The Backyard Larder

A place to explore and buy perennial vegetables and other food plants.

Vegetables for the Venerable

This month I haven’t been able to do my monthly picture blog about the perennial vegetable meals we’ve eaten. I’ve been hiding away in a quiet Wiltshire village helping my parents deal with some of the cruel afflictions of old age.

Being here though has brought home to me how well a perennial vegetable garden fits the needs of the elderly.

My parents have grown lots of vegetables and strawberries over the years in about one hundred square feet of vegetable plot,…

My parents' vegetable patch

….as well as apples, raspberries, blackberries, redcurrants, gooseberries, rhubarb, rosemary and thyme in other parts of their pretty garden,…

Rosemary plant

Thyme plant

….and tomatoes and cucumbers in the greenhouse. I gave them a few perennial vegetables several years ago also: the non-flowering garden sorrel, Good King Henry, and Daubenton kale.

Non-flowering garden sorrel

Good King Henry

This past year, of the annual crops, I think they managed just the tomatoes. But all the hardy perennial plants in that list are still growing away in the garden (apart from the kale which they pulled out when it became huge and blocked the path to the greenhouse) – and will be at least minimally productive for many years to come even if they never pick up a trowel again.

Of course to get top yields from some of these plants some weeding, pruning, thinning and mulching is necessary, but the work is far less than that required to maintain annual crops through spring and early summer and clear up the plot in the winter. My parents keep the whole garden looking tidy and cared for with the help of a friendly jobbing gardener, but even just, say, three garden sessions a year could maintain high levels of productivity from the perennial edible plants – albeit in a somewhat more unruly setting!

You have to still want to cook from the garden of course for this to be relevant. As it happens my mum, who is an excellent cook, has lost interest in cooking in recent years. I notice she still uses some of the fruit from the garden though, which is easy to harvest and doesn’t require cooking, and it seems to me that perennial salad leaves and herbs are equally easy (perhaps grown in raised beds for harvesting without bending) for anyone who enjoys eating them.

Having the perennial edibles growing themselves in the garden is useful for visiting helpers too. I gathered herbs for various dishes and nipped outside for sorrel and thyme when I cooked them a spinach and sorrel omelette earlier this week.

Sorrel and spinach omelette

At the top of my list of perennial vegetables which look after themselves pretty well come sea kale, perennial kale, Siberian purslane, wild garlic (in a suitable location as it is invasive), non-flowering garden sorrel, Good King Henry, Caucasian climbing spinach, everlasting onions, perennial leeks, day lily and Turkish rocket.

I hope to be surrounded by a garden of such plants when I am old!

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