What's a cardoon and how did it get in my garden?

  Cardoons starting to grow behind a wall of Swiss chard. 

Cardoons starting to grow behind a wall of Swiss chard. 

Way back in 2015 we planted an artichoke start we got from our neighbor. The small plant eventually grew to be 10-feet tall, its buds quickly growing and flowering, and then it just up and fell over. Sometime in the winter I noticed there were little sprouts growing out of the dead flower laying in the dirt so I transplanted them in the greenhouse. When Spring came I noticed the little sprouts had turned into tiny artichoke plants so I excitedly replanted them in the garden in Spring. Eventually they grew into a towering artichoke fortress blocking out the sun from our small garden, but I determined it was worth it for artichokes. 

We waited patiently for the artichokes to reach full size, and then we picked one, boiled it for an hour, and dipped the leaves in garlic butter. You can’t imagine the disappointment we felt when we discovered they were too fibrous to eat. We boiled the next one for two hours and found it was still woody and inedible. What kind of cruel and twisted joke had our neighbor played on us and why did I plant a dozen of these things all over the year?

Eventually I spotted my neighbor in his garden and asked him about it. He told me the artichoke wasn't a typical artichoke, and that he thought it might be something called a cardoon, a variation of artichoke prized for the stems of its giant leaves, not its hearts. For real, the prize is the giant, scraggly-ass Jurassic Park-looking things.  Is there an expression for being “Trojan horsed” but in respect to gardening?

We later learned that by picking the cardoon hearts really early you could eat them as baby artichokes, and if you've ever had fried artichokes at our house that's what it was and I thank you for letting us experiment on you.

Just recently I emailed a bunch of local friends offering them the rare opportunity to experience unlimited cardoon stem/leaf gathering for free and exactly 0 people were interested. So there they are, giant fake-ass artichokes leafing out, blocking the sun, and eroding trust between neighbors.

Someday I’ll cook these weird things and see whether or not they taste as I’ve read them described—like bitter celery.

Learn the wonders of cardoons here --> https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/what-heck-do-i-do-cardoon-180950301/

 

 Cardoons have a heart, but it must be plucked very early.

Cardoons have a heart, but it must be plucked very early.