Why create a perennial food garden?

Gardening with perennial edibles is a great way of growing your own happiness

03 May, 2020

Why create a perennial food garden?

Growing your own food is always a deeply satisfying experience. However, many people know that unless you’re really good at it, it’s very time consuming and in regards to time and money spent, the cost benefits compared to shop bought food can be questionable.

Gardening and growing with perennial edibles is a way of growing more food more cheaply, with less energy and time, and at least equal amounts of dignity and satisfaction as growing annuals.

  • Less work, more food: All gardening takes a fair bit of work - and not matter how you swing it, there are always weeds.  But once a perennial kitchen garden or allotment is established and providing food, that’s significantly less work for free food all year and next year, and the year after etc. As plant stocks increase as plants mature you’ll start giving food and plants away to your neighbours. With annual food plants you have to start from scratch every year - pricking out, potting on, planting out, worrying about slugs ,then having everything eaten by slugs anyway, etc.
  • Good for wildlife: Because they create a standing system that’s present year in year out, they help create stable liveable conditions for other wildlife. Because there’s no requirement to redig the soil, they favour Earthworms and soil micro flora that can depend on their tunnels and the plant roots not being disturbed.  Insects and pollinators can expect the same flowers in your garden and grow their families around your plantings.
  • Absorb CO2: Because perennial gardens don’t require re-digging every year, their undisturbed soils can mature their structure, biological diversity and levels of nutrients. As the population of soil organisms increases, the soil sequesters and keeps more CO2 than regularly disturbed soils.
  • Climate change and disturbance resilient: Perennials are generally more hardy in drought and adverse conditions because they are well established with deeper roots meaning they require less or no watering in dry periods, conserving water. They are also more resilient to storm and pest damage.
  • Perennials come back early or grow right through winter: In many annual only food gardens there is the phenomenon of the “hungry gap” - the time between the last of the winter harvests and the new spring plantings coming on. Not so in perennial food systems. Perennial greens such as Good King Henry and Buckshorn plantain like to challenge the late frosts emerging early April - with perennial kales and evergreen alliums like Perpetual onion supplying the kitchen all year round. Berries like Haksap start yielding in early May, before most berries such as blueberries and raspberries come on (two more excellent perennials). Diversity of plants in perennial food gardens is key to their effectiveness in providing fresh free food throughout the year, every year.
  • The good life: Which brings me to my last point: with perennials - because once planted they return the following year - with a reasonably variety of plants it’s quite easy to become self sufficient and supermarket independent-ish in leafy greens and berries (your berries will last in freezer through the autumn/winter). How cool is that?  Actually, as one gets into it the concept of buying green leaves from a shop in a plastic bag becomes more and more of an absurd idea. They literally (I mean not literally, but yeah, literally) grow on trees. It takes some kitchen cultural adjustments for sure (and you have to make a habit of foraging in your own garden), but the dignity, pleasure, quality and instant access to fresh and free, money-saving food can quickly become addictive. They should put a warning on that.