My artichoke plants are just going absolutely CRAZY right now, producing so much fruit! We really enjoy them with melted butter. I was surprised, 30 years ago, when I moved to California, that folks here eat their artichokes with mayonnaise. I guess I'm an east-coaster when it comes to the melted butter thing.
The plants take over the garden every spring with both their height and their spread. I spent a good amount of time pruning out a lot of the bottom leaves so I could actually walk around them and so they don't shade out the herb bed. They are impressive in size and elicit more comments from passerby than any other plant, especially when in bloom, which will happen when we are tired of eating chokes and let the last flower heads go to seed. They do have a spectacular purple thistle flower, which are almost other-worldly in color and always covered in bees.
California is known for artichokes; most of them grow in cool coastal areas, so folks are always surprised to see them in our hot-in-summer-cold-in-winter garden. The trick is to place them in nearly full shade in this climate. These guys get a lot of dappled light, but probably only one hour or so of direct light per day. Heavily mulch the base to keep the roots cool. I've never fertilized them. They do need regular water (3x a week here). When they have finished producing and blooming, they start to look pretty bad. When they brown up completely, it's time to cut them back to the base. You'll see that they've formed a thick trunk-like stem. Next year, the artichoke will send up a new stem next to those old stems.
There are some downsides. Home-grown artichokes are smaller than the ones you get at the store, and the choke is not as meaty. Some of the ones you can buy make almost a whole meal all by themselves, they're so huge. Not so these. In fact, we find ourselves sort of removing most of the leaves to just get to the choke already, which is just as delicious and tender as any we've ever had. (One of the nice things about home grown, they don't sit on the plant as long, and they don't get as spiny for some reason - I never even have to trim the leaves.) This makes me think that the thing to do is maybe marinate and preserve these for winter. I've found a good recipe at The Washington Post. I definitely want to try this.
Another drawback is that they are a haven for earwigs. Earwigs can be good or bad, they certainly are a yucky-looking bug and I find them highly inconvenient more than anything. They like to hide in dark, cool, moist places. Well. The artichoke heads are perfect for that. So when I pick them, I have to spend quite a bit of time cleaning them outside in the yard, to get rid of the earwigs. I tend to fill a bucket with water, cut the artichoke flower head off the plant, and throw it into the bucket of water. This gets the first flush of earwigs out. Then I pour that water in the chicken coop (on the compost pile) and the chickens eat the earwigs. Bonus. Then I spend another stupid amount of time cleaning them in the kitchen sink; I have to really open up the buds and get in there for any stray earwigs, and also any gunk. I don't need to tell you what the gunk is. It's not a fun part of organic gardening, cleaning up the bugs and their crap. It does make me wonder what farms do to clean them? I'm sort of guessing they throw the heads in a bucket of water and bleach or something, which I also don't like to think about too much.
So if you can stand the earwig situation, you might consider growing these perennial vegetables in your garden. They are truly spectacular plants from the start, and when mature, provide a high yield of spring veg.