I love the ritual of scouring the seed catalogues, planning what to grow, sowing, hardening off and planting out every year. The chance to grow something different every year is one of the joys of being a vegetable grower. Having said that there are some perennial crops that I also grow. Once they are in they can produce harvest for years and years. There are 4 in the kitchen garden for now.
I can’t get enough asparagus in the spring. When we decided to build raised beds one of the beds had to be asparagus. The soil in the kitchen garden is heavy clay. The raised bed was the perfect way to improve drainage with gravel and sand mixed with compost. We have 4 different varieties which should give us a longer cropping season. As we only planted them up last year we won’t be eating until next year. However, we will have fresh asparagus for 3 months a year for the next 20+ years. I look forward to trying to find imaginative ways to deal with the glut!
I have always loved rhubarb. I remember staying with my granny before I started school and being given a stalk of rhubarb and a bowl of sugar. In my opinion, if you haven’t tried Yorkshire forced rhubarb you haven’t lived! Forced rhubarb is sweet, tender and delicate. We grow 5 plants and always force one. When you have forced a crown, you need to leave it to recover for 3 or 4 years before you can force it again.
We eat it in crumbles and love rhubarb compote on porridge. We have made gin and cordial. The gin was fine but it did not mix with tonic. The cordial was ok. It dealt with the glut but I do not plan to make it again. The answer to a glut is simply more pies.
We first saw perennial kale was in the magnificent kitchen gardens at Knightshayes. There was a 2-3m tall shrub with cabbage leaves. It turned out to be Taunton Deane a perennial kale that has always been grown at the estate. It does not usually, if ever, set seeds and is usually propagated by cuttings.
There are several perennial kales available – sea kale, cottage kale and even a broccoli. We bought a Taunton Deane kale and it went from a 1l pot to 1m tall in a season. It has suffered ever summer from cabbage white caterpillar. They strip it back to bare stalks. However, by February there are masses of new and tender leaves. I really like the sweet and mellow taste of this in the spring. It matures in the early summer to a more classically brassica flavour. I also like being able to just pick a few leaves without hindering the plant.
This year, I am trying to propagate it by cutting. Fingers crossed this works ok as I want to share with a few people locally.
New this year in our garden is Caucasian spinach – Hablitzia Tamnoides. This is a climbing plant native to the Caucasus. It provides a steady supply of leaves for salads or it can be used just like spinach. The young shoots of established plants can also be eaten. We will be growing it over an arch on the shadier side of the garden.
The seeds a bit trickier than most to germinate but my no means difficult. They need a period of cold stratification before they will germinate. All that means is they need a period of cold. I sowed them in pots in the cold frame in the late autumn. There has been a good germination rate and I now have a few modules and a pot of seedlings.
There are many other perennial plants available and I am keen to hear what other people have tried and liked.