I have been experimenting with perennial vegetables for a few years now. I started growing them mainly because I was fascinated by the idea of having plants that I could eat that would potentially remain in the garden for years.
For non gardeners “perennial” means a plant that lives for more than two years. It may die back during the winter but will return to life and growth come the spring. Many flowering garden plants are perennial, but most of the vegetables we are used to eating are annuals.
Much of my garden is shady and damp and this means there are just too many slugs and insufficient sunshine to get much success with conventional annual vegetables.
I have found that perennial vegetables are pretty tolerant of these conditions. Some, particularly those in the brassica (cabbage) family, are targeted by slugs when they are young, but by starting them in pots and planting out when the central stem has hardened up means they manage to avoid too much damage.
Many perennials come into growth early in the season and by the time annual vegetables are sown and grown the perennials have already been providing pickings for some time.
The perennial vegetables that can be grown in the UK tend to be either leaves, shoots, flowers or roots. Our climate is too cold and sunless to be able to grow fruiting vegetables perennially; you need to be a good deal nearer the equator for that! Nevertheless the range of possibilities is wider than you might expect.
Over the coming months I will be sowing and planting up a revamped perennial patch and will be putting posts on here about what is going in and how it is doing. At the moment I am at the browsing stage, looking at catalogues and websites, placing orders and looking forward to the joys to come.
One of the most rewarding of the perennial vegetables is Daubenton’s Kale as in the picture below. It is hardy, attractive, grows for a long season, tastes good and has coped with a relatively shady situation in my garden.
It may look more like a flower border but the photo on top of this blog was taken last July of my vegetable garden. I am growing perennial vegetables in a polyculture and, amongst other things, there are in this photo – wild rocket, oca, yam, wild chicory, garlic and wild cabbage. The flowers are self seeded, and I think are self heal and hawksbeard.
From the first day I read about edible forest gardens, back in 2005, I have wanted to plant one. As our garden is on the small side I have used the principles of forest gardening and adapt them to my situation. The garden is quite shady from existing trees and buildings and with limited space I have focussed in particular on growing perennial vegetables.
Undoubtedly the marvellous “Plants for a Future” database which provides a massive amount of information on edible and otherwise useful plants has made this a much easier task than it otherwise might have been. I have relied heavily on the information available there to guide my searches for nice tasting, easy to grow perennial vegetables. After a few years of trial and error I had by the end of last summer amassed a pleasing assortment of perennial vegetables closely packed into the space available!
Initially the planting was rather more random than intended with plants being slotted in as I was able to source them and I was planning a bit of an overhaul and sort out for this year anyway. The damage wrought by last month’s ultra freezing weather has reinforced this by creating some empty space to start afresh for the coming season. However as with any form of gardening I continue to have plans that outstrip the space available. I hope to be able to increase the size of the plot available for perennial vegetables by relocating a few ornamental shrubs and by extending one or more of the existing beds.
I am also crossing my fingers for a pleasant, warm summer with enough rain but without deluges. Let’s hope I am not disappointed, we are surely due a good summer.
After what the weather folk say is the harshest December since records began a hundred years ago it is no surprise that some of my prized plants are dead. I have begun the plans to counter the damage with fresh sowings in the spring but am nevertheless sad to lose old friends.
My last minute sowing of field beans from late last autumn are poking their leaf tips cautiously through the soil surface as if peering out to see if it is now safe to emerge. I do not wonder at caution as the previous sowing earlier in the autumn have been left wilted and blackened. Like the other dead and dying plants they were defenceless against incarceration by deep snow and savage frosts that held onto them for weeks through December.
However the strongest plants remain, and show no signs of having endured an ordeal. Wild cabbage, wild rocket, wild beet and Welsh onion look fine. Perhaps it should be no surprise that the wild plants are proving to be the toughest.
Also good news is that the land cress and lamb’s lettuce are looking fine and I was able to harvest some for salad greens yesterday.
My passion for perennial vegetables has me always searching for more veggie varieties that live on for years, are easy to grow, taste nice and can pretty much be left to get on with growing by themselves without too much fuss.
perennial edibles in particular and permaculture in general
"I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving that he can outwit Nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority." — E.B. White (Letters of E. B. White)