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One is Never Enough

Updated: Apr 27, 2019

Over the past few weeks I have been eagerly watching my single globe artichoke (Cynara solymus) rapidly grow. One perfectly formed artichoke nestled among the large spiked leaves has now been joined by 3 more, all at different stages of development.

I brought the artichoke last summer and planted it in a mixed perennial border among a muddle of plants chosen not only for their usefulness but also for various aesthetic qualities.

Plants provide us with so much more than luscious foliage, pretty flowers or lovely scent. As well as having a myriad of culinary or medicinal uses they can be used for dyes or flower arranging. Additionally they often benefit the soil or other plants through complex and amazing relationships that we are barely even beginning to understand such as that formed through mycorrhizal fungi. And finally they provide habitat and forage for our amazing garden wildlife.

When it comes to aesthetics it is the pairing that really matters. I planted my single globe artichoke alongside some gorgeous bright green leaved, deep pink flowering red valerian (Centranthus ruber), the lovely textured purple sage (Salvia officinalis 'Purpurascens') and the steel grey upright foliage of a compact lavender. At the front of the border I've placed a small hummock of chamomile, rescued from a pot last summer, alongside some gorgeous tasting, pink flowered strawberries and some scabious. Towards the back of the border I've planted different varieties of fennel - both bronze and green - mixed in with the equally tall, green spired Valeriana officinalis and the softer, dusky-green leaved pink flowering tree mallow (Lavatera). Peering up in between all of these are some stray self-seeded English marigolds (Calendula officinalis) with their cheery orange flowers (edible and a lovely addition to salads) and some cheeky nigella that is popping up all over the place (and which needs a little controlling). All these plants combined create strong contrast against the silvery grey leaves of my globe artichoke which has unintentionally become the centrepiece of this scheme.

Not surprising as all varieties of Cynara are big and bold and are sure to create a statement wherever they are planted.

Structural and spiky, artichoke leaves emerge from the base of the plant and fan upwards and outwards. As an added bonus, and like so many of the plants in my garden, the globe artichoke performs a number of functions. It looks beautiful, the stunning flowers are attractive to bees and other insects and the plant produces delicious globe artichokes over a period of years. The quandary is, of course, whether to leave the rounded buds intact on the plant to open into a beautiful, thistle like flower, or whether to pick the buds before they flower to be used in my kitchen for a tasty meal.

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