It is actually a vegetable–but gives such an amazing show–we are listing it with our flowers! Cardoon is an architectural splendor with bold texture, thanks to its large, prickly, almost dagger-shaped gray-green arching leaves and a statuesque, vase-shaped frame. An old fashioned vegetable that is enjoying a comeback. Cardoons is grown for their crisp, succulent leafstalk which can be blanched the same way as celery. Plants will reach up to 1.6 m (5 ft) tall and 1.2 m (4 ft) wide. A close cousin of the artichoke, it is native to the well-drained, sunny slopes of the southwest Mediterranean. An absolute standout in any garden–kids will have a hoot growing this monster!
Cardoon stems can be used in soups and stews like celery. They’re also delicious sautéed with some garlic, olive oil and sea salt. You can also lightly blanch the stems in boiling water and then refrigerate them and eat them with ranch dressing or a Dijon mustard dipping sauce.
Start seed 10 to 12 weeks in advance of intended date for moving plants to the garden. Plant in individual 10 cm (4 in) peat pots. Press seed into soil and cover lightly with 1/2 cm soil. Germinates best at 20 to 25 C (70-75 F) usually in 5-10 days. Grow in medium to full light, water regularly, do not allow soil to dry out. Transplant outside once threat of frost is past. Space plants at least 1.5 m (5 ft) apart. Cover the seedlings with a handful of peat moss for light frost protection. The stalks, which look like large celery stalks, can be served steamed or braised. They have an artichoke-like flavor. Fertilize every 2 weeks with All Purpose 20-20-20 and liquid seaweed for strong healthy plants.