Are perennial food gardens right for you?
Have you considered that growing perennial food gardens might make your life easier?
Consider this: as soon as the calendar tuns to the new year, gardeners dig into plans for their annual food gardens. They sow seeds indoors under lights well before spring and begin sowing hardier cool season crops outdoors — under protection or not — by early February. And, the sowing and plant coddling continues, daily, for most of the year to come.
For intensive food gardeners, this repetitive practice is a labor of love. But the repetition of sow-reap-winter-repeat year after year can become more burdensome than rewarding. Sure, you get to harvest tasty tomatoes in summer, but if you prefer to spend your summer days hiking and shopping rather than monitoring delicate crops everyday, annual edible gardening may not be right for you.
But, you can still grow food.
What so many new gardeners don’t realize and many veteran gardeners may forget is that perennial food crops are so much easier than annual vegetable gardens and they’re generous year-after-year. Perennial food gardens consist of plants that live for many years and yield something good to eat. Some may be herbaceous, meaning their top growth withers for winter. Some may be woody and deciduous, meaning they have sturdy stems but lose their leaves for winter. And, others may be evergreen, meaning they look great all year long. Plus, because these plants become acclimated to the garden, they tend to need less water than thirsty annuals – just be sure to water them well for at least the first three years like you would other perennial plants.
Edible flowering perennials: Daylilies are tough-as-nails perennials that look gorgeous. Plus, if you can bring yourself to pluck the blooms, they taste great too. (Just be sure the lilies you’re eating are true Hemerocallis. Other lilies may be toxic.) Perennial nasturtium, mashua, has edible flowers, leaves and a peppery tasting tuber too. (Just be sure to leave some tubers in the ground so your plants can regrow.) Perennial sunflower, sunchokes, have tasty tubers, and like with mashua, leave some tubers in the soil so they regrow, but realize they may also fall into the next category…
Perennial food weeds: Rather than bemoan the weeds that you likely battle, take a different perspective on what it means to have nettles, blackberry and dandelion in your garden. Sure, you might not choose to plant them, but if you have’m, eat’m!
Groundcovers for foodies: Thyme is simply a must-have in any garden with decent sunlight; this evergreen spreader is a fantastic flavoring too. Sedum may be an acquired taste in the kitchen, but it’s another drought-tolerant spreader. (Before you take a bite, confirm the sedum you choose is a known edible variety.) Strawberry and lingonberry both hug tightly to the ground, remaining mostly evergreen in winter; come summer, both burst forth with sweet, red morsels.
Snackable shrubs: Blueberries and huckleberries are obvious choices. But, don’t forget that drought-hardy woody herbs like rosemary, sage and lavender are also edible, plus they look and smell great in winter too.
Tasty tree treats: You may not want to plant a fruit-bearing tree right over your patio. Nobody wants to get knocked on the noggin by a heavy, ripe fruit. That being said, there are many mini-dwarf cultivars of apples, pears and other fruit trees that look great in pots on your deck. If you have room for an orchard, add in fig, citrus, bay leaf, sterile mulberry, almond, hazelnut, walnut or other size and climate-appropriate options.
Lovely leaves: Plant come-again asparagus sooner rather than later. Its beautiful, fern-y texture is a gorgeous garden addition. And, thank goodness for that because you really shouldn’t harvest it until it has been growing for at least three years. And, find a spot for rhubarb. Even if you don’t care for the sour taste of “pie plant,” this plant’s large leaves and raspberry-red stems add incredible interest to your garden year after year. Plus, some neighbor will gladly take your harvest off your hands.
Vines taste fine: Grapes readily take over an arbor and drip with sugary goodness year-after-year. Plus, their leaves are edible too! While fuzzy kiwi may quickly eat your world, hardy kiwi plays much more nicely with others and can be self-fertile. In warmer locations, passion vines produce passion fruit – just be sure to plant a fruiting variety. If beer’s your thing and you have lots of room, hops may make you happy. (It’s a sharp one, so plant with care.)
There are many other edible perennial plants for your garden. Join the Garden Mentors Academy and learn to craft your perennial food gardens now.