Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus)

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(Kinda sounds like the name of  a summer blockbuster...)

And so it is...a real garden border blockbuster. 

And to think,

it started out just this spring as a little seed I planted from the Monticello seed collection (find some here). 

I grow cardoon strictly for ornamental reasons...its architectural drama, clumps of handsome foliage, gray-green-white color and overall stature.  Its amiability to our hot, dry summers doesn't hurt either.

The lavender hue of its thistle-y bud and bloom, though not my primary motivation for planting,

is as handsome and unique as the foliage from which it springs...somewhat menacing in appearance, thus rendering it all the more interesting...and subject to frequent comment from garden visitors. This year, after the bloom was spent, I lopped off its head and was quickly rewarded with new, equally as dynamic, foliage.

In our zone 7 gardens, I have seen it return...and not return, in the spring, depending on how low the temps drop. Giving it excellent drainage will help
prevent root rot from which it can succumb, making it an ideal companion for the equally drainage-demanding lavender, which, like the cardoon, is not always reliable about returning in the spring (or making it through our hot, humid summers for that matter.

If you prefer more reliable perennial companions, try coneflower, variegated small-leaved euonymous, liatris, or sedum 'Autumn Joy'. Actually anything with a ferny, cut-leave texture provides great contrast to its broad leaves.

 And while these same garden companions can start to look haggard, buggy and spent in the late summer heat...

the cardoon shrugs it off, continuing its handsome display well into fall.

Back lit by golden autumn lighting, it contributes much to the fall show, especially when paired with white dahlias, blue-gray cerinthe (find seed here on Etsy) or zinnia 'Green Envy'.

If you prefer stand-alone drama from this specimen, a simple
mulch of attractive gravel would suit it just fine. So if you're planning your

spring garden already...give it some consideration, won't you?

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