Found on a recent walk round …
Okay, I may be getting a teeny bit obsessed with seed collecting. My eyes now rake across the content of other people's gardens and process the location of any seeds worth gathering. This beauty stopped me in my tracks a couple of days ago. A seed head about 9 inches across, fluffy and spiky. What a beaut! But still standing up (and in someone's front garden) so off limits. However … on the return journey I noticed quite a few seed heads lying on the ground within easy reach (Yayy!) - and quite obviously neglected by the householder. So I've rescued one and have since been dissecting, pulling and photographing.
I didn't know what it was but after a very satisfying flick through 'RHS Garden Plants and Flowers', I have my answer: it is a Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) or, possibly, Wild Thistle Artichoke.
Apparently it's almost a weed, grown for architectural interest in UK gardens, loathed by farmers as its parachute seeds (plumose hairs with achenes attached) settle happily into their crop fields. See what a little bit of reading will do?
Forgive my naiveté, and stop laughing seasoned gardeners, but this learning curve is what makes gardening so compelling. And imagine my surprise when I found out from Sarah Raven's book 'The Great Vegetable Plot' that you can eat the stems! Awesome. Apparently they do it all the time in the Mediterranean.
Yes, you're right … I really should get out more …
Achenes (ahem) on blue linen