We tend to think of the vegetable garden as something that has to be started from scratch every year. Perennials and shrubs are for the ornamental borders. There are dozens of perennial vegetables and herbs, but most are not commonly grown or eaten. When is the last time you had some Crosnes or a plate of Good King Henry?
Growing perennial vegetables means less work in the long term, but you can't skimp on the soil preparation thinking you can make up for it later. And if garden real estate... is scarce, you have to decide how much you are willing to devote to a crop that is going to be there for the next 20 years. Don't let that stop you. Many of these vegetables can be incorporated into your landscape, to do double duty.
01 of 08
Artichokes are only hardy to USDA Hardiness Zone 7, but cooler zones 5 and 6 can push the envelope, with some protection, and even colder climates could overwinter them indoors. These thistles are big, beautiful, architectural plants - perfect for edible landscaping. Few creatures will bother with their spiky leaves. Growing your own means tender baby artichokes.
02 of 08Many a gardener makes a daily inspection, in early spring, to see if the first spears of asparagus have poked through the ground. When the asparagus is up, you know the ground is warming and the vegetable growing season has truly begun. Asparagus takes 3 years to establish, but after that you can harvest reliably for month.
03 of 08
Jerusalem artichoke, or sunchoke, as it is often marketed, has a nutty flavor similar to artichokes and a texture more like potatoes. As you can see from its botanical name, the Jerusalem artichoke is in the sunflower family. It does have pretty yellow flowers in fall, but there are a few caveats to be aware of, before using it in your ornamental beds. First, you grow it for its tubers, so you will be digging it up each year. And more importantly, it spreads aggressively, if you don't... harvest all the tubers. It is perennial after all.
More tips on Choosing and using sunchokes.
04 of 08Ramps are wild leeks with a mild flavor that is a cross between onions and garlic. They are only available for a short time in spring, but it is long enough for several festivals to take place celebrating them. Although they are a wild plant and many people forage for them, they are increasingly being cultivated. Ramps need a moist, shady woodland type of site. They are not a good choice for a sunny vegetable garden, but make a fantastic edible ground cover under a tree.Continue to 5 of 8 below.
05 of 08Rhubarb is the vegetable that masquerades as a fruit. That's a pretty clever trick, considering the part we eat is the stem. Rhubarb is another herald of spring. Like asparagus, it needs about 3 years to become established. Rhubarb needs a winter chilling and is grown as an annual in zones warmer than 8. But it is one of the first "fruits" of the season, reason enough to look forward to growing it.
06 of 08
Sorrel (Rumex acetosa)Sorrel is an odd plant. It is usually listed as an herb, but most often used as a leafy vegetable. With a tart, lemony flavor, tender young sorrel can be eaten fresh in salads. You barely need a dressing, with all of its flavor. It can also be sauteed until it melts into a tangy, aromatic soup or cooked like spinach and added to everything from omelets to deserts.
07 of 08
Probably one of the easiest ways grow perennial food is growing herbs. Most of these can go out in the flower borders without fear of marauding wildlife. They are attractive plants, in their own right, and most are easy to keep in check if you are harvesting regularly. (The exceptions would be horseradish, lemon balm and mint.)
08 of 08
For more on lesser thought of perennial vegetables and herbs, check out Eric Toensmeier' s web site Perennial Vegetables and his book "Perennial Vegetables: From Artichokes to Zuiki Taro, A Gardener’s Guide to Over 100 Delicious, Easy-to-Grow Edibles Perennial Vegetables".