It is an established ‘fact’ that growing your own food is hard work. Many people enjoy it but nevertheless the soil preparation, plant raising, weeding, watering, pest control and other factors take time and effort. I decided to dispense with that ‘fact’ and find a different path.
It began in my imagination with an edible paradise, full of food that came back year after year and looked after itself with no need for intervention. My reasoning was that if shrubs, bulbs, herbaceous perennials and self-seeding annuals could take care of themselves, remaining in place or returning each year, perhaps there were perennials with these habits that were also edible?
That prompted my journey of exploration into the world of perennial vegetables (that live for over two years). I wanted any edible perennials I grew to:
- Taste nice (or why bother?)
- Be hardy and resilient – no matter how changeable and erratic the weather
- Be easy to care for
If I were able to find vegetables that met these criteria this would indeed be the foundation of the garden of my imagination!
was some years ago and after much research and experimentation I am
very happy to report that my garden is filled with tasty edible
perennials providing food in every month of the year. They grow in
polycultures, surrounded by plants that increase fertility and
biodiversity and assist greatly in the aim of an easily maintained
There are very many perennial vegetables as well as those
usually grown as annuals but able to survive long term. I experimented
with dozens of plants and while some failed, others excelled.
The fascinating and tasty edible delights from the world of edible perennials include:
- Leafy greens for salads and cooking. These can be harvested all year round, but are at their best in the cooler months. They include Daubenton’s kale, nine star perennial broccoli, sorrels, leaf beet, wild rocket and asparagus.
- There many onions to choose from (it seems to me that their natural inclination is to be perennial). I am particularly fond of a perennial leek I obtained from France, Welsh onions, three cornered leek and wild garlic. You can also grow ‘normal’ leeks, harvest the tops and leave the roots in situ, whereupon they will multiply. Shallots can be saved and replanted, bunching spring onions multiply naturally and of course everyone has a small clump of chives. There is a harvest available from the onion family most months of the year.
- Perennial root crops are an interesting and diverse bunch. From skirret which once featured in British gardens to newcomers such as mashua, yacon and oca from South America. Harvests come in the autumn and many can be stored for use in the winter.
As for being easy to look after – yes they are. Perennial vegetables are not fussy about soil type and are often happy in shade. They are generally very hardy, coping with sub zero temperatures as well as very wet or dry weather. Additionally they are from the wilder side of the plant world and being less highly bred and finicky they have few pest or disease problems.
For me growing in polycultures – where you create a mini ecosystem which enables the garden to build its own biodiversity and fertility – is the essence of easy gardening. Once established, a polyculture covers the ground surface and many weeds cannot gain entry. I use copious amounts of mulch and do not dig at all, and this also keeps weeds down.
So I have year round easily grown vegetables; I also have an abundance of flowers from early spring to late autumn. These are from plants supplying the additional functions of the polyculture – attracting insects, confusing pests, concentrating minerals and fixing nitrogen. Their combined effect is to increase biodiversity, health and fertility of the garden. All summer there is the satisfying background hum of bees and other insects. There are also fruits – apples, pears, greengages, jostaberries, gooseberries, blackcurrants, raspberries, and blackberries.
This has indeed become my own edible Eden.