January 2018 III: adding perennials to the no-dig garden

Much of traditional vegetable gardening is taken up with sowing and transplanting annual plants.

Many natural foods in the wild are either truly perennial or quasi-perennial (each plant lives 5-10 years) and introducing some of these can reduce work in the garden without sacrificing yield.

In addition, other perennial plants may grow well in shade, provide pollen for bees and other pollinators or offer pest resistance traits to neighbouring vegetables.

Perennials include:

1. Fruit trees (apples, pears, cherries, plums are most common around here)

2. Fruit bushes/canes/brambles (raspberry, gooseberry, blackcurrant, elderberry, blackberry and sloe seem most common here)

3. Perennial leaves – I have incorporated tree cabbage and sorrel into the garden in 2017.

4. Perennial stalks – I planted a new set of Timperley Early rhubarb in autumn 2017 to go with the long-established asparagus crowns.

5. Perennial herbs – I have added yarrow, sage, lovage, chives and oregano in the past three years.

6. Perennial mulch – I planted comfrey Bocking 14 four years ago.

7. Perennial pollinators – I have planted wallflowers (in photo below) and borage on borders (hoping the borage will self seed in a perennial manner).

By incorporating 10-20 perennial plants each year, soon the garden will have recurring food, flowers, mulch, pollinators and colour without annual effort.


For further information about perennial plants for the garden, see: ‘Perennial Vegetables’ by William Blackburn ISBN 9781539736783.

Author: Rhys

Rhys trained as a research biologist, working for a decade in the cancer research charity sector, before completing an MBA and working in management consultancy, technology transfer and early technology investment spaces, mostly working with UK academics to turn their scientific discoveries into value for society. AS a younger man, he was fascinated with mountains, both climbing them and ski-ing down them. Whilst living in Scotland, he completed a round of (then) all 277 Munros, the independent mountains over 3000ft originally complied as a list by Munro. He also spent his holidays representing the Ski Club of GB, as a Representative and Party Leader between 1990 and 1997. During that time, he found to his bemusement that he was able to predict, without understanding fully why, to a remarkable degree of accuracy, when good snow conditions would occur in the Alps, gaining an unworthy reputation for predictive genius in 1990 when predicting the evolution of the 1989/90 winter in Wengen, Switzerland for his CEO boss. He used this skill for the next seven years to ensure that he enjoyed powder snow pretty much every time he went ski-ing. An MD student he was training in Oxford also impressed his wife by taking Rhys' advice about when to take her to Italy in the mid 1990s! In recent years, Rhys has turned his mind toward how to grow prize tomatoes, winning several prizes in local and London shows and has, in the past 3 years, moved toward taking over a 50 square metre urban vegetable patch, which he has turned into a no-dig area since autumn 2014.

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