Most thistles are like the dangerous boy in high school who rode a motorcycle. Prickly, invasive, and poised to take advantage in the garden—these were not plants you invited home to meet your parents. Until now.
It turns out there is a loophole (if only teenage curfews had been this easy to outwit). Artichokes, which are among the best-behaved of plants, are thistles, too. But unlike the common Scottish variety Onopordum acanthium, whose tendency to run rampant has earned it Public Enemy No. 1 status in North America, the globe artichoke is a welcome guest in any garden.
Above: Eat it or let it bloom so you can marvel at that 6-inch flower. Either way, Cynara cardunculus has the good sense to keep its bristly choke discreetly hidden until it bursts into view as the loveliest possible purple powder puff. Image via WCS.
Above: At home in a traditional cottage garden, where flowers and vegetables consort freely, the Green Globe variety can reach heights of four feet, making it a welcome anchor in a perennial bed. Image via WCS.
Above: If artichokes have a drawback, it's that they can be finicky. A Mediterranean native, the artichoke will behave like a tender perennial or, in cold climates, like an annual; baby it in the winter. Image via WCS.
Above: Bumblebees can't resist artichokes. Unfortunately, neither can snails or aphids. Protect your fragile thistles accordingly. Image via Teelgee.