Thursday, May 31, 2012

Volunteer cardoon in our backyard

Last fall I noticed that a plant with soft silver green leaves was emerging at the edge of our peppermint patch. This spot is not in a planting bed per se, nor does it get watered. That anything other than peppermint or weeds would grow there was amazing enough. Even more curious was the fact that the plant appeared to be a cardoon (Cynara cardunculus), or artichoke thistle. We had never grown cardoon in the backyard before, so a seed must have found its way to our house from somewhere else. How are cardoon seeds spread? By the wind? By birds? I really don’t know.

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December 18, 2011

Fast forward four months to April. The cardoon is beginning to bulk up. Its leaves are getting larger and more architectural.

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April 5, 2012

Jump ahead by another seven weeks to the end of May. Flower heads are emerging.

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May 25, 2012

They should be in full bloom very soon.

                                                                                                                                              
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May 25, 2012

The plant is six feet tall now and has become a commanding presence in this corner of the backyard.

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May 31, 2012

I'm having a hard time photographing it in one frame because I can’t back up far enough (my back hits the fence). This is a panorama stitched together from four individual photos.

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May 31, 2012

I’ve always thought that cardoons—and artichokes, which are dead ringers—are uniquely beautiful. With their deeply lobed spiky leaves, they look vaguely alien, the way many succulents do. But unlike succulents, they’re much softer to the touch.

Technically speaking, cardoons and artichokes are perennial thistles, so with any luck this volunteer will stick around for another year or two (I’ve begun to give it occasional water). Maybe it will even begin to sucker. I wouldn’t mind that at all since this spot would otherwise be bare, boring and ugly.

I love the unexpected, and this cardoon has been the biggest horticultural surprise of the year. And I didn’t have to pay a penny for it!

8 comments:

  1. I've always said free is the very best price. The bees are going to love those flowers.

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    1. They sure will. My wife was just commenting on how many bees there are in the front yard. No bee shortage around here, that's for sure. Lots of local honey for sale at the farmer's market, too!

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  2. Curious thing how it managed to get there but it's an unexpected, welcome addition to your garden. It's gorgeous plant that I love for it's sheer size and architectural habit!

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    1. I even like common thistles. There's one kind I see a lot in fields near here that has gorgeously variegated leaves. I'm tempted to transplant one :-).

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  3. At least I'm not the only one who lets big, imposing volunteers decide what a bed is going to look like! You reminded me that I want to start some more cardoon seeds this year so I can have some blooms next year (winter permitting) too.

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    1. I welcome volunteers with open arms as long as they're not weeds. For years we've had volunteer tomatillos. Not this year, unfortunately, so I actually just bought one.

      I'm so enamored with this cardoon that I will buy another one for a bare spot in the front yard where a couple of perennials failed to return. Cardoons are not easy to find in local nurseries, so I may have to make do with a globe artichoke instead (they are plentiful in nurseries).

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  4. I thought I read these can reseed like crazy...invasive, noxious weed, and all that. Gorgeous, but be careful!

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    1. I haven't heard of it being invasive, at least not in our climate. I haven't seen any other cardoons around so I'm not sure it reseeds that readily here. On the other hand, the seed for our plant has to have come from somewhere!

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