Artichokes

artichokes on Las Posas Road, near Malibu

artichokes on Las Posas Road, near Malibu

artichokes close up on Las Posas RoadI live in West Hills and I’m wondering if artichokes will grow here and if they are started from seed or from plants. Where do you buy them?
>Lou Peire, West Hills
Once, in Woodland Hills, I saw a forest of globe artichokes (Cynara scolymus) growing in someone’s front yard.
Although no more than 3 or 4 feet high, some plants had expanded to 6 feet around and, with nothing else growing in the yard, they dominated the landscape like a dense forest of small trees. If artichokes can be grown in Woodland Hills, they can certainly be grown in West Hills, too.
If you live in Los Angeles, there is not much chance that you will see an artichoke plant growing in someone’s garden or, if you do, you probably will not recognize it. This could be due to its reputation as a mild-climate plant that benefits from consistently foggy summer days, such as those found along California’s Central Coast, from Watsonville to Monterey, where artichokes are produced in great abundance.
Yet, even where the summer is as hot as ours, as long as you understand their culture, you can grow artichokes. Appreciate the fact that they actually are native to the Mediterranean basin, which means that their climate of origin is essentially the same as our own: namely, rainy winters and long, hot, dry summers.
It is possible to harvest artichokes from a single plant throughout the year, for many years, if you select the correct variety and strictly adhere to certain cultural practices.
`Imperial Star,’ a variety developed by the University of California a dozen years ago, is widely acknowledged as the best artichoke for California growing. Although `Imperial Star’ is ideally planted from seed, it may be propagated by root division once it is established in the garden. However, there is ample evidence that artichokes grown from seed have stronger heat resistance than those clonally propagated by division. If you planted `Imperial Star’ from seed at this time of year, you would begin to see fruit in late fall, once the plant had been exposed to 500 hours of temperatures below 50 degrees.
Artichokes are not only for eating. Their leaves and flowers are highly ornamental. If you are familiar with the white, lacy leafed Artemisias, wormwoods, or dusty Millers, you can appreciate the appearance of the silvery leafed artichoke plant, since it is nothing more than a gigantic botanical relative of these more familiar perennials.
The artichoke we eat is an unopened flower bud. When the bud is left on the plant, it opens up into a striking violet bloom, the type you see on certain thistles, up to 6 inches in diameter, fit for fresh or dry arrangements and bouquets.
Letting the plant flower, however, saps its vigor and shortens its productive life.
In the Valley, artichokes grow best when they receive full morning sun, but morning sun only. Artichokes prefer a soil amended with compost and will accept asparagus, lettuce, summer savory and parsley as companions in the same garden bed.
None of these edibles will abide standing water, yet none of them will grow effectively when water-deprived. Two good weekly soakings should keep plants happy once they are well-rooted but they may be watered more often as long as soil drainage is good. An application of mulch is advisable to extend watering intervals.
Once you complete your artichoke harvest in early spring, immediately cut your plants all the way down to the ground. Provide an ample supply of nitrogen fertilizer and watch as they begin to grow again.
You can order `Imperial Star’ artichoke seeds from Territorial Seeds at (800) 626-0866 or www.territorialseed.com; or from Park Seeds at (800) 213-0076 or www.parkseed.com.
Do you have any recommendations for jasmines that will withstand the weather in the high desert? We live at an elevation of about 2,250 feet and we get hot during the summer and to between 10 and 20 degrees above 0 in the winter.
>Bill and Isabella Utvich, Rosamund
In your cold climate, you can grow primrose jasmine (Jasminum mesnyi), a species that blooms in late winter with semi-double lemon yellow flowers fading to white and delicately fragrant.
The shoots are long, arching and pendulous. Do not be afraid to prune since doing so produces a bushier plant.
Primrose jasmine trails nicely over walls and fences. It also can be used as a hedge or screen, growing to a height of 10 feet. You can also grow winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum). It, too, has lemon yellow flowers but loses its leaves before leafing out and blooming in winter.
Neither plant is generally carried in nurseries and must be special ordered.
Tip of the Week
Primrose jasmine and winter jasmine may be used to control erosion on hillsides since their meandering stems take root wherever they touch the ground.

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