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Perennial plants


Perennial vegetables grow and produce for many years once established. Besides avoiding the need to replant every year, having a strong and established root system confers many other benefits such as yields early in spring when other vegies are scarce, pest resistance and drought (and neglect!) tolerance. Perennials mean less work for more food and greater resilience in your garden.

NB: Growing notes are based on inner-city Naarm/Melbourne, where frosts are rare and summer temperatures can be extreme.

Perennial picks

Garlic chives Allium tuberosum

Delicious, clump-forming chive-like plants with distinctive flattened leaves and garlic flavour. Drought hardy and ornamental. Harvest all year round.

Potato onions Allium cepa aggregatum

A perennial variety of onion that produces clusters of bulbs similar to shallots. 1 bulb produces 5 or more bulbs every year, with some reaching the size of a medium potato. The bulbs store well and are replanted for subsequent crops.

Perennial leeks Allium ampeloprasum var porrum

Each plant produces many young plants around the base which grow to medium sized leeks when transplanted to about 15cm spacing, but can be harvested at any size. Flavour is identical to normal leeks, making these a valuable addition to any leek-lovers garden. Hardy but make sure they have good drainage. Will die down in dry weather but return from small bulbs in the soil when wetter conditions return. Eat the green tops too – just cook them a tad longer.

Rocoto chilli Capsicum pubescens

A perennial variety of chilli that grows right through winter. Striking black seeds and lots of heat! Handle with care and use gloves if processing large quantities of fruit. (Note that many chillis and capsicums can be treated as perennials in Naarm/Melbourne anyway)

Grafted eggplant (rootstock) Solanum aculeatissimum

Regular eggplant varieties can be grafted onto a Devil’s Plant, which is a vigorous spiky perennial weed species also in the Solanacaeae family. An ‘eggplant tree’ produces abundant and earlier fruit compared to regular eggplants that must be replanted every year.

Asparagus Asparagus officinalis

A popular gourmet vegetable, harvested during early spring when many other plants are dormant. Once established, plants can produce well for 20 years!

Globe artichokes Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus

Another gourmet vegetable, valuable because it crops during Spring hungry gap when other vegies are scarce. Improve your yield by eating the top of the stem as well.

Avocados Persia americana

The ultimate perennial vegetable. Avocados grow well in Naarm/Melbourne but need rich, moist soil with excellent drainage. Trunks are prone to sunburn and rot so should be shaded, or painted white to reflect the heat. There are two groups of avocados with different flowering patterns. It’s advisable to plant at least one A and one B type with known pollination compatibility. Hass (A type) and Bacon (B type) are a proven combination in our area.

Cucamelons/Mexican Sour Gherkins Melothria scabra

A dainty vine producing mini melon-like fruit with a lemony cucumber taste. The vines are resistant to powdery mildew and although slow to get started will crop well into winter. They resprout from roots and also self-seed.

Scarlet runner beans Phaseolus coccineus

A hardy and highly ornamental variety of beans that resprouts from its roots for several years. These beautiful beans have wide and fleshy pods that can be eaten fresh in their pods when young, or left to dry on the vine for dried beans. Best in cooler areas as they sometimes fail to set pods in hot, dry conditions.

Chokos Sechium edule

A perennial relative of the pumpkin family. Chokos produce abundant fruit on a large, spreading vine that can grow over a trellis, fence or other structure. Like their cousins zucchini, chokos lose flavour as they matures so I prefer to pick them when about the size of a peach. While having only a subtle flavour of their own, they make a useful filler veg, like zucchini but cropping in autumn and winter. In fact, the entire plant – roots, leaves, shoots and fruit – are edible, making this an extremely versatile and useful standby food that can also be fed to chooks when not needed for the kitchen. Resprouts from the roots for a few years. (Please be careful not to confuse these with the Moth Vine which is a common weed)

Warrigal greens/New Zealand spinach and bower spinach Tetragonia tetragonoides and Tetragonia implexicoma

Tough native plant with leaves that can be used like spinach. Handles dry and salty conditions. Sprawling, succulent ground covers – bower spinach likes to climb too, and creates bowers and long curtain of greenery. Warrigal greens should be cooked well to remove oxalic acid. Bower spinach is lower in oxalic acid (and tastier in my opinion).

Wild rocket Diplotaxis tenuifolia

A hardy alternative to annual rocket that thrives on the edge of vegie beds. The taste is slightly more peppery and leaves thinner and more delicate than common rocket. It is now a common commercial crop so you’ve probably been eating it already. Slower growing but survives drought and performs well in poor soils. Resprouts from roots for a few years, self seeds easily and likely to naturalise. Note that it is listed as a weed in some areas.

Lebanese land cress Apium nodiflorum

A leafy green that grows in water or moist soil and tolerates shade well. Vigorous and prolific leaves have a carrot flavour that is delicious mixed with other greens in salads. Be aware that it has a poisonous relative that looks similar and grows in local creeks.

Sorrel Rumex acetosa

A leafy green that can be used raw in salads or cooked, providing a delicious lemon flavour.  Roots that scavenge deep in the ground also bring minerals from the subsoil up to the surface where they become available for other plants and animals. This plant contains high levels of oxalic acid and should not be eaten raw in large quantities.

Jerusalem artichokes Helianthus tuberosus

Hardy plants that produce prolific quantities of delicious tubers. One tuber can multiply into a bucket or more over a season! Delicious boiled or baked and suitable for diabetics. Their only drawback is the gas-producing tendency from which they have earned the nickname ‘fartichokes’. Experiment with cooking the tubers long and slow, and fermenting them for a few days in water with a squeeze of lemon to reduce this issue. Stores well in ground over winter but poorly once dug so best harvested as needed. These plants are extremely vigorous and can be difficult to remove from an area once planted. Try growing in a large pot for containment and easy harvesting. Tops are a great source of mulch and a summer windbreak.

Oca Oxalis tuberosa

A groundcover producing brightly-coloured edible starchy tubers.

Queensland arrowroot Canna edulis

A fast growing variety of Canna lily with an edible rhizome. Growing to 2 metres, the foliage functions as a great summer screen, animal fodder and windbreak, and supplies useful mulch for the garden. The rhizome can be boiled, baked, fried etc. The taste is almost identical to potatoes – try making some Canna wedges! A heavy and reliable producer even in tough conditions.

Yacon Smallanthus sonchifolius

A shrub producing sweet, crunchy, refreshing tubers.

Water chestnuts Eleocharis dulcis

Delicious, crisp, starchy corms for your stir fries. These plants are grown in a flooded boggy area rather than a water body such as a pond.

Babaco Carica pentagona

A cool climate melon that grows like a paw paw. The fruit has a lemony champagne flavour and is not very sweet. Tend to set fruit one summer and ripen it the next. Easy to grow.

Pepino Solanum muricatum

Another cool climate melon. The pepino is a trailing shrub from the potato family. It tolerates shade but needs rich soil, moisture and sun to fruit well. The fruit tastes like a rockmelon but is not very sweet. It needs to be picked very ripe for best flavour.

Some excellent sources for perennial vegetables are your local seed savers, permaculture, transition and gardening groups. Also try seed companies and nurseries specialising in heirloom and rare plants, such as Diggers (VIC), CERES (VIC), Bulleen Art and Garden (VIC), Daleys (NSW) Greenharvest (QLD), The Lost Seed (TAS) and Phoenix Seeds (TAS). @kat.lavers