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Perennial plants

We’re used to replanting our veggies every year, but perennial food plants will provide a yield for many years – saving time and money. They can be hardier, more resistant to bugs and provide a crop when other veggies are mere seedlings.

Perennial plants
© Kat Lavers

Why Perennial Vegetables?

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. Many perennials produce yields early in spring when other vegies are scarce. An established plant also means that perennials are more resistant to pests that can wipe out tiny seedlings overnight. And a deep and developed root system ensures good drought resistance and tolerance of neglect by busy gardeners. Perennials mean less work for more food and greater resilience in your garden. 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. Welsh bunching onions
(Allium fistulosum)
Similar to spring onions except each plant produces young plants around the base. Able to be harvested all year round and at any size. Hardy and resistant to pests. 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 full size leeks once spaced through transplanting, but can be harvested at any size. Flavour is identical to normal leeks, making these a super valuable addition to any leek-lovers garden. Hardy but make sure they have good drainage. Rocoto chilli
(Capsicum pubescens)
A perennial variety of chilli that grows right through a Melbourne winter. Striking black seeds and a hot hot hot chilli flavour! Handle with care and use gloves if processing large quantities of fruit. Note that many chillis and capsicums can be treated as perennials in Melbourne! 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 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. Grafted eggplant
(rootstock Solanum aculeatissimum)
Regular eggplant varieties can be grafted onto a Devil’s Plant, which is a vigorous spiky perennial 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! 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 weather. In hot weather spray blossoms with water to increase humidity for better pod set. Chilacayote
(Cucurbita ficifolia)
A perennial member of the pumpkin family from South America that resprouts from its roots for several years. Best eaten young when it tastes similar to zucchini, when left to mature it produces watermelon sized squash that can store for up to 2 years. In Mexico the vine is grown for its large edible black seeds. Be warned – it is an enormous spreading vine that can blanket up to 40 m2 over the season, but if allowed to climb onto a roof or hills hoist it can provide welcome shade during the hot summer months. Warrigal greens
(Tetragonia tetragonoides)
A tough, native plant with leaves that can be used like spinach and silverbeet. Handles dry and salty conditions. Warrigal greens should be cooked well to remove oxalic acid.

Wild rocket
(Diplotaxis tenuifolia)
A hardy alternative to annual rocket – great on the edge of vegie beds. The taste is slightly more peppery and leaves thinner and more delicate. Slower growing but survives drought and performs well in poor soils. Self seeds easily and likely to naturalise. Listed as a weed in some areas. Perennial basil
(Ocimum americanum)
A basil flavoured herb with a slightly minty edge that can be picked all year. A great substitute for basil during the winter months. Waterchestnuts
(Eleocharis dulcis)
Delicious, crisp, starchy corms for your stirfries. These plants are grown in a flooded boggy area rather than a water body such as a pond. 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. Sunchokes / Jerusalem artichokes
(Helianthus tuberosus)
Amazingly 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 using fermentation to reduce this issue. Stores well in ground over winter but poorly once dug so best stored covered in damp soil or 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. Globe artichokes
(Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus)
Another gourmet vegetable, valuable because it crops during Spring hungry period. 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. While having little flavour of their own, they make a useful filler for other sweet or savoury dishes. 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. I think they are tastiest at golf ball size.

Lebanese land cress / Fools 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 in salads. Be aware that it has a poisonous relative that looks similar and grows in Melbourne creeks. 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. Yacon
A shrub producing sweet, crunchy, refreshing tubers. Oca
(Oxalis tuberosa)
A groundcover producing brightly-coloured edible tubers. Avocados
(Persia americana)
The ultimate perennial vegetable. Avocados grow well in Melbourne but need rich, moist soil with excellent drainage. Trunks are prone to sunburn and rot. 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. Cucamelons / Mexican Sour Gherkins / Mouse Melons
(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.

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

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).

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