Plant Profile: Globe Artichokes for the North

Tavor Artichoke

Cynara cardunculus is a fascinating set of vegetables. A huge stately perennial thistle that grows wild around the Mediterranean. Varieties called Cardoon are selected for edible stems and varieties called Globe Artichoke are used for the delicate flower bud before it has opened. Both of these are fantastic looking in the vegetable garden but take up a fair amount of room and are not winter hardy for our area. This is a shame because the flowers are mostly not produced until the second year EXCEPT there are a few varieties that have been selected to flower the first year like Tavor Artichoke.

Incidentally, globe artichoke is not the only member of the lettuce family (Asteraceae) that has yummy flower hearts. Dandelion as it emerges in the spring, just before the flowers start to rise from the crown, have a succulent if somewhat bitter heart. There are other edible members of this family as well including burdock root, chicory, radicchio and the aforementioned lettuce, as well as many wild plants that are commonly harvested. These plants share a distinctive ‘aster’ bitter taste to their greens, which has been mostly bred out of lettuce but is noticeable when grown in unfavourable conditions or when it bolts – aka goes to flower. Globe artichoke’s flower buds have a similarly delicate taste especially the often pickled heart.

Edible Landscape Design

If it is not eaten then the thistle bud bursts into fantastic purple bloom. Planting a few at the centre of a decorative vegetable garden gives high visual appeal and a strong structural look.

Growing this Variety

If you live in a climate with colder winters, you’ll want to start your seedlings 2-3 months before the last spring frost so you have bulky little seedlings that you’ll plant out in cool (not frosty) weather. This cool period of a week or two will trick the plant into thinking it has experienced a mini Mediterranean winter so that it will produce earlier flower buds. Plant out in a sunny location in good soil and keep watered well until established.

Tavor is a nice variety in that it produces an attractive, silvery, nearly spineless-leaf plant with a number of edible buds if given proper treatment. A real joy to watch grow as well as eat.

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