Perennial vegetables are those which come back each year. Unlike annuals, they do not just grow over one season, but have a lifecycle that continues over several years. Some perennial vegetables are herbaceous – that means they die back in winter before springing back into life the following spring. But others, like trees and shrubs, will remain in leaf throughout the whole year.
There are a few well known perennials. These include favourites such as rhubarb, asparagus, and artichokes. But what you might not realise is that there are also plenty of other perennial vegetables to choose from. So let’s take a look at some of the perennial vegetables you might like to consider growing in your polytunnel garden:
Perennial Brassicas are a large category of perennial vegetables. These are members of the cabbage family. While we may be more used to cultivated brassica crops that we grow as annuals, it is important to understand that there are a number of brassicas which, like their common wild ancestors, will survive and produce food in your garden over several years.
There are plenty of everlasting cabbages, tree cabbages and kales that are short lived perennials. This means that they will survive and produce an edible crop in your garden for at least 3-5 years. These are a great ‘gateway’ to perennial plants, and can be great additions to a low maintenance garden. Perennial plants will still need care, of course. But they can require far less work and effort than annual crops.
Another large category of perennial vegetables are perennial alliums – or members of the onion family. Rather than growing annual onions, garlic, leeks etc. you can grow onion-family plants that will remain in your garden year after year.
Bunching onions, walking onions, chives, and elephant garlic are just a few of the perennial onion family plants that you could consider. These plants are also relatively easy to grow and can form an integral component of a low maintenance garden.
Other Perennial Vegetables
Perennial brassicas and perennial alliums are just the beginning when it comes to perennial vegetables. The more you learn about perennial vegetables, the more exciting edible options you will discover.
For example, you will discover more usually leafy greens such as Good King Henry, mallows, etc.. And also a number of edible weeds which are also perennial vegetables. You might think of ground elder, for example, as a problem weed. But this is also a perennial vegetable.
Another perennial vegetable that you might not know about is hosta. All hostas, while usually grown as ornamentals, are also delicious edible plants. There are also a number of other perennial vegetables which are usually grown as ornamentals, but which can also find a use in your kitchen.
Spinach and typical leaf vegetables all have plenty of more unusual perennial alternatives. The more you delve into this area, the more you will find. And the less work you will have to do over time to keep your garden going.
Growing plenty of perennial vegetables, perennial herbs and other perennial plants in your polytunnel can be an interesting alternative to growing traditional annual crops. But it does not have to be either-or. You can combine perennial and annual crops to create a diverse garden ecosystem that can truly stand the test of time.
Understanding Perennial Vegetables
Many beginners will overlook the potential of perennial plants. So make sure you understand perennials. Think about which you might like to include in your polytunnel garden. By doing so, you can create a garden that will be kinder to the planet, produce delicious food, yet be more easy to maintain.
Do you grow perennials in your polytunnel, or elsewhere in your garden? Share your favourite vegetables and tips for their growth in the comments below. Help other gardeners start growing perennials in their gardens.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.