Hooters Hall

Perennial Vegetables: Plant them once eat them every year

As we progress with our forest garden we’ve been thinking about how to make it more productive. We’ve already planted some soft fruits and have a lot of herbs propagated in the polytunnel. We’re also planning on extending the forest garden into the old orchard area and making a mixed fruit orchard. I’ve tried to include some culinary plants in each of the layers of the garden but many of these are for adding flavour or tend to be used in salads rather than being a main ingredient in a meal.

 Of course we could simply have a standard vegetable patch but growing annual vegetables needs more input throughout the year and doesn’t really fit with the forest garden. However, perennial vegetables do very much work with a forest garden. I had already planned on having one or two perennial vegetable plants in the forest garden but I think it would be useful to add some more particularly oness that are easy to cook without too much preparation. Since the forest garden is our only garden area we’d also like to have some plants with attractive foliage and flowers.

So what are perennial vegetables ? Some are well known and commonly grown such as rhubarbs, asparagus and globe artichokes. Here’s a picture of some asparagus grown in a garden border rather than a veg patch.

Others are a bit more unusual such as daylily and the ostrich or shuttle cock fern.

Daylilies are beautiful flowers but the flower buds are also delicious to eat. According to my research the yellow flowered daylilies tend to be sweeter I’ve chosen the Stella d’Oro variety which is recommended in many books. The flowers can be used raw in salads, battered , fried or stuffed. Unopened buds taste similar to French beans but the flowers are more similar to courgette flowers. Dried flower buds are widely used in Chinese cooking and known as golden needles. We’ve got a dehydrator so will definitely be making our own golden needles. I’ve managed to find some plants on ebay and plan to grow these on and propagate by division in the future.

I love ferns in the garden so having a fern that’s edible is a bonus. The shuttlecock or ostrich fern Matteuccia struthiopteris tolerates shade so does well in forest gardens. The ‘Jumbo’ variety can grow to 2meters high, which would give a very jungle like feel to the forest garden. The edible part is the young fiddleheads (furled fronds of a young fern) which are picked in spring until they reach 5-6cm after which they become too tough. They do need to be boiled for 15 minutes, have a flavour like a cross between asparagus and broccoli with a crisp texture.

Here’s a picture of a fiddlehead

Perennial vegetables don’t have to just be grown in forest gardens they be planted as a polyculture in ordinary garden beds just remember that as perennials they will need to stay in place rather than being moved every year as you can do with annuals. You can even grow aquatic perennial vegetables such as Arrowheads, Water chestnut, Water lotus and Watercress making your ornamental garden pond a productive part of the garden as well.

There are even some perennial grains that you can grow in the garden. A grain plot 3m x 30m planted up with perennial rye or wheat can yield about 18kg of rye or 25kg wheat it’ll need milling but would be very interesting to try growing some.

For all you need to know about Perennial vegetables have a look at Martin Crawford’s book available in our Amazon bookshop http://astore.amazon.co.uk/hoote-21/detail/1900322846

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