perennial vegetables

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
  • Nettles
  • Welsh onions
  • Tree onions
  • Perennial leeks
  • Wild garlic
  • Three cornered leek
  • Few flowered leek
  • Garlic
  • Oca
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • Skirret
  • Mashua
  • Scorzonera
  • 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:

  • Salsify
  • Land cress
  • Lamb’s lettuce

And these are what author Stephen Barstow calls ‘edimentals’ – conventional garden plants that are also edible:

  • Dog tooth violet
  • Hostas
  • 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.

About Anni Kelsey

I love forest gardens and forest gardening, nature, reading and everything good about being alive. I have written two books - the garden of equal delights (2020) - about the principles and practice of forest gardening; and Edible Perennial Gardening (2014) - about growing perennial vegetables in polycultures, which is basically forest gardening concentrating on the lower layers.
This entry was posted in Edible Perennial Gardening, Forest Gardening, Perennial Vegetables, the garden of equal delights and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to perennial vegetables

  1. Jason says:

    And then there’s the garden leek. Grown as an annual if you leave it it will bulb up and produce more leeks next year, Transplant these, harvest some and repeat. Some varieties might not perenialise as well as others, I used Elefant


    • Anni Kelsey says:

      Hi there, thanks for your comment! Some years ago I did experiment with allowing garden leeks to remain in situ to see if they would ‘perennialise’. They did for a short while, one season I think, but not longer, I am grateful for the tip that Elefant.


      • Jason says:

        The Elfant I have were sown in 2016 so have lasted a while. I did have a patch of Musselburgh sown in 2015 but they only lasted a couple of years – although it could have been because they were smothered by Kale and Scots lovage that did them in.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. tonytomeo says:

    Scarlet runner beans never interested me until I realized that they are popular for their perennial characteristics, as well as their ornamental appeal. I could still grow the annual pole beans that I like, but might add scarlet runner beans on a small scale. They really are pretty. I prefer the scarlet flowers. (White is my favorite color, but does not seem to suit ‘scarlet’ runner bean.)
    The native Yucca whipplei is reliable perennial vegetable also. I would not recommend it for a refined vegetable garden, but while I was in school, we used to collect small floral shoots from the wild. We really did not want them tossing any more seed nearby anyway. They were like humongous asparagus that needed to be peeled after cooking.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Anni Kelsey says:

      In your warmer climes runner beans are perennial – which I would personally love – here, unfortunately they are annual, but yummy!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jason says:

        I’ve had runner beans survive overwinter once, usually they’re all rotted away by spring, even in the raised bed. I’ve known people to lift them and store in the garage and others to use a thick mulch of straw to protect them but it does depend on the location and the soil – heavy clay soil promotes them rotting before spring.

        Liked by 1 person

      • tonytomeo says:

        Oh, I did not consider that. When I grow them, it will be my first experience. I will still grow my favorites, just because they are SO productive.

        Liked by 1 person

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