Artichokes were another childhood favorite of mine and remain so. With the artichoke capital of the world in our backyard (Castroville, Calif.), you can imagine that they are pretty easy to grow in the Bay Area. In fact, 100 percent of all artichokes grown commercially are grown in California! The best part of growing artichokes is that they are a perennial crop; i.e., they keep coming back without replanting. Artichokes require no additional work after they are planted. Yes, you can completely ignore them, and they will be back next year. Perennial plants in the garden are a true sign of an environmentally-aware citizen gardener.
I planted my first artichoke several years ago and have never needed to buy more. I planted it in a dry, neglected part of the yard thinking that thistles are essentially weeds anyway. We have clay soil and it wasn’t easy digging a hole to plant it. That one plant has thrived and continues to send off several shoots each season. In fact, it’s time for me to divide the roots again. Because our clay soil holds moisture so well, and because the artichoke is near our navel orange tree, it siphons the water it needs with no extra irrigation. While artichokes do need water (every plant does, especially as they are getting established), they do not like soggy areas. They enjoy full sun, but do well with some incidental shade. Artichokes are a terrific starter plant as they are hardy and gorgeous. No need to buy them, either. Find a friend who grows them and ask for some of theirs.
Artichokes left to flower (above photo), open into a mohawk of soft, purple hair. Bees roll around in the purple haze for long amounts of time, savoring whatever it is that get.