These are probably the most important for those of you who want to spend as little time as possible gardening. Annuals are plants that you sow, grow and harvest within a year. Perennials, on the other hand, are ones that live longer. My favourite perennial is Daubenton’s kale, which reportedly lives for about 5 years before it starts to lose its mojo. I’ve only had mine 2 years so far, so I’ll let you know how it goes as I find out for myself. Biennials live for 2 years.

Perennials include:

  • fruit and nut trees/bushes
  • many herbs like rosemary, mint, sage
  • greens like asparagus, or more leafy ones like swiss chard, watercress or Caucasian spinach
  • alliums (onion-y things) – if you eat the greens and leave the bulb
  • some flowers like artichokes, violets
Central is one of my much adored Daubenton’s kale when it was about a year old (last June) . The artichokes are towering behind it and a Swiss chard is lurking in the bottom left corner. All three plants are huge this year.

Some perennials like rosemary, Swiss chard, watercress and Daubenton’s kale even have the bonus of being evergreen –and so provide food in winter when there is little else growing.

The caveat with perennials is that they can be slow to establish. E.g. asparagus should be left to its own devices for the first 2 years so that they can establish themselves. Or fruit trees and bushes won’t produce much for the first couple of years. So, it will feel like you’re doing lots to begin with for little reward and it can be easy to give up. If you know you’re likely to get frustrated just add a perennial or 2 a year and fill the time with some easy annuals.

Another thing to note with perennials is that they are better for the soil. Imagine growing a pumpkin. Now consider the end of the season. You’ve picked your pumpkins and yanked out the vine and put it into compost. Think of all the energy and nutrients that have gone into growing that whole plant.

This pear tree has 5 different varieties grafted onto it. It’s been in the garden for just less than 2 years. Last year we got 3 pears of 2 different varieties. This year is looking optimistic for at least one of each. Those horticulturists are amazing aren’t they?

Compare that now to the fruit tree. The tree puts lots of nutrients and energy into increasing in size, growing leaves and growing fruit. We harvest the fruit. The leaves drop, decompose and its nutrients return to the soil. The branches and root support system remain intact so the tree doesn’t need to take anything out of the soil to grow those existing structures again. In nature the fruit could drop and decompose below the tree or is consumed by animals (tasty fruit actually being the plant’s mechanisms to disperse seeds). The animals may also use the local area as a toilet. Thus nutrients pass back to the soil. Sing it with me it’s the circle of li-i-i-i-ife!