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The best perennial vegetables for a low maintenance kitchen garden

Of all the types of gardening you could be involved in, creating and maintaining a kitchen garden is one of the most labour intensive by far. Planning your crops, sowing seeds in a timely fashion to ensure you have the right crops to harvest at the right time, plus all the successional sowing is tiring and time consuming.

This certainly isn't the type of gardening you'd do in other parts of your life. Very few of us plant every flower from seed every year, we have a mix of herbaceous perennials, evergreen shrubs and biennials alongside the annuals, so why shouldn't your kitchen garden be any different?

There are a surprising number of vegetables that you can grow that once established will give you bountiful harvests for little effort and appear again, year after year. Apart from being great for wildlife, fantastic for your carbon footprint and 5 star for avoiding soil compaction and erosion; perennial vegetables are, well...just easier. If you need anymore convincing, note that a lot of perennial vegetables are also considered 'hungry gap' crops.


Here's our best pick for you to consider adding to your patch.


Rhubarb

Of course, you know that Rhubarb is actually a vegetable so we can put that conversation to one side, right?

Rhubarb is the quintessentially British vegetable/fruit/fregetable/vruit, and its really no wonder as it is the hardiest of perennial crops, surviving temperatures down to -5c before it starts to complain.

Available in a surprising amount of varieties, Rhubarb will sit quietly in a corner of your kitchen garden in full sun or part shade and provide lovely pink stems for puddings, chutneys or gins in late Winter and early Spring when a garden harvest is very much appreciated.

It is possible to manage an even earlier crop of Rhubarb if you 'force' the plant to produce stems earlier than it usually would, by creating a dark atmosphere over the plant with either a dustbin or terracotta pot. This isn't something to do every year as it does strain the crown but provides delicious and tender rhubarb weeks earlier than usual.


Globe Artichokes


If a vegetable could be Marmite....Globe artichokes split opinion in many ways and I truly understand all arguments. They are perennials, which is obviously brilliant and the plants are very architectural and beautiful. Artichokes are tasty to about 50% of the population and plentiful from only one plant. They are also, much like asparagus, viciously expensive at the market so if you are a fan then they are certainly worthwhile. However, and I must give the 'however' if I am to be a good horticultural writer, they are not perfect.


Perpetual spinach is perfect, Rhubarb is perfect, Globe artichokes are not, mainly because they take up a lot of space. Some of this space is vertical which is alright as long as they don't overshadow other crops, but they have a footprint of at least one square metre which is a lot of spinach. If you have even a medium sized kitchen garden then you have to love artichokes to justify the use of space, however if you have a large plot, an allotment or can accommodate a plant in your ornamental border, where it would certainly be at home, then do give it a shot.

The French and Italians adore artichokes and they are much more common on the continent than they are in the UK but if you can fit them in to your space, your kitchen garden and your cooking will be elevated for it.



Asparagus

Not only is this gourmet vegetable delicious and easy to grow, it also represents a real saving when you add it to your list of home grown produce.

Seasonal asparagus is eye- wateringly expensive at the farmers market and in your local pub, so planting a few crowns is an excellent investment.

Setting you back in the region of £10 for a few good crowns, asparagus takes a year to establish itself so don't be tempted to harvest in the first season. Just let it get some strong roots down and grow away until the next Spring when you can tentatively start harvesting. Pick around 50% of the crop in its second year and 75% in its third. This allows the plant to build up its root system and energy store within the crown. After this period of asparagus abstinence you can harvest freely and your crowns should last you a good 20years. Just remember where you planted them to avoid damaging them with your fork.


Nine Star Perennial


Known by many names, Nine Star Broccoli, Perennial Cauli, Cut and Come Again Cauliflower, this amazing, somewhat rare and short lived perennial is still a newcomer on the perennial vegetable scene. Cauliflower in looks but Broccoli in habit, it is not surprising that we still aren't sure what to call it, but Nine Star Perennial is certainly earning a good reputation.

Nine Stars will provide around 10-20, tennis ball sized cauliflower like heads per year and the larger the plant, the more heads will be produced. You can use them exactly like a cauliflower but you will also benefit from using the young leaves of established plants for coleslaws and stir fry's as well. Nine Star is very frost hardy and will continue to crop well for around 5 years, after which the plants will lose vigour and yield and should be replaced.

As with all brassicas, the plants should be protected from pests with insect mesh as the dread Cabbage White butterfly will do its work, and the pigeons won't be able to help themselves.



Perpetual Spinach

Spinach is a kitchen workhorse and can be used for so many dishes, (I'd recommend Antonio Carluccios spinach balls for starters, literally), but salads, soups, stir fry, its amazing and very good for you too.

Ok though, I know that Perpetual spinach isn't a true spinach, its actually more of a leaf beet on technicalities but it looks and importantly tastes, just like spinach. However, you can grow Perpetual spinach without all the successional sowing business of traditional spinach so hear me out on this one. Perpetual spinach is the hardy cut and come again crop, and once established, the outside leaves are harvested, leaving the centre heart to generate new leaves, and unlike true spinach they don't bolt. Really, it's a revelation, so fed up are we of spinach that bolts before we are ready to harvest that we only grow Perpetual spinach now and life is much better for it.

Sow as you would a traditional spinach and protect the plants while they are young from pigeons, slugs and snails. Once they are mature they won't be so attractive to these pests so you won't have to be so vigilant with covering them. With enough stock of Perpetual spinach you can enjoy a handful everyday from the same plants for many years. No bolting guaranteed.


For even more inspiration on growing perennial vegetables, check out the rest of our blog and site.




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