As we get more thoughtful about our gardening and become increasingly drawn to produce more of our own food, growing perennial edibles becomes an important next step. Edible perennial fruits and food grow and spread each year, reduce the amount of spring planting and stand up to the weird weather mood swings we see in our seasons of late. You’re not going to lose all your asparagus if we have a late-April snow, but your early broccoli could well stress and wilt.
I was lucky enough to attend a talk by our own Wendy Brister at the Horn Farm recently and she shared some of her perennial food favorites. True to Wendy and I, we are drawn to native plants that provide shelter and sustenance for wildlife. In this list there are several plants that provide food for critters and food for us. Here are a few of her suggestions for fruit and berries;
Strawberries – As long as you give strawberries enough air circulation, they are easy to grow. Spreading by runners, each year you’ll need to thin them and replant the new plants thus increasing your crop. Consider using them as an ornamental ground cover. They are both attractive and prolific. With a small planting you’ll have more than enough to enjoy through the season. I’d go with the June bearing variety.
Rose hips – If you like native plants and vitamin C rich food, this is perfect. Several native and trouble-free roses in the Rosa family are available like Rosa acicularis. By fall, the flowers ripen into hips that can be used in teas or boiled and used as a vegetable. Packed with vitamin c in quantities surpassing oranges, this is a natural way to boost your immune system.
Serviceberry – This is truly and under-used plant. A native shrubby-tree, it offers white spring flowers, yummy berries and rocks out the fall color. Gotta love these plants that multi-task. Use similar to blueberries. Great in baking or eaten fresh.
PawPaw – Another great native plant that will jazz up your landscape and fill your dessert plates. An in depth post on PawPaw.
Blueberries – Wendy grows so many blueberries that I still have some she gave me waiting in my freezer – thank you! But I have to admit, while I love this plant, I can’t grow it. The acid levels in my soil are too low for blueberry and I’m just not going to adequately amend it. I also like to let Mother Nature do much of the work in my garden, so I also belong to the under-watering club. If you have the right soil, and you can give them a steady supply of water – their roots are shallow they like a little water frequently – this plant is a beautiful addition to the garden and an excellent source of nutrition.
Hardy Kiwi – Yes, you can grow kiwi in areas that have seasons. Smaller and less furry than what you find at the grocery, the fruit has similar flavor and texture but doesn’t need to be peeled. This is a non-native. It’s a vine that romps and you’ll need to be prepared to seriously support it. Think of growing it on a steady wood arch or train like grape vines. Make sure to plant one male and one female vine. One variety ‘Issai’ is self-pollinating. For more, here’s a blog post I did for Stark Bros.
Figs – Again, yes, figs can grow in non-tropical areas. Figs appear a bit tropical so they are a fun addition to the ornamental garden. Protect them a bit from cold. The nicest fig crop I’ve seen locally was grown along a cement wall that provided protection and passive solar heating. Fresh fig has a ‘fruitier’ taste different from dried fig so don’t automatically dismiss this because you hate fig newtons. Most varieties turn brown or pale yellow when ripe.