Most gardening books say that artichokes cannot be grown in the low desert of the southwestern United States.
As summer air temperatures routinely surpass 110 degrees, the hot soil can rise to around 150.
Being a curious person, I tried transplanting one specimen anyway, from a 3” pot, into one of my rows at the onset of fall. It grew miraculously fast! Then the hot summer came and it died. I removed it from my garden—a failed experiment.
Several years later, I visited a friend and fellow gardener. I asked, “Can you show me the plants in your backyard raised beds?”
“Sure, but there’s not much out there now that the summer has gotten so hot.”
I walked past a big plant covered with dead leaves and stems. “Oh, you tried growing artichoke, too,” I said. “It doesn’t grow here.”
“It’s not dead, just dormant. That’s how it escapes the summer heat. It will grow again in the fall.”
Fireworks went off in my head. Did I remove an artichoke from my garden that was merely dormant?
As soon as the weather cooled, I transplanted another small artichoke into my garden. Once again, it grew like a weed, healthy and bushy—but what would happen when summer came?
All too soon, the demon weather arrived. The record highs for this area are in the 120’s with low humidity—a bad duo for plants. And yet, my artichoke remained lush and green throughout the first summer. It never went dormant. Perhaps it was because a nearby mesquite tree leaned protectively over it — a good companion to have in the hot Arizona summer.
As seasons passed, my experiment continued to thrive, until the second summer presented itself. Then my artichoke did something that surprised me. It died.
But this time, I left the dead, crisp stems and leaves in the garden.
All throughout the hot summer, I crossed my fingers and whispered secret hopes for the little guy. Family and friends sometimes visited, asking for a garden tour. “What’s that dead thing?” they asked.
“It’s an artichoke. I’m hoping it comes back to life.”
Their eyes met mine with disbelief. I almost heard them thinking, “Right!” But they didn’t want to comment aloud for fear of hurting my feelings.
Now it’s fall. The second summer has passed and cool breezes grace my garden. Will my little experiment wake up?
Today, I walk through the rows and spy small green leaves peeking out between dry dead stems. My heart races! I carefully remove the spiky debris to reveal sprouts coming from the root of my artichoke.
How wonderful is nature, allowing plants to sense their environment and choose those mechanisms that will help them survive!
I grab the shovel and gather some compost, arranging it gently around the sprouts. A big smile covers my face.
Artichokes ‘do’ grow in Arizona.