By Gabe Ross, Farm Manager
When we think of a garden, we often think of lots of annuals, corn, beans, tomatoes, zucchini, and many others, but we often forget about the perennials. I’m a big fan of perennials because they don’t need planting year after year and often take less maintenance than annuals. To prep a bed for annuals you often need to till or mulch the soil while perennials need that just once, then they are rooted in, holding the soil right where it is, whereas all the tilling and cultivating done around annuals can cause erosion. Deep rooted perennials also require less watering than annuals. Obviously, we need both annuals and perennials in gardens but here are a few perennials that we have at Gallant Farm that you might want to think about in your home garden.
The first plant that got me into gardening when I was young was rhubarb. We had a small patch down in our front yard and I thought it was neat that it was planted by my great grandfather, also, admittedly it was and still is a favorite of mine because I have always loved rhubarb pie. I make sure every year to bundle up enough to take to my grandmother and Robin her at the farm to freeze and keep the pies coming year-round. Rhubarb is easy to grow and is usually planted from root stock that can be ordered in a catalog or picked up at a garden center, rhubarb is also easy to split in the fall. If you have a large plant, you can split it to share with neighbors and friends. While it isn’t the common method, I have had luck growing rhubarb from seed. Rhubarb likes a rich well drained soil and does well in raised beds. Originally from Siberia it is one of the first crops of the year to produce a harvest. It usually dies back some in the heat of Summer. The stem is the edible part of Rhubarb and the plants usually don’t flower, although some varieties flower more than others. The flowers are white and resemble those of buckwheat, a close relative of rhubarb. When they do flower, I trim the flowers off to focus the energy of the plant into the stems. Once you get them planted, they just need a little weeding, but when they are fully established, they usually shade weeds out. I harvest stalks about the size of your thumb and continued harvest can keep them producing until the heat of summer.
Asparagus is another early season perennial we have here at the farm. Like rhubarb, it is usually planted from root stock but can also be seeded. Patches can be productive for many years and often spread with weeding and yearly compost application. The early shoots are best eaten when small and tender. Some must be left to grow tall and flower to allow the plant to survive. The tall bushy growth can be mowed back late in the winter.
Red Raspberries are probably my second favorite after rhubarb. They are also planted from root stock and can last many years. Some people thin them in the spring and prune the tips off, this method gives a long gradual harvest of berries. I prefer to prune mine all to just a few inches above the ground, with this method they grow back and give a large later harvest, making picking and storage more convenient. It can be done with a mower, which is also convenient. Red raspberries are much more winter hardy than blackberries, making them nice for our unpredictable winters. The variety I prefer is called Heritage. Every year we weed them and mulch them with straw and a side dressing of compost.
Blackberries are another good option. They cannot be pruned all the way down like raspberries, but must be thinned, removing any dead canes, and pruned back to allow for sugar conservation in the plant and allow sunlight to reach all the leaves. This year the rabbits wreaked havoc on the bark of our blackberries as they often eat bark and buds in times of heavy snow cover.
Perennials are great for gardens, adding elements that come back year after year with relatively little maintenance. As with trees, the best time to plant a perennial is yesterday but the second-best time is today, so give some perennials a try in your garden. If you have any questions, feel free to e-mail or stop by Gallant Farm. Starting May 1, Gallant Farm summer hours are Tuesday – Saturday 10am – 5pm and Sunday 12pm – 5pm and we are closed on Mondays. The farmhouse remains closed to visitors until we can safely reopen.