This is one version of my 'Top 10' perennial vegetables – a version drawn up with a mixed cottage garden style planting in mind. It's really hard to choose favourites and there are plenty of others that I love and would be in the top 10 if it had a different purpose.
1. Earth nut pea (Lathyrus tuberosus) - It has edible tubers, beautiful flowers, like bright pink mini sweet peas plus the plants fix nitrogen and bees adore them. This year they have been growing with (herb) fennel and Jerusalem artichoke and happily used them as a climbing frame.
Earth nut pea
2. Dahlia - Although I haven’t actually eaten this yet it is amazing for flowers with edible tubers too. I am following James Wong’s advice in growing them. I raised a few from seed last year, kept the tubers over the winter and planted them out in late spring. The results have been massive plants with lots of flowers all summer. When they have died down I will harvest tubers, save some and try eating the others. Various sources as well as James Wong suggest they really are nice to eat.
3. Skirret (Sium sisarum) - This is a top favourite and would be in any of my ‘must have’ lists. Its roots have a flavour between that of carrot and parsnip, it has attractive flowers which are good for insects and it grows without any trouble. At the end of the year you can save seeds and also take off the small plants that form at the base of the stem so they are easy to multiply.
4. Three cornered leek (Allium triquetrum) - These are in the garden from mid winter onwards (but from autumn in this mild year) and have absolutely beautiful flowers in spring, usually in May. The bulbs, stems and leaves have a garlic/onion flavour. They multiply quite rapidly and are all round super plants!
5. Buckler leaf sorrel (Rumex scutatus) - A low growing ground cover with attractive leaves but insignificant flowers. It has a fresh tangy, lemony flavour and is a good addition to salads.
6. Oca (Oxalis tuberosa) - This must be one of the easiest of perennial vegetables; they don’t seem to suffer from any bugs or diseases. Different varieties produce either red, white, cream, pink, pale orange or mixed colour tubers which taste lovely and lemony. They have attractive shamrock like leaves. I usually save some tubers indoors over the winter but they can over winter even in harsh conditions as I have found when some have been missed in the harvest.
7. Sea kale (Crambe maritima) - A great structural plant which looks marvellous in flower. I saw some growing in a lighthouse garden in Northumberland this summer. I have had difficulty growing it but will try again next year. I have tasted some foraged from the beach and enjoyed the flavour.
8. Daubenton’s kale - An attractive plant, especially the variegated variety. It has a very mild flavour for a kale, is hardy and easily propagated from cuttings.
9. Scorzonera (Scorzonera hispanica) - This is another very easy to grow root vegetable. It is very tolerant of all manner of conditions and although usually sold as an annual I cut the top of the root off and replant it plus a few pared down leaves and they keep coming back. I don’t eat the leaves but a number of people have recommended them.
10. Mashua (Tropaeolum tuberosum) - This is another climber and quite vigorous so you need to have a suitable place or it will sprawl over everything. It is a robust plant that has edible tubers. If you are lucky you will get flowers - I have for the first time this November and they are magical!
Anni Kelsey is author of Edible Perennial Gardening: Growing Succcessful Polycultures in Small Spaces. Buy it now from our Green Shopping site for a special price of £11.20.
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