Marginals: Cynara cardunculus

by Andrew Keys on March 26, 2010

Cardoon! What better a name for a plant, I say? What better name for anything? It’s a word, for me, that conjures up Ye Olden Days of Olde English Gardening, that golden era of gardening when a plant so spiky, so silvery, so deserving of appreciation truly must’ve gotten its due. Well, times have changed, but thankfully cardoon has not, and to bust a very Seussian rhyme, let me tell you — it’s still hot hot hot.

I’ve been drawn to cardoon since I first came across this old volume published by Horticulture magazine, a book that, pardon the drama, pretty much changed the way I looked at planting forever. I still reference it all the time. Cardoon, and indeed all the Mediterranean plants in that book, were so alluringly different, so given to an aesthetic I desired, I knew instantly we were meant to be.

In all its cardooniness

This belief was reinforced when I saw cardoon planted en masse at NYBG this summer, and heard on Good Enough Gardening that Amanda had successfully overwintered cardoon in Zone 5 Indiana. I’m going to plant and protect cardoon like she says and see what happens. I also snagged a few left over from annual container plantings from Lynn Felici-Gallant last fall, and though it was too late to try them in the ground, I’ve been overwintering them in my attic. So we’re taking the shotgun approach to cardoon-growing over here. I’ll let you know what works best. Regardless, I’m hopeful.

Cardoon is part of Asteraceae, the aster or composite family, and it’s one plant family I imagine you know very well. I’ll be discussing Asteraceae more next week. In the meanwhile, you’ll find some fascinating historical trivia on Wikipedia’s cardoon entry. Apparently its stems are served in a particular Catholic tradition in New Orleans, battered and fried, of course. (Mmmm… Cardoon beignets… Wait. What?) Guess I should add cardoon to my courtyard planting plan, eh?

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