Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Perennial veg

Scottish globe artichokes
We like our garden to be easy maintenance where possible. One way of saving a bit of work is by growing perennial vegetables. Once established, they'll just keep coming back without you having to sow and nurture them. You might have to mulch/feed them, move them occasionally (alliums) or plant out rooted suckers from time to time (globe artichokes), but otherwise perennial vegetables can be pretty much left to their own devices.

Possibly our most successful perennial vegetable are globe artichokes. I grew them from seed originally and now I take rooted suckers from the established original eight plants. It is one of our earliest vegetables, cropping from late May onwards, and has two cropping periods, early summer and early autumn, when we have pretty much all-you-can-eat globe artichokes. I was a bit doubtful at first whether they'd work in Scotland. However, since they're a member of the thistle family they've been growing very well. In fact, they don't even go dormant during the winter, but keep growing lush foliage all year round. This year is their fourth season, after which you are meant to replace the original plants - hence the new plants made from rooted suckers.

Asparagus from seed: year three

Daubenton's kale
Good King Henry
Most perennial veg need to be left alone for a year or two before harvesting. Our most long-term project in this line is an asparagus bed. Since I couldn't find any Scottish asparagus crowns to buy (and the soft English veg and fruit normally can't hack it up here), there was nothing for it but to grow the asparagus from seed. It was quite challenging to germinate, despite pre-soaking, but I managed to get six 'Martha Washington' plants, which are now coming into their third season and looking like something we might be able to eat. It's a five-year project to full production when growing asparagus from seeds, but you can already start limited harvesting (cutting for two weeks) from year three - this year! Since those six plants have proved the concept, I'm going to sow the rest of the bed with 'Argenteuil' in May. What's another five years!?

The only varieties of perennial veg that we could start harvesting in year one have been Daubenton’s kale (a sweet-tasting kale, a bit reminiscent of spring cabbage but growing in individual leaves and thus easy to harvest in small quantities) and wild rocket. I always look forward to the wild rocket appearing in March for early spring salads.

Good King Henry is usually classed as a herb, but to me it's a spinach substitute. The leaves are about the same size and it has a lovely aromatic taste. Perfect as a pizza topping! It also self-seeds quite merrily so you'll have a reasonable size of patch from just one or two plants in a short time.

Egyptian onions, with 'babies' forming on top
Perennial onions are a good way of eking out the regular onions, particularly in spring. We have three types: Egyptian onions, Very useful onions (a variant of Welsh onions) and regular Welsh onions. The Egyptian onions have a mild, almost leek-like flavour and you can eat both bulbs and 'babies'. The Welsh/Very Useful onions are stronger and I use them instead of spring onions/scallions. To avoid onion rust, I lift an entire clump of Welsh onions at a time and replant a few of them in another area for the next year. The Egyptian onions are also called 'Walking onions' and they walk to another spot by themselves. I simply harvest the mother plant and let the babies root.
Skirrets in bloom

Another perennial allium in our garden is Babington's leek. It looks good, just like a leek, but we'll only get to sample it for the first time this year. Same with our skirrets, a perennial parsnip. We also started a horse radish plant last year.

Two vegetables that aren't perennial but that will just keep coming back because you'll never dig all of them up are oca (also known as New Zealand yam, a pretty lemony potato-like tuber) and Jerusalem artichokes. We keep them in the same spot every year and try to replant the best-looking tubers in the spring. Though, of course, there will be some rogues!

I'm always on the lookout for more perennial vegetables to try. For example, I'd like to add wild garlic types and nine-star broccoli. Has anyone got any experience with these or any other recommendations?

Very useful onions

Wild rocket


  1. What a terrific variety of perennial veg you have, your globe artichokes look fantastic - if ours do half as well I shall be very happy! I love the onions too, they are so versatile, we've been using the Welsh onions for months and I've just lifted and replanted some new clumps for this year. Other ideas that we've grown in the past are lovage, sorrel, salad burnet (all of which you might already grow as herbs), cardoon and sea kale. I believe there's a perennial chicory, too.

    1. I sowed some sorrel in our first spring here, only to discover that it grows wild everywhere around here! So I tend to forage for that. What is cardoon like, flavour-wise? I have been looking at it but wasn't sure whether it was worth growing.


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