Winter is the time those of us in Southern California gardeners will want to start any perennial plants we might want to have in our gardens. Any plant that lives year in and year out is what we call a ‘perennial.’ (Plants that live for only one year or less are called ‘annuals’ and include most of the plants we think of as edible. This article is not about them.)
While most of what eat comes from either annual plants or trees, there are a few plants that live for more than one year and are not trees producing tasty eats. They don’t get mentioned enough and since now is the right time to buy and plant them, here are two to consider.
Artichokes are one of my favorites. Fairly easy and carefree to grow, if you have the space for them, artichokes are a lovely addition to a garden. The have huge spiky, gray-green leaves and are an impressive plant by any standard. A person could use them for a hedge except for the three month period when, after providing you with artichokes, the current plant dies back to be replaced by baby plants that will bear next season. And each year there are more baby plants meaning you could also be growing your holiday presents!
Artichokes allowed to flower are stunning! The ‘choke’ part that you scrape away with your spoon or knife, would open into a stunning purple inflorescence that few other plants can match. (When you eat an artichoke, you are eating an immature flower bud – which gives you a sense of what a stupendous flower it would have been if you had eaten something else!)
Asparagus is another perennial to consider. Not nearly as carefree as artichokes, asparagus stems are what we eat when served this yummy delicacy. Asparagus can be purchased right now – roots are for sale on line and in all stores that carry gardening items. Get the variety ‘UC 157’ and not one of the other varieties available. UC 157 was developed by the University of California (no surprise there) and was developed to be the best in our climate. You might have to look for it, but by doing so you will be rewarded.
With asparagus, you will be planting a root that will need to grow for several years before you can eat from it. Mind you, after that, asparagus will produce without effort for twenty years, but getting an asparagus bed established requires a lot of patience. Don’t scrimp on plants that won’t do as well in your garden. Once you have grown your own, all other asparagus is only a bitter excuse.
Asparagus needs to be weed free (it doesn’t compete well with other plants) and heavily mulched to keep water and provide nutrients, but other than that, cutting the spears to eat isn’t a real difficult task.
The only drawbacks are space and time. If you have them, put in these perennials and you will have a treasure year after year.
Grandson of a Great Plains farmer, David King is the Garden Master at the Learning Garden, on the campus of Venice High School. He shares his love of the land and music through teaching, writing and playing in a folk/country band. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org