When talking about a “garden,” we usually understand a certain space in which seeds of edible annuals are planted in the spring and are then harvested in the fall. And this method is good in that we receive constant, clear and usual quantity of the products that are most widely spread in our culinary culture. Eating habits die hard! It is understood then, what to plant, is it not? Plant potatoes, cabbage, onions, beets. In the spring, all farmers have bushes of tomatoes and other southern and warm-loving friends under their windows. It is good and fits our habits. One of the important characteristics of our northern gardening is growing products that last in the long run. Without them we cannot survive our favorite six months of the winter weather. Any farmer can tell you how to grow the main Russian crops. It is important to simply train and observe, watch what the locals are doing and adapt it to your own needs. What many of the farmers in our climate do not do is creating communities of edible perennials in their gardens. Only the most invested inhabitants of the village do this, even though it is an important part of permacultural agriculture. When considering southern countries, everything makes more sense: even their tomatoes are perennial. But what are we supposed to do?

We started researching this issue. Can you imagine a part of the garden that does not require to have seeds planted there every year?  It is that permacultural freebie that everyone in the ecocommunity dreams of: “It grows on its own!”

Well, let’s see here, what can we do as northern inhabitants? How do we create such a garden where we do not have to plant seeds every year?

Let’s mention right away, that it is not possible to plant only perennials in the garden. Like I said, we prioritize vegetables of long-term keeping ability. But it is possible to find some kinds of plants that grow “on their own” and require minimal care, so that every year there is enough “automatic” produce.

First of all, this is a garden. It is important to start planting since the very first days of development of the site, since the first harvest may require few years of patience. Gardening is a science in itself, because it requires figuring things out, experimenting, and pondering. It would require planting multiple trees and bushes, before arriving to an understanding which tree and which bush need what and which kinds can survive in certain climate conditions.

The following edible crops do not freeze here: apple tree (we adapt the so-called “semi-cultures, and still not all the varieties we have tried are suited for this region), pear tree, plum tree, cherry tree, aronia, hazel, rowan berry. Manchurian walnut was supposed to grow, but a few trees of mine have already frozen, I guess I am choosing the wrong spots, so I planted them again. Sea buckthorn is also supposed to grow, but I suppose I chose the wrong spot for it as well. Some say, sea buckthorn is picky about the soil, so I planted it again. The same way we have been planting Siberian pine (or cedar), lilacs, different species of willow and linden. As for the bushes, we grow viburnum, raspberry, honeysuckle, barberry, currants, and gooseberries. From lianas: the Amur grapes (and the “Valiant” variety, “Valiant” is based on it) and Chinese Schisandra. On the windowsill we grow our pride – lemon (of the “Irkutsk phenomenon” sort). It is pleasant to have lemon, damn it, even if a windowsill one! We plan to increase the number of under-the-window crops.

The garden would also include strawberries. It happens to grow very well on tall hilly garden beds.

Secondly, it is important to plant self-sowing annual and biennial plants. Self-sowing is not something stable – it could happen or it could not, so it is a good idea to always collect seeds and save them, but save some for the plant to sow.

For example, at different times we grew the following types: lettuce, spinach, rucola, common purslane, medicinal borage (borago), garden quinoa, salad mallow and other kinds of mallow, also for salad), and so on. As you see, a lot of famous “weeds” belong to this category, and can be considered edible plants. I also recommend biennial common evening-primrose (an edible and medicinal plant, it sows itself on the second year).

Thirdly, there are the perennial plants. That’s where the party is at! These plants are not well known to the farmers and are not often considered edible, even if they are grown for decorative purposes. But edible perennials are a huge resource for the creation of the “automatic” garden.

Here is what we have had a chance to research so far.

First of all, perennial onions. They help against spring vitamin deficiency and help us last until the more or less stable summer greens: giant, blue, slug, oblique, multi-tiered, brass, daffodil, victorious (wild garlic).

Then come all the other green weeds that could be added to salads.

Sorrel: the usual sour (broad-leaved), as well as the rare types of hybrid sorrel-spinach “Uteusha” (small sour spinach-sorrel with huge leaves) and beautiful red sorrel (more of a tart taste). There are also other kinds of interesting sorrels but I have not tried them yet.

Lovage is not for picky eaters, but I can eat one leaf at a time with pleasure. It reminds me of celery which we grow in our greenhouse but which does not last over winter.

Rheum – it grows on our mountains and is famous for its sour leaf cuttings.

Rose milkweed – its young sprouts are slightly tart, bet remind of asparagus in taste.

Hyssopus officinalis is a spicy herb which we also add to our salads as greens.

Medicinal wormwood (tarragon) – also a good spice and a delicious green.

Lofant (multi-anise), monarda (didyma and wild bergamot), catnip, mint (several varieties) – these plants are best for tea, but can also be added to a salad.

Thin-leaved diphasiastrum (or wild arugula) is good for those who like arugula.

What do we have as a result? Asparagus is my dream, but so far an unrealized one. We are trying everything else. Unfortunately, not everything that is edible also tastes well and is desirable to eat.

Overall, an interesting activity this is – creating communities… not only people’s but also plants. Interesting.

And fourthly… remember that some wild plants are also good edible plants, and do not need to be planted, but it can be known where they can be found. For example we actively use the following: burning nettle, cowslip primrose, lungwort, Turkish wartycabbage, caragana (flowers), willow herb (young sprouts). These, at least, do not terribly differ from our eating habits…