My hearts de­sire

Cooked ar­ti­choke hearts, with a glass of wine, are among Monty Don’s great­est plea­sures – and he loves the plants they come from, too

Irish Daily Mail - - Gardening -

AR­TI­CHOKES are some­thing I truly adore. I en­joy eat­ing cold ar­ti­choke hearts in good oil and per­haps a lit­tle chilli with a glass of very cold Fras­cati, or pasta with ar­ti­chokes and lemon, ac­com­pa­nied this time by a good ro­bust chi­anti. But my real pas­sion is for the plants them­selves. It never fails to thrill me to grow some­thing of such stature and glau­cous beauty from a seed in a year or two.

I sow the seed in March, prick out the seedlings into 7.5cm pots, then grow them on un­til large enough to plant out. For the rest of the sum­mer they do not grow a great deal but are busy un­der­ground es­tab­lish­ing their deep tap roots. If they do pro­duce a bud it should be re­moved to fo­cus all the plant’s en­er­gies into the root sys­tem. You can buy young plants now if you don’t want to wait un­til next spring to sow the seeds.

They like a rich but well-drained soil and thrive in full sun, but they re­ally do not like our very wet win­ters, and this is when good drainage re­ally helps. In win­ter the leaves will grad­u­ally die right back and the dried stems should be cut and shred­ded be­fore go­ing on the com­post heap. I mulch my ar­ti­chokes in au­tumn with a thick layer of com­post that both feeds and pro­tects their roots from the worst frosts.

In their sec­ond year they will put on a great flush of growth and pro­duce a few chokes, and in year three they will dou­ble in size again and be ready for a few years of

in­ten­sive har­vest­ing. They will also start pro­duc­ing off­sets which can be cut away in April from the par­ent plant with a sharp spade and re­planted to make a new plant that has two ad­van­tages over seed.

The first is that it is a year ahead of the seed process so will be ready to har­vest in earnest in its sec­ond sea­son. The sec­ond is that it will be ex­actly the same as the par­ent plant, whereas one of the disad­van­tages of grow­ing ar­ti­chokes from seed is that they do not al­ways come ‘true’.

In other words, you can sow a packet of seed of a va­ri­ety like ‘Green Globe’ and a quar­ter of the re­sult­ing plants

will be mav­er­icks.

Talk­ing of va­ri­eties, I’m grow­ing just ‘Vi­o­letta di Chiog­gia’ at the mo­ment. These make small­ish chokes on huge plants – which in it­self is a hand­some com­bi­na­tion. They are not the best ar­ti­chokes for eat­ing in the con­ven­tional way – boiled and served whole, then con­sumed by slowly peel­ing off the scales and re­mov­ing the nub of soft heart from the base of each scale with your teeth – but they are per­fect for har­vest­ing small, then eat­ing whole as a side dish or in pasta.

‘Green Globe’ are hand­some, large and de­li­cious, so make a great starter to any din­ner. ‘Gros de Laon’, ‘Ro­manesco’ and ‘Vi­o­let de Provence’ all de­serve to be grown, and are easy to get hold of as seed. But these are large plants and do take up space, so not many of us can grow the full range of va­ri­eties we might like.

Their size does mean, though, that they can be used to dec­o­ra­tive and struc­tural ef­fect out­side the con­fines of the al­lot­ment or veg patch. Grow­ing ar­ti­chokes in a bor­der makes good sense, pro­vid­ing a re­ally dra­matic back­drop for flow­ers as well as pro­duc­ing a de­li­cious har­vest. I nor­mally grow car­doons for this, which are a close rel­a­tive of ar­ti­chokes but seem hap­pier in cooler, wet­ter con­di­tions.

How­ever, ar­ti­chokes will do the job just as well. But wher­ever you grow them, they will need stak­ing from early sum­mer on­wards as their stems tend to crash and fall in bad sum­mer weather. De­spite the dis­tinctly Mediter­ranean ap­peal of the ar­ti­choke, and de­spite the blaz­ing sun­shine out­side my win­dow as I write this, bad weather at some point over our sum­mer is ab­so­lutely cer­tain!

Monty with some of his ar­ti­chokes

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