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Grow to eat: why globe artichokes are never out of fashion

Cynara scolymus 'Violetta di Chioggia'
Artichoke 'Violetta di Chioggia' Credit: GAP Photos

One secret to growing decent quantities of food in limited spare time is to lean heavily on low-maintenance perennial crops. Artichokes were among the first I tried – I love their silvery spiked leaves and giant purple thistle flowers (great in borders and dried flower arrangements). These days, it’s the heart of the bud that’s fashionable to eat but the outer scales, an Eighties dinner party throwback, are also edible.

Sow artichoke seeds inside now in 3in (7cm) pots of compost, 1in (3cm) deep. This gives seedlings a head start before planting in full sun in spring, encouraging a crop this summer. You can sow direct later but they’re unlikely to crop until year two. Feed with fertiliser throughout summer and mulch with compost in spring for more buds each year.

Four years on, I’m still growing my first seedlings of ‘Green Globe Improved’ (thompsonmorgan.co.uk) for delicious large heads with few spines. If I were to grow more, I’d consider ‘Romanesco’ or ‘Violetta di Chioggia’ from chilternseeds.co.uk. Pick buds before they open, steam for 30 mins and serve, picking the scales to eat their base for a retro starter before spooning out the fluffy middle to reach 
the chunky heart.

Do allow some to flower and watch bumblebees screaming “Jackpot!” as they buzz through the purple field of nectar.

Now is also a good time to plant Jerusalem artichokes, confusingly not the same vegetable, though the plants are distant relatives within the Asteraceae family. Helianthus tuberosus is a tuber-forming sunflower and it’s these bits you eat like other root veg. I almost paid £17 for some online before realising I was being mugged off when I found a huge pack of UK-grown ‘Fuseau’ in the supermarket for £1.50. Pop some in the ground today.

Find Jack’s blog at jackwallington.com. Follow him on Twitter @jackwallington or Instagram @jackwallingtongardendesign