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Perennial Vegetables

June 22, 2012

Apart from my asparagus bed, which is four years old and just about producing a crop, the only other perennial vegetable on my plot is a new bed of Jerusalem artichokes.  Chives, sage, lavender, rosemary, marjoram, thyme and lovage as herbs return year after year and I pick a small bunch most weeks throughout the year.  And the raspberries, black currants, rhubarb and gooseberries are permanent fixtures to look forward to each summer. Now with Martin Crawford’s book I am planning to add some more substantial crops that will return each year and hopefully to discover new and unusual ways to cook with them. Several vegetables in this excellent book can be grown at home in mixed borders or in pots and there is a chapter on planting up forest gardens with the vegetables that tolerate wilder areas in partial shade.

The Day Lily and in particular Hemerocallis fulva ‘Flore Pleno’ is the main variety grown in China for cooking. It can be picked early in the morning when the flowers are in bud and these have the flavour of French beans when lightly steamed. Or wait until the end of the day when the flowers are fully open and shred them raw to add to salads. The flowers can also be cooked in the same way as courgette flowers and dipped in a parmesan batter and deep-fried. This plant makes a fine border or pot plant in light sun or shade and can be planted in bulk along paths in semi-wild areas.

Perpetual Spinach also known as leaf beet and Swiss chard are sometimes treated as biennials but if prevented from flowering  and Crawford says you simply ‘pinch the flowering stems out’  then they remain perennial for years. That had never occurred to  med I simply moan when my plants have started flowering thinking that’s the end of the crop.  Both are easy plants to grow from seed sown directly in the ground at this time of year and thinned to 30cms. And Rainbow chard, with its bright yellow and red stems and leaves, can be grown in the same way and will look particularly good in the flower border.

Globe artichokes  Cynara  scolymus  Green Globe or Purple Romanesco make stunning garden plants in a sunny mixed herbaceous border  growing to 80cms high and as wide.  In rich soil each plant can produce up to three or four large globes. The plants can be divided up every 3-4 years by detaching the small off sets that form at the base of the plant. Steamed for 20-30 minutes before the fleshy petals are pulled apart and dipped into a French dressing has to be one of the best meals in summer.

Sorrel is strictly a herb but has many culinary uses and as a perennial returns year after year. It can be sown from seed in July till mid-August directly in the ground and thinned to 30cms spacing. It prefers sun or light shade and Crawford recommends a Broad Leaved Sorrel ‘Large de Belleville’  that is readily available and is particularly good for winter use.

Dandelions are, as we know when trying to dig them out, a perennial weed with deep tap roots. And whilst I would not choose to maintain a bed of them and maybe I won’t cook the roots I am prepared to try using their other bits in the kitchen. Apparently the leaves are widely eaten in mainland Europe, often with bacon in France, and the flowers can be added to salads and pancakes.

In his introduction Crawford points out that tilling the soil year after year, which is necessary for most seed grown annual vegetables,  is one of the worst offenders in agriculture. The growing systems used for perennial plants disturb the environment much less than annual tillage. He also says that foods from perennial plants almost always contain more nutrients than those from short-lived plants.  Many that he mentions in the book grow wild in forests and hedgerows and once these have been identified offer fabulous opportunities for weekend foraging trips.

This weeks cut flowers are Allium christophii which were lying flat in the garden after a heavy downpour so were revived indoors.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. June 22, 2012 10:03 am

    Alliums are so dramatic- especially in that jug & vase…& globe artichokes are my favourite! (a bowl of melted butter, a warm evening, wine, good company & numerous cloths to mop fingers!)

  2. Marigold Jam permalink
    June 22, 2012 1:08 pm

    Must certainly look out for that book – it sounds interesting. I didn’t know day lilies were edible but whether I would be able to pick and eat them unless I had dozens of them I rather doubt as I’d want to leave them flowering! Artichokes – mmmnn! delicious. Love your alliums – look just right in those containers

    • June 22, 2012 1:28 pm

      Yes I too would rather have the blooms in the garden. But day lily flowers fall at the end of each day so if one had a huge bank of them cooking with the petals might be rather fun.

  3. June 22, 2012 1:11 pm

    I grow lots of perennial veg already and have also experimented with cutting rather than digging out – as with leeks – just slicing the leeks off at ground level and leaving the roots in place they carry on growing this can also be done with brassicas – worth a try.

    • June 22, 2012 1:21 pm

      Gosh those are two good tips-many thanks Elaine.

  4. June 23, 2012 4:53 pm

    I love how you’ve revived your alliums! and your pretty vases too 🙂

  5. June 23, 2012 5:33 pm

    My mother-in-law grows a lot of sorrel and sorrel soup is a great favourite here. We also enjoy young dandelion leaves. But I had no idea you could eat day lilies!

    • June 23, 2012 6:09 pm

      I found the sorrel seeds mentioned on e bay and await their arrival. My sister- in- law grows it and I made a sumptuous sorrel soup from her crop recently.

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