When you enjoy an artichoke for dinner, you are eating the flower bud before it has bloomed. This season, we have had a lot of buds on our artichoke plants that were grown from seed last year. We are growing the Imperial Star variety. Artichoke plants often take two seasons (one winter) before they will produce buds; however, I have heard that there are ways around this requirement.
We actually have not eaten any of the buds this year. Rather, we have just enjoyed their unusual beauty. In flower, the buds transform into huge heads of soft, violet strands that are loaded with pollen. The flowers have the consistency of a soft "kush" ball. The bees and butterflies are clearly drawn to these flower heads which contain an immense amount of pollen in them.
As you can see from the two following photographs, the bees disappear in these flowers and emerge covered in pollen. In the lower right hand corner of the first photograph, you can just barely see the bee burrowing deep into the flower.
Also, if you are looking for a catch crop for leaf-footed bugs, artichokes are what you need. All of the leaf-footed bugs in our garden seemed to be drawn to these buds and their flowers. I used the opportunity to spray an organic bug killer of mint spray onto them in order to eradicate them. You can see an adult leaf-footed bug on the right-most bud in the first photograph of this post, and there is a young, red leaf-footed bug on the left side of the flowering bud in the third photograph.
The photograph below is of an artichoke plant in early spring. By the summer, the plants are three feet wide by three feet tall. The mature plants take up a fair amount of space, and they are perennials living for four to six years if you are lucky. Consequently, you need to find a permanent spot for them in your garden.
Now that our plants have flowered, they look like they are about to die with the excessive heat that we are having. Fortunately, this anemic looking condition is fairly common, and the plants can just be cut back so that new fronds will appear in the Autumn.
The following link should provide you with more information if you are interested in growing artichokes yourself: http://www.annettemcfarlane.com/Stories/Artichokes.pdf.