Guest Post: Edible Perennials for Food and Beauty by Foy Update

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I’m so excited to introduce you to Foy from Foy Update. Garden. Cook. Write. Repeat.  You’re going to LOVE this post!

I met Foy a long time ago through the blogosphere.  She is a horticultural major with such knowledge when it comes to gardening.

A kindrid spirit, we connected a couple years ago when I first learned that she had served in the Peace Corp for 2 years in Panama. She knows the Spanish language and what it takes to live responsibly with conviction and intention.

What I call living simply, she calls living minimally.  She’s currently expecting her first baby and chooses to live with less in order to have a more productive and meaningful life.

Make sure to visit her blog where she is currently going through a series on Planning to Preserve.


Edible Perennials for Food and Beauty

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My husband and I are starting to look into buying our first home.  Combine that with the seed catalogs rolling in and I can’t help but start brain storming ideas for how I can enjoy my own harvest.  In the spring I want those first tender shoots of asparagus and in June I want some rhubarb to go in my strawberry cobbler.  As a transient gardener who has never owned land and rarely stayed in one place for more than a year I have long coveted edible perennials.

Edible perennials tend to be a little more lenient with sun and soil than annual plants and they come back year after year!  Less work and as they get bigger they give more fruit.  Of course the trade off is many of these plants will yield very little or not at all for several years until they are fully established.

Most of the houses we have looked at have wooded or shady back yards so I’m thinking foundation plantings (up by the house) or boarders along the driveways or sidewalks.  Or if the front yard is small, it will just be one big garden!  As an ornamental horticulturist at heart (I’ve worked at three public gardens and an arboretum) it is important that things look nice too.

I love this example from Zagerman’s Deli of how to do a foundation planting with edibles.  Here you can see kale and herbs up next to the dining porch.

Here’s the edible perennials I would consider for my garden in zone 5, Indiana.  The best part is not only are they edible, but they are attractive and when shown off in the right place, can add form, texture and color to a flower bed.

Rhubarb

Rhubarb is pretty.  The large leaves create a heavy texture and many varieties have red stems that add interest.   And who can pass up a tart rhubarb pie?  My husband’s grandma used to freeze stalks so that the bounty could be enjoyed year round.  If you know someone who has rhubarb you might convince them to divide their plant and share it with you.  Rhubarb does well in raised beds or well drained locations.  They prefer full sun, but can take more shade than you’d think.  Of course, the more shade the fewer leaves you’ll get.

Asparagus

One of the first vegetables of spring; I love these tender shoots steamed with butter.  Not many folks will recognize the airy fronds of the mature plants in July and August.  This is plant I could see being used in a perennial flower boarder.  Not many things have the fine, airy texture of Asparagus.  It does get rather tall, three to four feet, so put it in the middle or back of your garden.

Chives

Garlic and onion both would be necessary in my garden.  A sprinkle on eggs or in a salad makes me happy.  I love the beautiful purple globe flowers in June (also edible).  This is another neat plant for landscape use.  And the deer will leave them alone!  They will form clumps that gradually grow over the years.

Sweet Woodruff

This is a lovely shady ground cover that prefers moist areas.  Relatively short it stands six to eight inches tall gaining another couple inches when it flowers.  Its native habitat is river banks.  The dainty white flower is also the key ingredient for German May Wine. There aren’t many edibles that like the shade, so this is a winner!  The only downside is if your ground dries out in the hottest parts of summer it may get ragged and slightly brown looking, but it will recover with the cooler weather and look great through fall.

Thyme

Thyme is a full sun ground cover liking dryer conditions.  This herb seems to be called for in every recipe and it have a much deeper flavor fresh.  It’s slightly minty smell makes it something I want up near my door.  There are lots of varieties, high mounds, yellow, fuzzy and ones that hug the ground.  Flavor wise there are lemon, orange, lime, mint, coconut.  The only ones I wouldn’t consider are the wooly or mother of thymes, because hairy leaves aren’t very fun to eat.  I could see having many varieties in a sunny part of the yard.  They are particularly attractive in rock gardens or as front of the border plants.

Lovage also known as Celeric

This celery flavored plant has tubular stems that I’ve always wanted to try as bloody Mary straws.  The foliage is refreshing as a salad green.  It can also be added to soups.  The overall plant is graceful and tall (about 3 feet) and has greenish white umbels of flowers in summer.  As a member of the carrot family it is known to host swallowtail caterpillars. It looks a lot like a leafy celery plant.

Blueberries

These bushes are quite handsome with their dark green glossy leaves, dainty white flowers and deep red fall color.  It will be easiest if you have the well drained, acidic soil to make them thrive.  You can always amend the soil to make it more acidic if needed.  And if you don’t want a ten foot tall bush, half high bushes will only reach four feet or so and will take colder weather than the high bush.  There are even some newer varieties out there that don’t need highly acidic soil.  Bird netting might be advised if you’ve only got a couple bushes.  Also look out because some, but not all, varieties need cross pollination, so you’ll need two different plants to get fruit.

Raspberries

A childhood favorite these leggy canes in the rose family come in red, black and yellow fruit.  The canes are biannual, being vegetative the first year and producing fruit the second.  I don’t care if I never get enough to make jam, as long as I can eat handfuls warm from the sun.  I think I would have to go for a mix of varieties to make the season last longer.  Consider using these thorny brambles to boarder property or along a fence.

Fruit Trees

I do love visiting u-pick orchards, but I think it would be lovely to have my own miniature orchard with American persimmon, pawpaw, quince, peach and sour cherry.  I bet the husband would like a good eating apple too. Yes, I am lucky enough to be able to keep a peach alive.  Most of you zone 5-ers, or those farther north, won’t be so lucky.   I haven’t done the research, but I’d be looking for smaller grafted varieties of the peach, cherry and apple so that they will be easier for maintenance and harvesting.

Pawpaws colonize in shady spots so having a forested area to put them under would be necessary.  This pawpaw is 10 years old and nearly full height.  It’s in an arboretum so it is all by itself, but it sends up suckers all the time which the horticulture crew has to fight.  Make sure to site this plant in a place it create a little family of trees and spread or you’ll be constantly digging out the runners. 

Grapes

I’d like a nice multipurpose grape; both for its tasty fruit and the old world charm of a grape arbor.  One of the farm houses we looked at already has some trellised out on the side yard, but I have no idea what variety of grape it is.  If I get to pick I’ll look at a grape like ‘Atcan’ (Morden 9708) a rose grape; ‘Edelweis’ is a green grape; ‘Kay Gray’ also a green grape,  that is good for eating, juice and jelly and even possibly wine.  All three of these varieties are hardy to zone 4! The drawbacks to grapes include that they are a favorite of raccoons and Japanese beetles.

What other edible perennials do you grow?  I’m sure my list is not complete!

If you are looking for more information there are several books available on the topic.

And if you are like me and your library doesn’t have any of these, get a little inspiration from my board over on pinterest: Beautiful Edible Landscapes and Gardens.

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3 Responses to "Guest Post: Edible Perennials for Food and Beauty by Foy Update"
  1. Brittany P. says:

    We are workin’ on adding almost every single one of these. Great post and this is such an important topic. A lot of people don’t think to plant edible perennials but they are so wonderful to have and don’t require a lot of work because we can plant them once.

  2. Thank you so much for this – I just learned about perennial edibles the other day and am so intrigued. I mean, I’ve heard of asparagus and rhubarb of course, and have been intending to plant them, but I have been lamenting my shady backyard and lack of “full fun” gardening area and I think this might be the solution.

  3. elizabeth says:

    Great post, I have all of these in my yard but the Paw Paw, you have inspired me to look into it! We have a two great nurseries here in Oregon One Green World and Raintree that produce several unique perineal vegetables. You should check them out for the fun of it!

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