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Perennial vegetables and permaculture

Most of the vegetables that we buy from the supermarket, or plant regularly are annuals.  That means that they typically only live for one season and then need to be planted again.  Think of all the work involved in sowing seeds and raising seedlings year after year.  I often have a lot of trouble starting seedlings, everything goes wrong, from mice eating the seeds to over-watering and causing them to rot.  By accident, I started to plant perennial vegetables in my garden and they started to do really well.

Perennial plants live for several seasons.  They may die back over winter, but they will regrow from roots without having to start again from seed.  This means that they get a head-start and may produce more over the entire season.  Perennial plants should be part of any permaculture garden because they require less work than annual plants, and the soil doesn't have to be tilled.

The challenge with perennial veges, because most are unfamiliar, is knowing how to prepare them, this often takes some research and experimentation.  I have had some perennials in my garden that grew ok, but we just didn't really use them.  Malabar spinach for example, it was ok, but we preferred silverbeet, so it never got used.  I try not to waste space on vegetables that we don't use, but I do like to have some like warigall greens as a back up, as they will often grow when everything else has withered and died from the heat!

A few perennials that I have found grow well in our climate:
  • Poor man's beans (hyacinth bean)
  • Perennial leeks - they just keep multiplying!
  • Warrigal greens
  • Chokos
  • Walking stick kale
  • Arrowroot
  • Sweet potato
  • That giant chilli bush!

eight acres: growing perennial vegetables
the chilli bush

eight acres: growing perennial vegetables

eight acres: growing perennial vegetables
walking stick kale

eight acres: growing perennial vegetables
perennial leeks, I have to keep splitting them up

eight acres: growing perennial vegetables
warrigal greens - an Aussie native

I spent some time in my Aunty's garden in Lower Hutt, New Zealand, admiring her perennial veges, including scarlet runner beans and rhubarb.  I think I could grow rhubard, but our climate is definitely too hot for the scarlet runner beans.

eight acres: growing perennial vegetables
Scarlet runner beans

eight acres: growing perennial vegetables

And then there are the veges that are not technically perennial, but they self-seed and just keep coming up when they're ready, so that they are semi-perennial and don't require any intervention.

Self-seeding veges in my garden:  
  • Lettuce
  • Silverbeet/chard
  • Broccoli, asian vegetables
  • Herbs like parsley, chervil, dill, borage, calendula

eight acres: growing perennial vegetables
self-seeded brasicas 

Lately I've been reading two Eric Toensmeier books about perennial vegetables (see links below).  I found the first one, Perennial Vegetables, to be a little dry, but with plenty of detail, you can certainly use this as a reference to find which vegetables will grow in your climate, and I have a list that I'd like to acquire.  The second, Paradise Lot, filled in the story, and it was so interesting to read about Eric and his friend Jonathan finding their property, planting their 100% perennial garden and finding their sweethearts.  This was a much more enjoyable read, but light on detail of the plants.  I'm so glad I had them both at the same time so I could enjoy the contrast.  And now I've moved on to Edible Forest Gardening!

eight acres: growing perennial vegetables
Eric Toenmeier's books

These are affiliate links, if you buy through these links I get a small percentage of your purchase as amazon credit, which helps to fund my book habit....

Perennials that I'd like to try:

  • Sunchokes (I had some, but they died, which is supposed to be impossible)
  • Yacon
  • Watercress and water celery (when we have a pond set up)
  • Perennial cucumber
  • Yams
  • Oca
  • Bamboo
  • Pepino

Do you grow perennials in your garden?  Do you find the work load reduced?  Any favourites?


  1. Sunchokes and Yakon are also on my list to try one day. I have been hearing about cranberry hibiscus too - it is a red leafy salad green. I have red amaranth - they come up all over the place and the leaves can be added to salads. I love growing asparagus too - fresh out of the garden the flavour is superb. I have never heard of perennial cucumber.

    1. Oh I forgot asparagus! Great to know if grows where you are Gill, surely we can grow it here. For the perennial cucumber, search for Coccinia grandis, I have no idea if we can get it in Australia, it seems to be declared a weed! Sounds like my kind of plant!

  2. the pepino I've just planted, (got from the markets)
    also have one started from seed, the yacons I'm hoping to taste for the fist time this year

    1. wow, sounds like a great start to a perennial garden :)

  3. Runner beans, oca and yacon just aren't perennial over here although I'm planning on growing them all this year. I guess my perennials are more fruit trees and bushes, I've been buying more unusual lately as well to add to the variety that I grow and to make sure we have enough in bad years and the birds can take some without me getting too upset!
    I like the look of the chilli bush but I know it doesn't like frost, like many of the other plants, I'll have to have a look at the leek though as that sounds interesting.

    1. Even runner beans? They do die back in NZ, but regrow every year from the roots. I saw you were growing mashua, that's also in the books. Actually you might find the Paradise Lot book helpful because they are based in north eastern (forget which state) USA, so they get snow. I hope you can find some perennial leaks, they are great!

  4. I have some pepino, which I can send you some cuttings in the post, wrapped in damp newspaper. You'd have to pot them on yourself but I personally found them easy to strike. Most of what you can grow there (choko, arrowroot, warrigal greens and sweet potato) do well in our parts too. We don't get the black frosts you do, but get the hot, dry climate otherwise.

    I have found success with ginger root as well - only this year though. I planted it in a 5 litre mayonnaise bucket, Dave got from work. It cannot hack the soil drying or intense heat, but found when I nestled it against other pots and watered them all together, it had the right microclimate to go berserk. I'm interested in seeing what kind of crop I have when it dies down. I had to transplant it into the larger bucket, after it threatened to break the pot it was already in.

    I find tubers, rhizomes or anything with an engorged root system, does well in our climate. My Yacon died in its first year of planting though. Which has taught me to pamper the first cuttings in pots in their first season. If they multiply I can then transplant some into the garden, but I don't lose those first, unestablished plants. Took me loosing a lot of cuttings, tubers and rhizomes to figure that out.

    1. Thanks Chris, that would be excellent, I'll send you an email! I have ginger too, I'm never sure if its a herb or a vegetable :) but mine is growing really well in a pot at the moment.

  5. Also forgot to mention some annuals can be treated like perennials, like sugarloaf cabbage. We discovered this by accident, when after harvesting the main heads we neglected that part of the garden. When we came back the next growing season, the plant had grown like a succulent, sending out branches with multiple heads. You get smaller heads if grown this way, but no work involved in that second year. it was a wonderful discovery to happen through our neglect. Not all plants do so well!

    1. Oh yes its surprising what you find out when you don't bother to pull things out, that's how I discovered that my kale is perennial!

  6. we grow okra in our market garden, not something i'll grow, to me they taste disgusting. am interested in growing the brazillian spinach, we have that there too, it actually does taste like silverbeet when steamed & can be used in salads too. though i do love my chards, am waiting til it really cools down before growing them this year plus i got seeds from green harvest this time so am hoping they will self seed. not much grew in my own garden cos of the extreme humidity we had, brussel sprouts are too hard to grow, won't be growing those again. can't seem to get chokoes to grow here, try every year too.
    your gardens are looking wonderful
    thanx for sharing

    1. yes brussel sprouts have a reputation for being difficult, I have a policy of only growing easy plants, or maybe that's all that survives anyway!

  7. How did you go with Warrigal greens ,Liz. I planted it in one of my patches , it went crazy and grew like nothing I had ever seen before....and then when I went to eat it, it kind of tasted a bit yuck and salty. Do you eat it?I ended up pulling it all out.

    1. I was surprised to find a massive patch of them, I thought they might have died in the heat. I find that they taste ok with other veges, I just wilt them in butter, lately with choko. I think they do need to be cooked due to oxalate content, like spinach and chard/silver beet.

  8. This is awesome! Here in Virginia, USA our perennials are a bit different, but the concept remains the same! My personal favorite perennial veggies are asparagus, rhubarb, and multiplier and walking onions! Thanks for sharing at the Homestead Blog Hop this week!

  9. Asparagus is the only perennial I grow right now. This just happens to be year three so I can harvest this year. I'm stoked about it. I love asparagus.
    2015 A to Z Challenge Ambassador


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