will tell you the plants need winter protection. This may be true of some Mediterranean varieties, or in colder areas, but the ones we've grown from seed have come through recent bad winters in Kent without protection, undamaged.
Don't expect to get heads of the quality you see in posh shops from your seed-grown plants. Cut the heads before the central thistle flower shows. Small buds, the size of an egg, can be lightly trimmed and cooked whole. Mature heads are boiled and eaten by the pulling-off-a-leaf-dipping-it-in-sauce-and-taking-the-flesh-off-between-your-teeth method. Older heads can be trimmed of all the leafy bits (the amount of waste looks shocking) and just cooking the disc at the base as "fonds d'artichaut" or artichoke bottoms.
The most fabulous artichokes we ever saw were at Charleston in Sussex (the Bloomsbury group house) where there is a lovely garden. Unfortunately there was no-one around to ask the name or where they were obtained from . . . they looked like these. The ones you'll get from seed will look more like these