Saturday, July 12, 2014

Perennial Greens Planting Plan

Zone 1, extending into zone 2. From bottom center, working counter-clockwise:
Giant sea kale, sweet cicely in seed, turkish rocket, zebra mallow in flower, perennial kale in seed, lemon balm, french sorrel in seed, borage in flower, elephant garlic in flower, sylvetta arugula in flower, and nipplewort.
Also skirret & chinese dogwood in background, with crocosmia in foreground.

Two mistakes I made in my perennial vegetable experimentations in Portland:

  1. I overplanted perennial greens, more than we could possibly eat.
  2. I planted the greens over a large area, forcing more traversal of the yard than necessary. Though walking the yard to pick greens helps keep an eye on everything, it's inefficient to go further than necessary on a nearly daily basis.

Before we sold the house, I was consolidating a core set of perennial greens into approximately 100 square feet of beds closest to the house. This brought the front yard garden into better alignment with design by zones, with a tight zone 1 producing the majority of the daily pickings for two adults (leaves & flowers, salads & cooked), and freeing up zone 2 for root crops and less frequently harvested vegetables. I still envisioned picking from zone 2, from deliberate plantings and from edible weeds, a few times a week for variety and to augment zone 1 production.

This design took advantage of the fact that, for much of the year, the house shades most of the front yard area closest to it (especially after we raised the house 3'.) Most of the perennial greens should do well in partial to full shade, whereas the root crops and annuals generally need more sun. Most herbs also want full sun, and we found we didn't need to pick them with each batch of greens, so the larger ones made more sense for us in zone 2.

Writing this up two years later, I don't remember the exact number of which plants I moved into zone 1, but I believe I've come close below. It's a good starting point; you'll need to experiment anyway with what works well in your site and what you like to eat. Regardless of the exact species composition, the end result of densely planted perennials should be a yield of greens requiring little to no work besides harvest - more or less no need to dig soil, replant, or weed. (And year-round, at least in Portland and similarly mild winter climates.)

Large Plants

Usually planted 2-3' apart. You can perhaps get away with closer spacing in a heavily harvested zone 1, but I'd be inclined to still give them full spacing.

QtyLatin nameCommon name
1Agastache foeniculumAnise hyssop
1Brassica oleracea acephalaTree collards
3Brassica oleracea acephala'Western Front' perennial kale
1Crambe cordifoliaGiant sea kale
2Crambe maritimaSea kale
1Foeniculum vulgareFennel
2Malva sylvestris mauritianaZebra mallow
1Malva moschataMusk mallow
2Melissa officinalisLemon balm
1Myrrhis odorataSweet cicely
2Rumex scutatus or R. acetosaFrench Sorrel
6 sfScorzonera hispanicaScorzonera


These can be planted under and around the large plants, to exclude weeds and provide bonus greens & flowers.

Latin nameCommon name
Barbarea vernaWintercress
Campanula portenschlagianaBellflower
Campanula poscharskyanaTrailing bellflower
Claytonia montiaMiner's lettuce
Claytonia sibericaSiberian miner's lettuce
Diplotaxis tenuifoliaSylvetta arugala
Origanum sppOregano species
Oxalis oregonaRedwood sorrel
Rumex acetosellaSheeps sorrel
Sanguisorba minorSalad burnet
Stellaria mediaChickweed
Taraxacum officianaleDandelion
Thymus sppThyme species
Viola sppViolets

Bed Edges

We used a lot of Allium greens, finding them much easier to grow than bulbing onions. These work well along the edges of beds, helping delineate the pathways.

Latin nameCommon name
Allium ampeloprasumElephant garlic / Leek
A. cepa 'proliferum'Egyptian walking onion
Allium cernuumNodding onion
Allium fistulosumBunching onion
Allium sativumGarlic
Allium schoenoprasumChives
Allium tuberosumGarlic chives

Zone 2 Greens

If you have more room available, I would experiment with these. For species already listed above, numbers given are in addition to the quantity in zone 1. These are just for greens and flowers; not considering root and seed harvests of things like yellow asphodel and good king henry.

QtyLatin nameCommon name
1Agastache foeniculumAnise hyssop
5Anthriscus sylvestrisWoodland chervile
2Aquilegia vulgarisColumbine
4Asphodeline luteaYellow asphodel
2-3Bunias orientalisTurkish rocket
4Campanula rapunculoides, C. persicifolia, and other tall speciesBellflowers
10Chenopodium bonus-henricusGood King Henry
2Crambe maritimaSea kale
1-2Foeniculum vulgareFennel
1Levisticum officinaleLovage
1Lycium barbarumWolfberry
6sfMentha spicataSpearmint
1-2Myrrhis odorataSweet cicely
3-4Oenothera biennisEvening primrose
3Rumex scutatus or R. acetosiaFrench sorrel
2Smyrnium olusatrumAlexanders
1Symphytum officinalisComfrey
10sfUrtica dioicaStinging nettles

Zone 2 Stems & Shoots

Other vegetables nice to grow for something other than greens and flowers.

Latin nameCommon name
Arctium lappa or A. minorBurdock
Asparagus officinalisAsparagus
Maianthemum racemosumFalse solomon's seal
Petasites frigidusSweet Coltsfoot
Petasites japonicusFuki
Polygonatum biflorum and P. commutatumSolomon's seal
Rheum x cultorumRhubarb

Zone 2 Weeds

Volunteers that often need to be kept in check. We generally ate these rather than weeding per se.

Latin nameCommon name
Borago officinalisBorage
Calendula officinalisCalendula
Cardamine unknownPopweed
Geum urbanumClove root
Lamium purpuruemPurple dead nettle
Lapsana communisNipplewort
Phytolacca americanaPokeweed
Solanum nigrumBlack nightshade
Taraxacum officinaleDandelion


Hughbert said...

Awesome post Norris, great to have a consolidated list here of perennial greens for our climate. I am keen to try some of these, particularly in semi-shady areas as you mention.

I have not tasted any of the Campanula species but I am trying to grow C. versicolor from seed at the moment. What do you think is the best performer of the Campanula species?

Hughbert said...

Hi Norris, a couple more questions from reading through your previous blog posts again...

I asked you about Scorzonera hispanica a while back, regarding using for leaves. Do you grow this in some shade as you suggest for most of the perennial greens? Mine is growing in full sun but I might try some in shade if you think it will work.

Secondly, you mention Ramps in one of your previous posts. Did you find this was a useful Allium in your climate at the time? Information I can find suggests that it may be more suited to cooler climates (e.g. Eastern US) so I'm keen to know how it performed for you.

Thanks again for sharing some great info on this blog.

Norris said...

Hi Hughbert,

I found Campanula persicifolia really good for flower production. The leaves weren't produced in huge quantity, and seemed to get tough pretty quickly in the summer.

C. rapunculoides is fast-spreading (weedy) and a good source of leaves.
I forget which of the two groundcovers - portenschlagiana or poscharskyana - worked better for us, but I think one was good and one was very good.

I tried to start several others from seed but failed, so don't have extensive knowledge of the genus.

Our main patch of Scorzonera was in sun, but some plants were in some shade. I don't recall much of a difference.

Our ramps failed, but I think largely because we planted them with chickens. Our neighbors planted some at the same time and a patch succeeding 5 years later. I don't think it was massive production, but it worked at least somewhat.

I hope that helps!