Gardeners in Southern California are blessed with a year-round growing climate where tomatoes and peppers often overwinter with proper care. But these vegetables are typically treated as annuals, since the first kiss of cold weather can considerably stunt or slow their growth.
Other plants, however, can grow all year, year after year, with minimal maintenance. Devoting a patch of soil to these perennials, whether you grow them with other edibles or mix them in among your ornamentals, helps you put more food on your plate for far less work than the seasonal tradition of starting plants anew.
Though rhubarb conjures up comfort sweets like crumble, cobbler, and pie, the plant is actually a vegetable, and a prolific one at that. When mature, rhubarb can span over four feet wide and tall with loads of sweet, crunchy stalks in red, pink, or green, depending on the variety. The leaves shouldn't be eaten as they contain high amounts of oxalic acid, but they're a great addition to the compost pile.
Rhubarb will produce for at least five years and up to eight years. Harvest very lightly the first year you plant rhubarb (only a couple of stalks). The second year, harvest a little more, and by the third year, harvest freely for all the desserts you've been dreaming about!
Many people might not realize that the globe artichokes they find in the grocery store are actually unopened flower buds. With their sculptural, pinecone-like buds and distinctive, silvery green leaves, artichokes are beautiful plants to put in an ornamental garden, though the bonus here is that you can eat them too!
Artichokes come in green and purple varieties and can yield for about five years. You can easily expand your artichoke patch by digging up the young shoots that appear at the base of the plant and transplanting them to another part of the garden. Or, you can gift the shoots to friends and give them a head start on growing their own artichokes!
Growing asparagus at home takes a bit of commitment. For one, the crop takes a long time to get established — one year to harvest if you plant crowns, or three years to harvest if you start from seed. Still, it's worthy of a permanent place in your garden because once it gets going, it will give you fresh asparagus spears every spring for at least fifteen years (and sometimes up to thirty!).
In summer, the spears begin to flower and develop tall, feathery foliage called ferns. They're a beautiful sight in the garden and should be left in place to gain strength for the following season.
Radicchio is a red leaf chicory that tolerates frost and actually turns sweeter with the turn of cool weather. You can harvest individual leaves throughout the growing season, or wait for the head to form and cut the whole plant off at the soil line; radicchio will regenerate year after year.
With its ruby red leaves and white veins, the plant resembles red cabbage. But unlike cabbage, radicchio stays fairly compact and the head grows to no more than the size of a grapefruit.
5. Tree collard
Tree collards are a fascinating breed of Brassica oleracea that grows year-round up to eight or ten feet tall. Sometimes called tree kale or walking stick kale, it's a perennial collard/kale/cabbage plant that grows slowly on a burly upright central stem with a crown of leaves. Essentially, it looks like a tall and skinny collard plant with all of its lower leaves picked off.
The plant grows best from cuttings and can be found at smaller specialty nurseries and online plant suppliers.