I began growing Jerusalem artichokes and gourds near the edible garden for the first time this year – both for decorative reasons, really.
Barely 6 Jerusalem artichokes went in, I think: knobbly tubers from a friend, which sent their sunflower stalks up 4m or more, shading the edible patch and barely flowering – so much for a perennial sunflower.
But digging up the bounty from where just one was planted yielded more than 50 tubers, an extraordinary harvest.
Similar enthusiasm came from a gourd; I bought a little plant from Belgrave market and let it clamber through the kiwi fruit over the chicken run in a sunny spot. Yesterday we rescued the gourds hanging from their long-deceased vine; 8 fruit plucked from the air; now to discover how to preserve them so that they look attractive in a basket in the house through the winter months.
I grow globe artichokes too and again it’s for aesthetics: I love the silvery leaves; the green globe buds or purple thistle flowers are just a huge bonus.
But globe artichokes (a thistle) are so different from Jerusalem artichokes (a sunflower with a tuber eaten like a potato) – so the names seem very confusing. How did this happen?
Globe artichokes (Cynara cardunculus) grow wild in the Mediterranean region and so were known to all the early European plant hunters and global explorers. David Attenborough (`New Life Stories’, 2011) attributes Columbus “and the settlers who followed in his wake” with tasting the wild plants of the New World so strange to them; when one reminded them of one familiar, like artichoke, then it might be called artichoke too, or `girasole’ (a plant that turns with the sun: sunflower) artichoke...eventually known in English as Jerusalem artichoke.
I just hope next summer I can keep mine a bit shorter by planning to trim them once in spring, and promote flowers with the right fertiliser...hopefully where I can see them too at 2m, not 4m high.