Though most of us envision vegetable gardens in which we plant seeds in the spring to see them bear fruit sometime in the summer or fall, perennial crops can add an exciting new facet to gardening.

As we move more towards sustainable food production, we will need to become more familiar with these perennial crops. Perennial plants are much less needy than the annuals our gardens tend to foster. In fact, they help to stabilize soils (as opposed to tilling them), increase fertility (as opposed to consuming it) and provide years of harvests (as opposed to one).

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Another nice facet is that they are much less labor-intensive for gardeners. Perennial gardens don’t require carefully fostering seedlings every year. Once established, they become productive powerhouses with little to no effort from their human counterparts.

Here are some great perennial choices, well-suited for the temperate climate of the US, and which can provide a full gamut of flavors, from desserts to roasted root veg to bean pate.

Rhubarb

For some, rhubarb seems a vegetable of myth. The name is familiar, but a good lot of us have never tasted a rhubarb crumble or strawberry-rhubarb jam. It’s worth trying. Rhubarb has a super tangy flavor that eludes comparison. It’s also a beautiful, large-leafed plant that can pose well as an ornamental.

Asparagus

Source: TRUE FOOD TV/YouTube

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Asparagus has a reputation that precedes it, a vegetable that is reserved for fine cuisine and true appreciation. Though it takes about three years to establish a good asparagus patch, once it’s going, it’ll provide a couple of months of grade-A asparagus spears every spring. After that, it has to be allowed to grow, soak up the sun, and feed the roots for next year’s harvest.

Berries

While not a vegetable per se, including berry plants as vegetable garden borders, along fence lines, or as hedges makes for a great treat every year. Blackberries (in particular) and raspberries tend to be more than willing to grow rampantly, and strawberries might like winding around on the ground when taller plants are not welcome.

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Horseradish

Approached with caution as it will spread itself around and refuse to be eradicated once planted, horseradish is an easy-growing vegetable for those who like a little spiciness. The roots are what we commonly eat, but young horseradish greens are delicious and provide a milder version of that classic horseradish flavor.

Watercress

Watercress is absolutely delicious and has the reputation of being highly nutritious, too. Growing it does, unsurprisingly, require a steady supply of water. Watercress naturally thrives in shallow, slow-moving springs and creeks. It can work in wicking beds, a modified fountain, or a garden pond.

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Walking Onions

Source: You Can’t Eat The Grass/YouTube

Walking onions, despite being a little peculiar, are gaining in popularity, likely because they are perennial and often easier to grow. They “walk” because the onion bulb grows on the stem, the weight of it bending the stem to the ground, where it takes root. Left unharvested, they’ll walk around the garden. They are actually a bit more like shallots than onions.

Daylilies

Plants that can be both ornamental and edible are wonderful, and when they are perennial, that’s even better. With daylilies, the benefits only continue. The flower buds can be cooked as green bean-like squash blossoms, the flowers eaten in salads and stir-fries, the young shoots are also edible and the tubers are delectable, too.

Sunchokes

Also known as Jerusalem artichokes, sunchokes are of the sunflower family, but they are revered for their delicious tubers. These can be eaten raw, with a somewhat crunchy texture suggestive of water chestnuts, or they can be boiled and mashed like potatoes. Sunchokes are big plants that are apt to spread, so they should be thoughtfully placed.

Scarlet Runner Beans

Source: Learn To Grow/YouTube

Sometimes lasting up to 20 years, the vines of scarlet runner beans provide an abundance of delicious beans that can be used young as green beans or later as dried beans. They are also very pretty plants with nice flowers, such that they could really spruce up a garden entrance or arbor.

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Sorrel

Of the rhubarb family, sorrel has tangy tasting leaves. It’s a welcome addition to salads but also hardy enough to stand a sauté. While it tends to produce abundantly and is a very enticing flavor, it should be noted as having high levels of oxalic acid which can become toxic if over-indulged.

Sea Kale

A three-foot plant with beautiful, bluish leaves, sea kale is more often grown as an ornamental plant than a food crop. Nevertheless, it is a brassica with delicious edible leaves, as well as tasty roots. Once going, it’s easy to propagate more by cultivating small cuttings from the roots.

Ostrich Fern

Source: Clean & Delicious/YouTube

While fiddleheads aren’t necessarily going to bulge a waistband, they are nevertheless a nice thing to harvest in the early spring when fresh vegetables aren’t abundant. Later, the ferns will look beautiful. And, best of all, these veggies grow in the shade, so they won’t be occupying valuable real estate in the vegetable patch.

Growing a perennial garden is as rewarding as, if not more than, the annual gardens we are accustomed to producing each year. It’s so motivating to know that these plants will keep coming back to provide more food. Plus, we get to see them as a long-term project, admiring as the plants mature and evolve into full-blown, long-term members of the landscape. All the while, we get special treats for the dinner table.

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