It’s my pleasure to introduce Plant to Plate's first guest blogger Colleen Dudley, someone who knows the Edible Garden from root to tip. Colleen is the Atlanta Botanical Garden Senior Horticulturist in charge of the Edible Garden. After graduating from the University of Georgia with a degree in horticulture, she started at the Atlanta Botanical Garden taking care of the Children’s Garden. In addition, for the past five years she has helped in the Garden’s annual display design and coordination and just recently has started to use those skills in the new Edible Garden. She spends her days starting seeds, planting, harvesting, watering, weeding, and planning for future edibles. I enjoy meeting with her each week as she gives me the scoop on what’s ready to be eaten, how to harvest without compromising aesthetics, and sometimes she slips me an edible flower or points out something I'd completely missed. I asked Colleen to write about a common curiosity of visitors: the cardoon.
In the Edible Garden this spring, the plant I have gotten the most questions about is the cardoon or Cynara cardunculus. This plant is a member of the aster family and closely related to a familiar vegetable, the artichoke. Cardoons get pretty large as far as vegetables go, 3-4’ wide and just as tall when they bloom. In many perennial borders we have used cardoon in the past, not because it is edible, but because it is a beautiful accent plant. It has bold gray-blue leaves that other colorful plants can play off of and bright violet-blue thistle looking flowers that really stand out amongst the plentiful yellow, orange and red flowers that comprise most borders.
But enough about its good looks; the reason it’s included in the vegetable garden is because it is actually edible. The center rib of each leaf can be cooked a variety of ways and has a delicious flavor reminiscent of an artichoke. When the leaves are young, harvest stalks whose midribs are no wider than ¾”, anything larger than that will be too tough and bitter to eat. Remove all of the leaf part from the midrib and wash the rib well. Cut the rib into 1-2” pieces and soak it in a salt water solution for an hour. This step helps to remove some of the bitter flavor that cardoons can sometimes possess. Then you’re ready to cook with it. I’ve seen many recipes that fry it or cover it in cheese and while I’m sure those are delicious; I chose to follow a healthier recipe where the cardoons are boiled in water then sautéed with onion, pine nuts, thyme and honey. You can check the recipe out here.
To grow cardoons in your yard, you just need full sun and well drained soil amended with some organic matter. Water and fertilize regularly. In the spring, keep an eye out for aphids. They love to hang out on the undersides of cardoon leaves. You can keep these guys under control through early detection and a few applications of an insecticidal soap. If you don’t have a vegetable garden to grow you cardoon in, why not add them to a perennial border where they will provide a beautiful accent and tender tasty ribs that you can harvest at will.
Showcasing the farm-to-table concept of cultivating and consuming fresh, local and sustainably-grown food, the Edible Garden project not only returns the 1-acre asphalt parking lot to green space but also demonstrates that fruits and vegetables make beautiful landscape plants.
The garden includes an Outdoor Kitchen where Atlanta's top chefs will present cooking demonstrations using garden ingredients. On weekends, the Garden Chef demonstrates seasonal recipes using ingredients harvested straight from the Edible Garden. And, as for those leftovers go, any food not used in educational programs will be donated to local charities.