Globe artichokes (Cynara scolymus) are large, architectural perennial plants that are attractive enough for the flower garden. They can be grown from seed or young plants, and their large edible flower buds are easy to cook and delicious!
Jobs to do now
- Water well in dry weather
- Harvest large buds
Month by month
Globe artichokes like a warm sunny spot, in reasonably fertile, free-draining soil. To make best use of space, sow into a seedbed temporarily, then later transplant to their final position, as they will grow into large plants that need wide spacing.
Sow seeds either indoors or outside in March or April, 13mm (½in) deep. If starting them off indoors, sow into modules or small pots. Outdoors, sow two or three seeds every 25–30cm (10–12in), then thin to leave the strongest seedling at each point.
Transplant young plants to their permanent position when they have at least five true leaves, spacing them 60–90cm (2–3ft) apart, and water in well. They make an attractive addition to flower borders as well as veg plots.
Seed-raised plants tend to be variable and spiny, so only keep the best plants. You can later propagate your favourites from suckers or by dividing clumps to produce more identical plants.
Alternatively, buy rooted suckers or container-grown plants in garden centres and online.
Keep plants weed free and water during dry weather. Seed-grown plants usually flower in their first summer.
In colder regions, cover plants in late autumn with a mulch of straw, compost or well-rotted manure, to protect them during cold winter weather.
Each spring, mulch with well-rotted manure or home-made compost, when the soil is warm and moist. Feed with a high potassium general fertiliser, such as Vitax Q4, at a rate of one handful per square metre/yard, to improve flower production.
To keep plants vigorous and cropping well, divide every two to three years.
Established plants can be propagated from rooted suckers (shoots arising from a plant’s root system) in March or April. Choose vigorous suckers, 20–30cm (8–12in) long, with at least two shoots.
Slugs and snails
These feed on the young seedlings and you'll see the tell tale slime trail on the soil around your crop, as well as on the leaves.
There are many ways to control slugs and snails, including beer traps, sawdust or eggshell barriers, copper tape and biocontrols.
Look for colonies of greenfly on the soft shoot tips of plants or on leaves. They suck sap and excrete sticky honeydew, encouraging the growth of black sooty moulds.
Use your finger and thumb to squash aphid colonies or use biological control in the greenhouse.
From June, use secateurs to remove the buds, ideally when they reach the size of a golf ball, before they open and start to flower. After you harvest the main flower bud, secondary buds will appear, and these too can be harvested when large enough.
Globe artichokes become more prolific each year until, after several years, they run out of steam and the plants need to be replaced.
How to cook and eat:
Boil or steam young flower buds until tender, then drain and serve with melted butter, vinaigrette or hollandaise sauce. To eat, remove the leaf scales one by one, dip in the butter or sauce, then suck out the juicy flesh from each scale. Finish off with the succulent heart. Delicious!
Mature flowers take longer to cook and are less flavoursome, but can be cooked and eaten in the same way.
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