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