My Zero-Work Perennial Vegetables

I love my perennial veggies. My whole food garden, each spring, is designed around the little edibles that emerge, many as new unplanned-for surprises.

Corn mache is among the first edibles to appear in the garden. I let them go to seed each spring so they can come up around the garden next winter. If you haven’t tried corn mache, it’s a hearty salad green you’ve likely seen in fancy restaurants. It can be eaten as part of your raw salad or you can stir fry it. We also throw it in smoothies for an extra jolt of green veggie vitamins.

corn mache.jpg

Jerusalem artichokes: Plant them once and you’ll get them year after year as you’re sure to miss a few tubers during harvest. These can be harvested all winter long.

Walking onions: These are one of my favorite perennial veggies for the garden. They’re an heirloom variety of onion that produces a long scape with an onion flower on the end that turns into a bulb. Just let it reach for the sky and then bend over and plant itself right into the earth again, walking its way around your garden. This is why my garden changes design each year. I modify the shape and configuration of beds based upon where the onions have walked and where other vegetables have reseeded themselves. I simply weed around my perennial food.
You eat the walking onion greens, which are a full-bodied onion flavor, very strong, and can be used as an onion substitute in any recipe.

walking onions.jpg

Chives, Garlic, Shallots: Chives are a perennial, so just plant a row and they’ll reappear each spring. Put them in your perennial beds, too, as their beautiful allium-family purple-blue flowers add color to every garden. I also leave a few garlic and shallot heads in the garden to see if a few will sprout the next spring, and of course they always do.


Brassicas: Here’s a confession — I have kale plants in my vegetable garden that are 2 and 3 years old. They look like dinosaurs but I just keep pinching them back and they keep producing leaves and little flower heads which are perfectly edible. They’re like mini broccolis and go beautifully in a frittata. Letting a few flower, too, adds color and pollen/nectar for our honeybees.


Arugula: You never have to replant arugula if you plant it once and let it go to seed. Just watch those seeds sprout next spring, thin them out, and you’ll have a hearty rocket salad in no time.

Arugula strawberries.jpg

Strawberries: As in all berries, they’re a fruit of the earth that will come back year after year. The photo above shows how I’ve left some arugula in with the strawberries to commingle with each other this season.

Swiss Chard, Kale, Collards: I put chard in the same category as my kale and collards. If I just let them go to seed and sprinkle all of the seeds around, a few hardy plants will come forth in the spring. Here’s a beautiful specimen that volunteered itself this spring, right in with some corn mache.


You never really need to buy kale, collard, or chard seeds if you just let them go to seed and replant themselves.


Mint: Mint always comes back, and you’ll likely have to whack it back a bit to prevent your whole garden from becoming a mintpalooza. Ours moves around a bit, but we let it stretch its legs because we’re perennial plant nurturers, and let our veggies do some walkin’ so they find their favorite spots to thrive.


Potatoes: It goes without saying (but I’m saying it anyway) that when you plant potatoes, you’ll have them for life, in the same bed you originally planted them in. There will always be little taters you somehow missed during your harvest. And they’ll reappear next year to bring a smile to your face in the spring.


Asparagus: Another favorite. If you make the effort to dig a trench and get your asparagus planted, it’ll bring you joy each year once the plants are established.

Sorrel and Miners’ Lettuce: Two more heirloom category veggies that will rock your world. My friend, Rebecca, has these all winter long in her garden and she gladly shares her bounty with us. I never bother to plant them since she has so much to share. Check out her sorrel and miners’ lettuce pesto.

Rhubarb: Rhubarb is a vegetable, so I’m including it in my list of perennial veggies. Plant it once, and you’ll thank yourself for years to come. Rhubarb is versatile!


The welcome site of spring blueberry blossoms

So, enjoy your no-work perennial veggies. Your fruits, too, will come back year after year if you give them what they need (prunings, compost, water and love.) Our lives are so enriched by the blueberries, raspberries, kiwis, apples, plums, figs, blackberries, and gooseberries that ripen each year on our property. Veggies can, and will, do the same if you nurture them and allow them to find their sweet spot in your garden to flourish.


8 Rhubarb Uses

Rhubarb has a 4,700-year-old history, its origins coming from a couple of remote regions in Tibet. I’ve simply known rhubarb as a weird-looking sour stalk with an enormous leaf that makes its presence known in many North American gardens around Mother’s Day when we bake our family favorite: strawberry rhubarb pie. As far as fruit pies are concerned, nothing compares.

Strawberry rhubarb pie. © Liesl Clark

Is rhubarb a fruit or a vegetable? It’s actually a veggie, but in this country it took a court case to establish rhubarb officially as a fruit. According to Wikipedia, “Rhubarb is usually considered to be a  vegetable; however, in the United States, a New York court decided in 1947 that since it was used in the United States as a fruit, it was to be counted as a fruit for the purposes of regulations and duties.”

This year's rhubarb is, well, GIANT. © Liesl Clark

And it’s a versatile “fruit” at that. Aside from dessert (and using it as an umbrella), what else can you do with this weird plant?

1) Put those leaves in your compost. They’ll break down quickly.

2) Hair Dye: Rhubarb root and leaves can be used for hair dye. One recipe here will give you a pink look, the other a beautiful brown.

3) Pot Cleaner: If you want to give your pots an added shine, use rhubarb leaves and the stalk, too. The high oxalic acid content in the leaves renders them toxic, so take care to not ingest them. But they’re fine to handle and use on your pots.


4) Insecticide: The rhubarb leaf is quite toxic. Even insects steer clear of it. Here are 2 recipes to keep your plants bug free.

Use rhubarb leaves as insecticide. © Liesl Clark

5) Juice: Try your hand at making rhubarb shrub. What? Shrub. It’s an American classic. And it’s bubbly and tasty. You’ll see.

6) Make a rhubarb liquor! I just chop up my extra rhubarb and put it in a jar with about a cup or so of added sugar and some vodka. Cover it for at least a month, shake it every few days. The longer you let it infuse with rhubarb flavor, the better. You’ll end up with a pink and yummy sweet and sour hooch for your favorite martini.


Drink only a drop at a time. This rhubarb hooch is strong!

7) Juice it! I can vouch for the fact that a few tablespoons of fresh rhubarb juice, mixed with carrot juice, orange juice and pomegranate juice is absolutely amazing.


Strawberry rhubarb yogurt muffins, Photo: Liesl Clark

8) Just keep it on hand, chopped up and in the freezer, for all of your baking needs. We throw bits of in all of our muffins throughout the year.


That’s ice, not sugar, on our stash of frozen rhubarb.

What rhubarb uses can you add?