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.

Posted in Edible Perennial Gardening, Forest Gardening, Perennial Vegetables, the garden of equal delights | Tagged | 7 Comments

sensitive co-creativity

Nature invigorates, sustains, rejuvenates the forest garden, the forest gardener is there to see and to experience and then to react in as sensitive a way as they can. 

My partner and I don’t (unfortunately) live here in Wales all the time.  When the first lockdown was announced last spring we were here and were able to spend time here until the autumn.  But from October to early April we were across the border in Shropshire – an enforced absence of about six months.  When we returned I was glad (but not surprised) to see the garden flourishing; after all part of its purpose is to ‘look after’ itself with the minimum of intervention or support. 

Subject to the rules pertaining here in Wales over recent weeks we have been able to welcome other people to spend time here outdoors and a number of our family and friends have visited.  Each and every one of them has commented about the huge number of beautiful flowers and the number of bees and other insects buzzing around. 

honesty in bloom

And then some have added that – ‘it’s just as well that your style of gardening suits these circumstances’.  However although I think the grandchildren ‘get it’ more – many of my adult friends and family do not have a full understanding of how this garden ‘works’; and I think that they are assuming that I am just leaving it alone and that it all happens almost magically.

pear blossom

Clearly I have left the garden alone over the winter.  I didn’t do a lot last summer either.  But what I have done a lot of is watching and waiting, seeing what happens and then making minimal interventions

That means in practice that I have:

  • taken note of where the mint has been spreading and have removed some of it that grew close to smaller plants and left it where it is close to strong fruit trees and bushes
  • divided clumps of Welsh onions, snowdrops and cowslips and separated strawberry runners – and planted them into gaps
  • moved a few jostaberry cuttings that were growing too large for their space and planted them into the mixed hedge
  • removed some wild marjoram plants that were overcoming smaller plants and put them into the mixed hedge
  • left self seeded plants including wild onions (three cornered leek, few flowered leek, wild garlic), dandelions, phacelia, land cress, lamb’s lettuce, sweet cicely, fennel, forget me nots, honesty and salsify to grow where they land.

All of these quite minor activities and non activities have supported the garden to become what it is.  Had it been left entirely alone – or had I removed all the self seeded plants it might have looked quite similar; but I think it would have been less supportive to the wider ecosystem and to all the possibilities for different forms of life to find a home here.

whilst transplanting snowdrops into this hole I found a toad!

However there is no way to objectively ‘judge’ these things.  I do my best to understand the garden and to interpret how best to work with it.  And as each and every forest garden (or ordinary garden for that matter) is unique, each one will be the unique expression of the sensitive interactivity and co-creativity of that forest garden and that forest gardener.

Forest garden principles:

Everything the forest gardener does takes full account of the whole of the forest garden ecosystem – what has happened, what is happening and what they intend for the future.

Watch and wait.

When you have to do something, only do the minimum.

Posted in Borderland Garden, Doing the minimum, ecosystem, forest garden development, Forest Gardening, Polyculture learning, Principles of forest gardening, Relationship with nature, Waiting, Watching | Tagged | 3 Comments

the children’s fire

Sparked by the announcement of the G7 Summit in Cornwall in June 2021, the Children’s Fire Project is a collaboration between ordinary people across several generations who dream of a better world, and a better way of creating it.

With this project we are asking people everywhere, especially young people as the generation closest to those yet to be born, to share their visions for the future, so that these can be included in the G7’s decision-making.

The decisions made by the G7 impact every person alive today and for generations to come.  We want to put the good of the seventh generation at the core of G7 decision-making.

Because when that happens, it will benefit all life on the planet.

“When you sit and you council for the welfare of the people,
think not of yourself, nor of your family.
Make your decisions on behalf of the seventh generation coming.
Those faces looking up from the earth, layer upon layer waiting their time.
Defend them.
Protect them.
They are helpless, they are in your hands.
That is your duty.
Your responsibility.
You do that, you yourself will have peace.”

Chief Oren Lyons quoting the Peacemaker

Home – Children’s Fire (childrensfire.earth)

Posted in Forest Gardening | Leave a comment

141,900 reasons to praise dandelions!

Dandelions are composite flowers -every yellow strand that looks like a petal is actually an individual flower – and there are 300 atop each flower stalk. Before lunch today I counted the fully open dandelions in the garden and at a conservative count made it at least 473. Multiplied by 300 that makes 141,900 tiny flowers. 141,900 opportunities for bees and other insects to feed.

bumble bee on dandelion flower

Bee expert Dave Goulson says that:

“A queen [bee] may use her own weight in sugar each day to incubate her brood, which may necessitate visiting up to 6000 flowers. If these flowers are too few and far between she will be away from the nest for much of the day, her brood will cool and as a result develop too slowly, and she will wear herself out in her frantic search for food. Hence the proximity of lots of nectar-rich spring flowers is probably vital.” Goulson 2013

At 6000 flowers per queen bumble bee per day today’s dandelions feed 23 bees and have many times more flowers than the other plants and bushes I was also counting today (of which more another time).

I have been praising dandelions for years, but now there are more reasons than ever to do so!

Forest gardening principle: plant polyfloral polycultures everywhere.

Posted in Flowers, Forest Gardening, polyfloral, Relationship with nature | 2 Comments

in praise of jostaberries

Sitting outside yesterday in the cool and damp of an early April afternoon I watched a procession of bumble bees visiting the first flowers on the jostaberry bushes.

As well as being an early food store for the queen bumble bees that are currently emerging ‘jostas’ (as I tend to call them) ripen their fruit early. The berries are lovely straight from the bush and equally good when made into jam or fruit leather. They are hardy and resilient plants and can easily be struck from cuttings. If you haven’t got any in your forest garden I highly recommend that you do!

Posted in Borderland Garden, Fruit | Tagged | 1 Comment

Roots and All podcast

I had the great joy of chatting to Sarah Wilson from the Roots and All podcast one afternoon last week and you can hear our conversation here. Enjoy!

Posted in Forest Gardening, Principles of forest gardening, the garden of equal delights | 2 Comments

becoming delightfully obsessed

alongside the evolution of the forest garden there is the evolution of the forest gardener

As forest gardeners we are all unique individuals and each forest garden is the result of the unfolding of the gardener’s hopes, intentions and interactions with nature in a specific place.  The two evolve together – in a delightfully unpredictable way.

Out of the blue one summer’s day in my garden a single question arose in my mind:

  • Is there such a thing as a perennial vegetable? 

This was the question that first introduced me to forest gardening, and from the outset I was utterly besotted with the idea; leading to further questions:

  • How many perennial vegetables are there that are suitable for my garden’s conditions?
  • How can I obtain them?
  • Can I grow them as part of the ecology of a small forest garden?
  • Can I do so without much work?
  • What will they taste like?

And, as I explored these questions, pushing myself way beyond my initial knowledge and understanding, I found the answers that I was hoping for – that there were indeed a range of tasty, easy to grow perennial vegetables that could be grown in a small forest garden without much work!  I wrote about these questions in my book ‘Edible Perennial Gardening‘.

And so it was that after some years that another question arose:

  • How am I interacting with this forest garden? 

My aim was always to do the minimum of work, but also to obtain a plentiful harvest.  This was indeed happening, but my interaction with the garden seemed to be almost intuitive and I needed to know:

  • Are there any principles that underlying the intuition that I have developed?  Principles that could guide others on the same journey?

And so that question became my obsession for the next four years. It was finally and as fully answered as I am able to in my book ‘the garden of equal delights.

I am sure that I am not alone in becoming obsessed by forest gardening.  And because each forest garden is a unique combination of the place, the planting and the person I think that many other forest gardeners are either pondering or engaged in the process of following up on their own unique questions. 

There is so much yet to learn.  Collectively we have hardly begun to scratch the surface of what there is to know.  So much more about plants, about ways to preserve or prepare food, and about polycultures and the miraculous complexity of an ecosystem.  So many different native plants, insects and animals can be supported in our forest gardens, so many more meals can come from them.  And much peace and joy is to be found spending time watching the unfolding of nature in one place. As well as connecting our forest gardens to the wider world of ecosystems and biodiversity we are connected to one another in the human and cultural realm, sharing our inspirations, our ideas, plants and seeds, information, knowledge, expertise, services, inspiration and so on. 

It may (or may not) take time to uncover our own unique perspectives and questions, but on the day that the questions that matter to you arise – get out there and spend however long it takes to answer them.  And then please share what you have learned with everyone else!

Forest gardening principle: polyculture learning is slow learning.

Posted in a different gardener, ecosystem, Edible Perennial Gardening, Forest Gardening, Perennial Vegetables, Principles of forest gardening, the garden of equal delights | 4 Comments

nature writes the story

Planting a forest garden is in part a statement of intent and also in part a question.  The intent is to facilitate and support the development and growth of a healthy edible ecosystem.  The question is ‘what will happen next’?

These are two interlinking aspects that guide the forest gardener into the future because the intention of supporting an ecosystem – is fulfilled by attending to the question of what happens next.  And paradoxically the first thing to do – is nothing.

“The forest garden is planted, everything is in place – what is the first thing the forest gardener needs to do? It is to stop! Go and make a cup of tea or meet up with friends for coffee*. Go out for the day. Go on holiday. Read a book, watch a film, visit an elderly neighbour. Go and do nothing or do something, but whatever you do leave the garden alone. This is important. You have done your bit for now. It is time for the garden to start to do its own thing in its own way. The garden needs time and space – freedom from human interference. So, off you go – and do something else for a bit.” the garden of equal delights p39

* When I wrote this there was no coronavirus and you could meet up with friends for coffee and go out and about.  One day we will be able to do these things again but until then there is more time to devote to watching what is happening in the garden.

Stop – watch – wait.  It is that simple.  By doing this you can develop your trust in nature as the senior partner in this venture. 

In any garden there are always gaps – places for nature to insert new plants and wildlife.  In ecology these are known as ‘niches’.  A newly arrived plant or animal is usually called either a ‘weed’ or a ‘pest’ by a conventional gardener.  However in a forest garden the ‘weed’ is a wild flower and is a vital source of habitat and sustenance for local, native wildlife.  The newly arrived ‘pest’ (be it a slug or an aphid or a caterpillar) is food for another creature and forms part of the foundation of the food chain.

Continuing to stop – watch – wait – allows nature to fill in more niches and thereby to connect up these disparate parts with the first fine threads of the ecosystem.  This is the very beginning of the forest gardener learning to allow nature to take up her own story in this place.  There is much to learn and it all takes time.  The full suite of forest garden principles hold the gardener’s hand and guide them on the journey so that eventually:

“No longer does nature have to struggle against an alien controller, but it can just be in harmony with a deeply empathetic and understanding gardener.”

“The forest gardener can see nature healing in overgrown places and its wild weeds as its sign of forgiveness. Formerly the threads of nature were as fine filaments blowing in the wind, fragile and easily torn apart. Here they have been re-woven into a stronger and more resilient fabric and this place is being healed. Importantly the support offered by the forest gardener has facilitated and speeded that healing.” The garden of equal delights p142

Principle of forest gardening: first stop; don’t do anything until you need to and, in that prolonged pause, let go.

 

Posted in a forest garden is gardened differently, Forest Gardening, Principles of forest gardening, Relationship with nature, Waiting, Watching | 1 Comment

wild flowers and more wild flowers

Jake Rayson of Forest Garden Wales has recently posted a wonderful online video on the subject of wild flowers, accessible here on his Backyard Forest Youtube channel.   Wild flowers provide shelter, habitat and food for all manner of wildlife and proving plenty of wild biomass and biodiversity is the best way to support and enhance a healthy localised ecosystem in the garden.  Jake’s enthusiasm is infectious and he has a great deal of interesting information as well.  Do check out the video.

As an example of wild flowers that can easily live in a forest garden I have just published a post over on my other blog (because most of my relevant pictures are stored on that site and not this one).  I found 19 pictures and remembered a further 31 wild plants making a total of 50 for last year – and there may well have been more than that.

Jake emphasises – and I totally agree – that the forest gardener is gardening for all of life.

“But the forest gardener is operating from a different paradigm and is endeavouring to support an ecosystem. In this ecosystem everything has a function and is an integral part of a single complex unity. The forest gardener is learning not to just turn a blind eye to the wild plants (the weeds), but is beginning to appreciate their value as living beings contributing to the forest garden and having their own purpose and place within this world. This does not mean that every wild plant that arrives in the forest garden should stay indefinitely, but it definitely does mean that they should not automatically be removed without a second thought. In time the forest gardener will recognise the wild plant as a gift, an opportunity, a delight, as beautiful and as an intrinsic part of this place.”
the garden of equal delights page 42-3

Posted in Forest Gardening, Relationship with nature | 2 Comments

Britain’s national parks

I thought this would be of interest to readers – it is a 100 second film about national parks showing the percentage of land devoted to different uses.

UK National Parks in 100 Seconds – YouTube

 

Posted in biodiversity | Tagged | 1 Comment