This year, I’m planting smarter. I’m planning perennial plant swaps for some of my annual edibles.
My first edible garden was a bit of a failure.
I planted all annual edibles. Annuals are a big investment of time, energy and resources for a plant that will only live for a season or two. I was constantly scrambling to close all the gaps in the garden from season to season. It was exhausting.
And as my climate seemed to fluctuate unpredictably, I missed windows to plant or to harvest. My garden turned into a big mess, right before it all just seemed to fall over and I was left with garden beds with nothing in them.
Perennials live for many seasons. They are the set-and-forget plants that can free up a gardener’s precious time and resources while delivering tasty goodness for years on end!
Once perennials are established, they are low maintenance, often requiring less water and fertilising than annuals. Plus, perennials can offer much-needed protection against sun and wind to fledgling annuals.
So, I am planning some edible perennial plant swaps in my new front garden design. I’m aiming for 50% annuals, 50% perennials.
My fussier annuals are on notice, with perennial plant swaps ready to take their place.
Seven Perennial Plant Swaps For Your Garden
Swap Potatoes for Sweet Potatoes
I do love growing potatoes and now know to keep them confined to a pot. They didn’t exactly love the sandy soil in my raised beds and are a hungry, thirsty crop.
But Sweet potatoes thrive in my sandy soils and provide a thick groundcover. The edible leaves have a taste and texture similar to chard. But, they must be cooked before eating. The leaves and the sweet potato tubers can be harvested anytime.
Swap Melons for Pepinos
I love those sweet, Minnesota mini-rockmelons but, they are a demanding crop in my garden! They seem to attract a number of pests and I need to keep a close eye on them. An unseasonably hot October a few years ago was enough to finish off the plants before the melons had a chance to ripen!
Meanwhile, the Pepino bush just seemed to grow bushier and thrived in the same conditions that finished off the Minnesota Mini melons. Pepinos have a similar flavour and texture to rockmelons, yet are much easier to grow. I have often read that they are flavourless, which is untrue!
They do have to be ripe! When your Pepino is streaked with beautiful purple tiger marks, and smell fragrant, then they are deliciously sweet. Pepinos are also exceptionally easy to grow from cuttings.
Swap Green Climbing Beans for Scarlett Runner Beans
Climbing beans get gobbled up on the spot and rarely make it into the kitchen! Climbing beans are an annual crop and I still like to grow them in the Three Sisters tradition in the spring garden.
My favourite bean to grow would have to be the Scarlett Runner Bean. Scarlett Runner Beans could easily be mistaken for an ornamental plant in your edible garden! With striking red flowers and a strong climbing habit, it is a gorgeous plant. You might prefer the Sunset Runner Bean, whose flowers are a softer pink colour. Scarlett Runner Beans will thrive for about 7 years.
Depending on your climate, Scarlett Runner Beans produce beans in summer and autumn before going dormant in the winter and emerging in the spring.
Like any bean plant, continuous harvesting will ensure more beans will be produced. The tuberous root of the mature Scarlett Runner Bean can also be eaten, I haven’t tried it for myself.
Swap English Spinach for Malabar Spinach
I have already professed my undying love for Malabar Spinach in this post! I cannot recommend it enough, especially if you live in a dry, hot climate like mine.
It leaves fussy, thirsty & demanding English Spinach for dust.
Swap Basil for Water Basil
Who doesn’t love basil? Delicious in pestos, salads, and sauces it is essential in my garden. I am fortunate enough to be able to grow in almost year round, but in the warmer months, it does bolt to seed quickly. In the cooler months, the snails and slugs love a nibble.
A few years ago, I found a fabulous basil swap. Water basil! Technically a mint, water basil will thrive as long as it is got a nice deep drink of water. I took a few cuttings to put in the school hydroponics garden and it took off!
Swap Peas for Pigeon Peas
Peas, fresh from the garden are special treat yet they have a short season in my garden. I’m often left wanting! We seem to have a massive pea-glut one week, and nothing the next!
This year, I am cultivating pigeon peas again as a windbreak hedge in my front garden beds. Pigeon pea has striking yellow flowers, followed by small pea pods. They live for about 5 years. Pigeon peas are edible and high in protein.
Pigeon Peas require no trellising and are an excellent nurse plant for tender annuals. They have a deep taproot and once established, they don’t require much water and thrive in warm dry weather. The peas can be picked and cooked when small like baby peas. Pigeon Peas can be dried and cooked in dhals and soups, they can even be sprouted like mung beans and used in salads.
Swap Rocket for Sorrel or Watercress
Rocket is easy to grow and its peppery leaves are brilliant in salads, risottos and pestos. But it has a very short life in my garden, given its propensity to wilt and bolt to seed when the heat turns on.
Sorrel is a resilient alternative. I find it tolerates a bit of shade and is also partial to water, but it is a reliable salad green in the summer when everything else has given up!
I grow watercress it in a pot in my shady, cooler greenhouse that remains submerged in a tub of water. Be sure to rinse the leaves well before eating them, grit and dirt seem to be magnetically attracted to watercress!