It was nearly 16 years ago when I first wondered about the possibility of there being such a thing as a perennial vegetable. Much has happened since then. Despite there being almost no information available at the time I was so entranced by the idea that I embarked on a project to locate and grow as many perennial vegetables as I could possibly find. I had the hope that that there would be at least a few that I would be able to grow in my garden over the long term with little (if any) effort or work.
Happily – and somewhat to my initial astonishment – I found that a surprising number of perennial vegetables do exist and can be grown easily. To sum up what I discovered in that initial project I wrote my first book ‘Edible Perennial Gardening’ in 2014 to describe the different perennials I had experimented with and how well they grew, what they tasted like and suggested how to grow them in self nurturing polycultures.
I have moved since those early days and now live on top of a hill in Wales, in a windy, wet, exposed location. Here in the midst of a small forest garden that includes about 20 different fruits and dozens of herbs, wild flowers and other bushes and plants.
These perennial vegetables survive year on year with next to no attention at all from me:
- ‘Wild’ kale (sold to me as wild kale, but looking different to true wild kale, this is a big plant and very hardy and healthy)
- Taunton Deane kale
- Daubenton’s kale
- Turkish rocket
- Good King Henry
- Caucasian spinach
- Various sorrels including mountain sorrel
- Welsh onions
- Tree onions
- Perennial leeks
- Wild garlic
- Three cornered leek
- Few flowered leek
- Jerusalem artichokes
- Earth nut pea
- Day lily (edible flowers)
These plants are not perennial, but are self seeding annuals that reappear each year, again with no help from me:
- Land cress
- Lamb’s lettuce
And these are what author Stephen Barstow calls ‘edimentals’ – conventional garden plants that are also edible:
- Dog tooth violet
- Solomon’s seal
- Evening primrose (self seeding biennial)
And – I can also fit in annual peas and beans and some salad crops!
During the intervening years more and more people have become aware of both perennial vegetables and forest gardens – all I can say is both of these topics are well worth investigating and taking up, especially if you would like to grow some of your own food with very little effort whilst improving the soil in your garden and improving the habitat for many different creatures as well. I have also written a second book, ‘the garden of equal delights’ (2020) that describes how this works in practice.
Forest gardening principle: plant polyfloral polycultures everywhere.