Saturday, 8 May 2010

Artichokes Don't Care Who's Prime Minister

Who can help our artichokes? Three of the plants are starting to droop quite badly in the Edible Garden.

We've given them loads of water, they're in very free draining soil, they're in the sunnier northern corner, and we prepared it with a bit of Mike's manure - well - his horses manure actually last summer.

Is it just this unseasonably cold snap - or are we doing something else wrong?



Anonymous said...

It's not how much water you put on the soil that counts, it's how much water the soil needs. And if the soil's dry transplanted plants are going to get a setback to the roots. That soil looks quite dry - scrape away a bit to see how dry it is three or four inches below the surface.

Those look like willow cuttings you've got growing up by the railings. Willows are very thirsty. It may be that the plants that are flourishing had less competition from the willows as their roots were getting established.

It's the leaves that were large when the plants were first planted that will show signs of temporary stress. If the plants' roots have become established in spite of a difficult time to start off, the new leaves will look OK and will take over from the droopy old ones.

However ... The willows are going to carry on sucking up the moisture, and they'll grow like a train.

And even if the willows weren't there, you're overplanted. Those artichokes are going to grow pretty big and will be competing against one another. Remember, the artichoke people peel the bits off to eat is just one flower (and an artichoke heart is just the centre of one flower). Imagine the size of plant that's going to grow flowers like that - it's six foot tall and more, spreading out. Unless they're dwarf varieties, if they make themselves at home you've got room for a couple of plants at most at each end of the base of the triangle, or one near the middle, and the little box bush is going to disappear under the foliage.

Anonymous said...

I meant to add that globe artichokes are really magnificent plants when they're full size - just the sort of thing that you need to make an impact in a large open area like the green. If you wait until they're fully recovered from the initial move but still not too large, you could reorganise them so you have more than one group.

If you think that's worth trying, plant them three to four foot apart (fill in the space in between with some Tradescantia cuttings to green it up till the artichokes start growing).

Water any plants you're going to transplant very throughly for a couple of days in advance, water the place they're going to thoroughly, try to keep the roots from damage when you move them and keep the plants well watered for a week after moving.

Anonymous said...

Incidentally, why have you got box and willow in an Edible Garden? Aspirin was first discovered in willow bark but that's not really a major part of the five a day for most people, and box leaves seem best left for worming horses.

Bon appetit!

Sóna said...

WOW! Thanks Owen!! As always - you've come up trumps. I'm going to try everything you suggested.
Actually - this morning they look like they're perking up a bit.
But - I have made some mistakes - and will be spreading them out a bit.
I'm hoping that we can keep them as a feature in this corner of the Edible Garden for a few years - a they look spectacular when fully grown.

The willow just started sprouting from the coppiced logs we used to keep the soil from running off. I really love this tree as it's virtually unchoppable! The logs were about 6 months old, and still had a bit of sap in them to carry on sprouting.
The common concensus is that we will keep them - and train the branches through the railings to provide a wind hedge for the edibles.
That means that this corner gets double watered. We start & end in this corner everytime we water.

Owen - thanks for all the tips - we owe you one of the hearts when (a now succesful) harvest comes around - mmmmmm delicious!!

Incidentally - which Prime Minister do you think is going to oversee these artichokes first few months of life?


Anonymous said...

Sóna, you're a desperate romantic! You may be able to trail the willows round the railings for a month or two but next year you'll have a cast iron ladder to help you climb the tree (perhaps slight exaggeration). Willows are not green tinsel, they are monsters. Beautiful monsters if you set them in the middle of a space large enough for them, bit not comfortable bed-fellows. Your paving stones won't appreciate them either, nor will any pipes they can get their roots into. Keep them at least thirty foot away from anything whose presence or function you value!

Anonymous said...

And plants don't care if you double-water them if they want four times the amount you're giving them. Have you ever seen the Little Shop of Horrors? "Feed me! Feed me!". Well, when you see your artichokes drooping and the soil's gone dry, what they're doing is screaming out "Gissadrink! Gissadrink! More! More!".

Anonymous said...

And as for Prime Ministers, they're just the same as willows and Olympic developers!

Anonymous said...

I should have said thirty yards, not thirty foot.

Anna said...

Hi guys,

All very interesting! I was wondering if either of you could tell me what a cardoon is? Are the flowerbuds edible like that of a globe artichoke?



Anonymous said...

Hello Anna

A cardoon is a very large thistle rather like the globe artichoke but you can't eat the flowers, it's the stalks that you eat. It's a long time since I had some and I've never cooked them. They can be a bit bitter. If you blanch them as they grow (by mounding up soil around the stalk) that apparently takes out the bitterness, or you can blanch them when cooking. The plants are magnificent looking, same sort of size as globe artichoke but the thistle flower is a purply-blue colour. There's a recipe of sorts at

Anonymous said...

Apparently there's an easier way of blanching them than earthing-up - you wrap the lower stems round with newspaper or something equivalent that keeps the light out from early on.

Anna said...

Hi Owen,

Thanks for all your fantastic advise. The reason I ask about the cardoons is because I have noticed a few artichoke-type plants in our neighbourhood. When I pointed them out to a friend, he mentioned they might be 'cardoons', something I have never heard of before! I love the name though - where does that originate from?

I will wait and see if the purply-blue flowerheads appear, then I'll know for sure if they are cardoons. Are there any other differences to look out for between cardoons and artichokes?

Thanks again,


Anonymous said...

Hello Anna

My guess about the name - pretty certain, really - is that it's derived from the French word for thistle, chardon.

I did a bit of looking on the internet for some more recipes and found a collection of Italian recipes at

But - there's a warning there, "A last, and very important point: Cardoons are a winter vegetable. Though they continue to grow into the spring, spring warmth makes them unpleasantly bitter, and they can also become woody."

The funny thing is that she says they don't have a flower. In fact like globe artichokes they're grown in herbaceous borders because the flower gives a bit of interest at eye-level and above.

I found some pictures of the flowers at
It's an American site, so the geographical factors need to be taken into account in the horticultural comments but they're really interesting - wide range of views and hints.

I'd have thought both globe artichokes and cardoons would be good to give a bit of interest in around the big green, but as the commenters on the American website warn, watch out for seeds.

Good luck!


Anonymous said...

Anna, more information than you would need in a lifetime of growing , eating and weeding cardoons:
Darwin bumps into them on the Argentine pampas and an explanation how Swiss chard got its name.

All the best


Anna said...

Thanks so much for all your insight - I hope I haven't taken up too much of your time with my questions!
Interesting how Darwin, viewed cardoons as 'pernicious and invasive', as the cardoons I have noticed were growing on a bank amidst some pampas grass!! Initially I assumed that someone had gone to the trouble of planting them, but on second thoughts perhaps they have self-seeded. I will try a take some pictures and perhaps you could post them on the blog Sona?

I feel like I'm becoming a bona fide expert on all things cardoony!


Anonymous said...

My pleasure, Anna! Sona, after Anna's mention of pampas grass, have you thought of putting some on the Leabank Square green? The leaves can be a bit sharp but the clumps and the flowers are large enough to have visual impact and kids enjoy playing with the cleaning lady's dusters.