21 April 2014

Growing globe artichokes

Globe artichokes are one of my favourite vegetables. Often in the UK we can only buy them when they are old and large. We tend to boil these whole, and then tear of the leafy sepals and eat them with hollandaise or (as my mum does) with melted butter sauce. I do enjoy eating them this way, but what I really like is cooking them when they are much smaller as an ingredient in a stew, or preserving them under oil, which makes a delicious accompaniment to cold meats. In the last few years smaller artichokes have appeared on the British market, but they are often expensive, and seldom look as good as those one sees for sale in Italian and French markets.

Three years ago, I had a go at growing my own artichokes from seed. I used a Sicilian variety, and although some of the plants put on abundant leaf growth, none of them produced any actual artichokes. I'd read that getting the plants through their first winter was often key to getting them to produce fruit. I duly wrapped the plants in fleece and then bubble wrap and hoped they'd survive. Sadly, none of them made it through the cold 2012-13 winter. When I removed the fleece the following spring all I found was an unpleasant decomposing mess.  No new shoots reappeared.

I decided to have another go. Instead of growing a Sicilian variety from seed I ordered plugs, of varieties apparently better suited to the UK climate. Again a few of the plants put on good leaf growth in the hot 2013 summer, but none of them fruited. On a visit to a national trust garden in late autumn I noticed they had packed straw and manure around the stems of their artichoke plants to overwinter them. A bit of internet research confirmed this was the traditional way of over-
wintering artichokes in the UK. Living in south east London, I did not have ready access to either straw or manure, so instead packed bark chips around the base of the stems. All plants made it through the winter, and with the onset of spring, started to put on abundant growth. Peering inside the mass of leaves last week, I was excited to catch a glimpse of small artichokes nestling inside of two of the plants. I'm now looking forward to cooking with my first home-grown artichokes.

(For my stuffed artichoke recipe, see here: Stuffed artichokes).
And here for my autumn update on the artichokes.


  1. Congratulations on your artichoke success! I am also a massive fan of artichokes, although it's always mystified me as to why anyone would eat them in the first place, considering the spines and the generally unappetising core. Thanks, Romans!

  2. You say in your post that you chose varieties better suited to a UK climate - what are these?

  3. Green Globe and Tavour are popular varieties in the UK. Tavour in particular has good cold tolerance. Both produce green artichokes. The purple artichoke in the picture is Romanesco, an Italian variety.