Not only can your garden be a relaxing sanctuary, vibrant social area and a home to wildlife, it can be a great source of food all year round. What is better than nipping into the garden to cut some herbs or gather some vegetables for your fantastic home cooking. You truly cannot beat home grown for freshness, taste or nutrition.
Many of the delicious vegetables & herbs which you are used to may well be annuals which are grown as perennials, meaning if left to their natural life cycle would live for many years but instead are harvested in under one growing season. This goes against nature in which 90% of plants are perennials, yet we grow 80% of our crops as annuals!
Annual crops are short lived, meaning they germinate, grow, flower and are harvested/die within one year and produce shallow root systems which generally only extend 12 cm into the soil. These shallow roots do not trap water well within the soil, which means watering requirements for annual crops/plants is much higher compared to perennials which are better at trapping water within the soil.
So what are some of the benefits of perennials?
- Soil is rarely left exposed which results in less nutrient leaching, rain compaction and erosion.
- Helps build up soil! The continual decay and growth of roots/leaves helps to build up organic matter.
- Generally more disease and pest resistant.
- Less digging to disturb soil ecology.
- Makes more use of annual rainfall.
- Reduced cultivation time (such as digging beds over).
- Perennials which form deep roots help to bring minerals buried deep within the soil up to the surface.
What are some downsides to perennial crops?
- Some perennials are slow to establish (such as asparagus) and can take years to produce its first crop.
- Perennials are not crop rotated so can become prone to disease/viruses in the soil, this can be offset by companion planting to combat specific problems.
- Some perennials (like annuals) can become bitter after they flower.
What could you grow this year?
Sium sisarum (Skirret)
This forgotten Tudor vegetable has seen a revival in heritage seed library/gardens recently after its decline due to modern agricultural practices which favoured roots which are easier to harvest and prepare compared to the delicate small roots of Sium sisarum.
S.sisarum can be tricky to germinate, so its best to wait until the soil has warmed up before sowing seeds, but the best way to propagate is via cuttings which you may be able to get from a heritage garden if you are lucky. The best time to take cuttings is Feburary/March.
Hemerocallis spp. (Daylillies)
Daylillies produce edible flowers, flower buds, tubers and young shoots (some people have reported side effects such as upset stomachs, which may be offset by cooking so please be careful before consuming to much).
Allium cepa var. viviparum (Egyptian Onion)
Allium cepa var. viviparum are a wonderful sight to behold in any garden with the first blue/green shoots emerging very early in spring, growing to around 3 feet in height. Unlike regular onions which form bulbs in the soil, A.cepa form a cluster of bublets at the apex of the shoots! These bublets will reach maturity min to late summer, after which the weight of the bublets will bend the stems allowing the bublets to plant themselves ready to produce new plants next year!
Rumex acetosa (Sorrel)
Rumex acetosa is a wonderful attractive perennial which forms dense root balls which can make it tricky to divide, but the delightful acidic almost lemon like flavour makes this worthy of space in anyone’s garden.
Around June Rumex acetosa will start to produce wonderful flower spikes, during this time the leaves will start to become bitter but you can prolong the harvesting period by cutting back the flower spikes as they start to grow. As the flower spikes are so attractive we like to leave some in tact to enjoy this spectacular plant.