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Cardoon: A Letter from Sylvia

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Dear Pomona,

I would like to tell you about my favourite (I have lots of favourites!) foliage plant Cardoon or Cynara cardunculus.  Doesn’t this look lovely and summery? The picture was taken on February 1st during all the cold weather we were having. The leaves seems to be unaffected by all the weather that an English winter can through at it. The leaves are really big 3 to 4 feet long and a foot or more wide and deeply divided, with a lovely silver sheen.

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This plant can grow tall, I mean tall. During the summer this gets to at least 6 feet and has thistle like flowers on. I don’t have any really nice pictures of the flower heads, I am not tall enough! The above picture was taken in August. The downside is that when the stems shoot upwards, there are less lower leaves sometimes I put some annuals around the base but a bit of bare soil in the summer isn’t a problem.

Cynara cardunculus are edible, the stems are eaten. I think these are grown like celery, earthed up to blanch the stems. I have never tried this as I grow cardoon as a ornamental though the first time I saw this plant was in a large walled vegetable garden attached to a historic property. As I know you live in a very different climate, from you, so I look this up in my favourite American gardeners guru’s book (Foliage: Astonishing Color and Texture Beyond Flowers by Nancy J. Ondra). Nan recommend cardoon for zones 6 or 7-10, she also warns that it self-sows prolifically and can be come invasive in some areas. It has never self sown for me, I wouldn’t mind a few seedlings but I have seen packets of seed for sale. In colder climates cardoons can be grown as an annual, which would give you lovely leaves in summer but for me the attraction of this plant is the leaves in winter.

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This was taken on 1st February, please excuse the rest of the untidy garden, and shows the beauty of these plants.  I will cut off some of the lower leaves that are trailing on the ground. Then in about June they will start to grown the flower stems, some I will cut off to encourage more leaves. Once the it has flowered in July/August the plant will start to grow new leaves.

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For me this is a plant for all seasons, we really can’t ask for more!

Best wishes Sylvia

{ 31 comments… add one }

  • Pomona Belvedere March 12, 2009, 4:02 pm

    Sylvia, I’m not sure if that’s a sage next to the cardoon in picture #3. Whatever it is, it’s a beautiful combination – I love silvery foliage.

  • RainGardener March 12, 2009, 4:39 pm

    It is very attractive – you got great pics too.

  • tina March 12, 2009, 5:15 pm

    It really is a beautiful and architectural plant. I wish I could grow it very much, but I don’t have much sun. I am so happy I can enjoy it on blogs:)( Lucky you to have such a lovely and awesome specimen. It is sited perfectly in front of the evergreen.

  • cyd March 12, 2009, 5:25 pm

    These are popular here in Spokane in annual potted plantings. I think they are related to the artichoke. Sylvia your pictures are very nice and they remind me of summer, too.

  • Anna/Flowergardengirl March 12, 2009, 5:54 pm

    That’s fantastic Sylvia. I see it’s hardy in my area. I’ll have to see if I have room after I plant all those seedlings in my garage.

  • Frances March 13, 2009, 2:39 am

    Hi Sylvia and Pomona, well done! This is a gorgeous plant for foliage alone, as Nan says, but the flowers are wonderful too. Are the seeds eaten by the finches like the thistle seeds? I tried a plant last year in a large container and it did so poorly it had to be pulled before its time was up. Maybe this year in the ground for we are zone 7. Do you recommend a dry spot perhaps?
    Frances

  • Sunita March 13, 2009, 3:18 am

    Lovely plant, Sylvia. Why are the leaves more green in the photo with flowers? Does it lose its silvery-ness when it is in bloom or is it just the stronger light?

  • Sylvia (England) March 13, 2009, 4:10 am

    Pomona, thank you very much for posting another of my letters, I do appreciate it. No it isn’t sage but… one of those plants I can never remember, I will post the answer tomorrow!

    Rain Gardener and Tina, thank you for your comments, it is a lovely plant.

    Cyd, yes they are related to the artichoke, same genus both have nice foliage, prehaps oneday I will grow the globe artichoke to compare them.

    Anna, you have room for a few in your garden and they would look lovely. I hope you find room to try these from seed.

    Frances, I have read that our gold finches like the seed but these can’t be seen from a house window so I don’t know. They have a long tap root so wouldn’t do well in a container, a dry spot would be fine becase the long tap root will look for deep water.

    Sunita, yes the leaves are less silver as they grow up to bloom. I cut the flowers of some of the plants to keep the leaves.

    Best wishes Sylvia

  • blossom March 13, 2009, 4:17 am

    Nice! I’ve never seen them before. And, are they big! There won’t be enough room for them in my small garden. They look like giant ferns especially in the last picture, don’t they?

  • Sylvia (England) March 13, 2009, 4:56 am

    Blossom, I hadn’t thought of them as giant ferns but I do like (love!) ferns and this is possibly why I like this plant so much. I will view this plant in a new light, my ‘giant silver fern’, I like that. They are big but small gardens need one or two big plants! Best wishes Sylvia

  • Cameron (Defining Your Home Garden) March 13, 2009, 5:19 am

    Great information and photos about cardoon. Stunning!

    I had one of these at a previous house, but had to leave it behind (we lived there only 2+ years), so I never saw it in the full glory. I hope the new owners have kept it!

    Cheers,
    Cameron

  • Crafty Gardener March 13, 2009, 5:49 am

    Interesting article. Lovely foliage on the plant and lucky you it grows year round in your climate.

  • Gail March 13, 2009, 5:54 am

    Impressive plant…quite an architectural presence…it must have been stunning in the walled vegetable garden. Gail

  • Racquel March 13, 2009, 7:51 am

    That is one impressive plant Sylvia. I’ve never grown it in my own garden but have seen it many times in gardening catalogs. The blooms are very nice too. This is a plant that adds some real drama & texture to the garden. Thanks for sharing your favorite foliage plant with us today. Thank you too Pomona!

  • Alice Joyce March 13, 2009, 9:27 am

    Thanks, Sylvia, for a great post. I’ll never forget the cardoon growing in the gardens of Great Dixter… or thinking about Christo removing his roses to put in an exuberant, ebullient ornamental display!

  • Sue March 13, 2009, 11:24 am

    Stupendous – takes your breath away. We have them in the supemarket here, but I never realised what they looked like growing.

  • Teza March 13, 2009, 4:00 pm

    Sylvia/Pomona:
    FABULOUS! This shade gardener loves all plants with foliage punch, and this fits the bill to a ‘T’…. too bad I don’t have the room needed to grow it…. me thinks it would like a lot of sun as well.

  • Stuart March 13, 2009, 6:07 pm

    Gosh Sylvia, I’m not sure I’d worry if that became invasive in my garden. What a beautiful plant and I can see your desire for it. Awesome foliage.

  • Sue March 13, 2009, 7:08 pm

    Hi Sylvia, I’m glad I found you! I love that cardoon, but I’m zone 5b, so don’t know if it would grow here. It would be one of the biggest flowers I have, and maybe too big. It somewhat reminds me of a large, soft version of globe thistle, which I do have.

    I found your iris, too. That is a pretty one, and I’ve not seen irises that bloom over a long period of time.

    Thanks for reading my blog and “picking” some of the posts.

  • Karen - An Artist's Garden March 14, 2009, 2:16 am

    Sylvia, your cardoon looks wonderful, particularly as the dark green behind sets off the colour of the early leaves so well.

    I have one here too – but I didn’t know that it self sows, good idea to plant annuals around the base, that is a handy tip that I am going to take on board.
    K

  • Hilde March 14, 2009, 4:00 pm

    Wow! I have only seen it live once, but it sticked to my memory.
    I have tried growing artichokes which of course didnt go too well…
    This year I will give this a chance, I actually got seeds in the mail yesterday. It is hardier than the artichoke, and there should be a tiny chance for survival.

    Best wishes,
    Hilde

  • Daffodil Planter March 15, 2009, 2:06 pm

    Sylvia, Thank you for a marvelous introduction to the exciting Cardoon!

  • Sylvia (England) March 16, 2009, 1:55 am

    Thank you for all your comments. It is beautiful warm spring here, so I spent the weekend in the garden. This weather will not last so I wanted to make the most of it. I will not answer each comment as you all seem to agree with me that this is a beautiful plant. Thank you Hilda, it is useful to know that cardoons are harder than the artichokes, the leave is slightly different. I think it would be worth growing from seed as there are few easy, hardy (in UK) plants with such stunning foliage that slugs and snails don’t eat. Please let me know how you get on if you grow from seed. My plants where bought as bare rooted, cheaply from a supermarket – few plants in my garden were such good value.

    The grey shrub in picture 3 is Senecio (Brachyglottis compacta) I inherited this with the garden though every few years I cut it back hard.

    Best wishes Sylvia (England)

  • Anna March 16, 2009, 5:22 am

    They certainly have the wow factor Sylvia. I was about to ask whether they suffer from mollusc damage but have just seen your comments above. I also see that you bought the plants in a supermarket – what a lucky find ! I imagine that it prefers a sunny spot. Will have to keep my eyes open for this plant as I think I have just the spot at the allotment :) I really enjoyed your post.

  • kerri March 16, 2009, 6:59 pm

    It’s certainly an interesting plant and I love the silver foliage. It reminds me of the wild thistles that grow around here. They have lovely blooms which are very similar, but smaller of course.

  • Shirley Bovshow "edenmaker" March 25, 2009, 6:24 pm

    Hi Sylvia!
    I will have to plant a cardoon one day. I haven’t yet and looking at your photos, I wonder why not? It’s great to hear from you.
    shirley

  • Bill June 28, 2010, 6:44 pm

    Sylvia, I have tried several times over the years to locate seeds
    for Cardoon but have had no luck.. Where can I get the seeds? I ‘d like to
    plant Cardoon before fall arrives.

  • Bill June 28, 2010, 6:45 pm

    Have been unable to locate Cardoon seeds. Please tell me your
    source.

  • Pomona Belvedere June 28, 2010, 10:33 pm

    Bill, one good and inexpensive source of cardoon seeds is Pine Tree Garden seeds, in Maine: https://www.superseeds.com/products.php?search=cardoon

  • Pauline Bourke November 22, 2010, 8:33 am

    Can you please tell me if Cardoon need to establish one year and flower the next.I have very healthy leaves this year but no flowers.Many thanks Pauline

  • Pomona Belvedere November 22, 2010, 9:28 am

    Hello Pauline, I am not the writer of this article or the grower of that cardoon, that would be Sylvia. Here is cultivation info from one of the better sources, Maude Grieve’s herbal: http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/a/artic068.html Hope that’s helpful.

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