Most beginner and even experienced gardeners find themselves toiling away every summer to get the garden prepped, planted, maintain weeds, manage pests and finally – harvest. But, what if you could skip all that labor and get right to the harvesting? Sound like a dream? Too good to be true? It’s actually quite easy with proper planning and management. Mother Nature is happy to do most of the work for you as long as you give her a chance.
(Skip ahead to see the awesome list of plants)
I first discovered this idea by accident. My first year gardening I planted a small raised bed with some tomato plants and didn’t get to all the fruit before it fell to the ground. I also didn’t clean up the fallen tomatoes. I had pigs tilling up my future garden for the following year who also got to eat some of the overripe tomatoes from the raised beds. The next year I had massive quantities of those cherry tomatoes in both gardens! Along with some lettuce, spinach and parsley that also came back. From then on I started planning my garden in anticipation of these crops reseeding themselves.
The term “Edible Garden” has been gaining in popularity lately and the idea of the perpetual garden ties in nicely if you think of it from a landscape design point of view. Replacing traditional flowerbeds with edible alternatives is a great idea if you’re tight on space or don’t want to tear up huge sections of your yard for vegetable gardens. Plant in groupings or rows for visual effect. Taller plants in the back and shorter plants in the front, making sure everything gets the proper amount of sun.
Permaculture principles and companion planting can also be applied to lay your garden out so that mutually beneficial plants are placed next to one another. Some plants can be used as ground cover or mulch to suppress weeds, some can add nutrients and enrich the soil, some can attract beneficial insects, while others can repel pests.
Now for the important part. What kind of plants could thrive in this kind of garden? The answer is, almost anything. Just remember not to harvest everything at the end of the season.
Most plants, given the chance will reseed themselves, just as nature intended and continue the life cycle. Plant the first year and let seed pods and overripe fruits fall to the ground for next years growing season. Or place them in a different spot in the garden in fall to reseed for next year. Some biennial plants such as onions and parsley won’t produce their seeds until the second year. And perennials such as strawberries and asparagus will come back again and again (as well as reproduce).
The most important thing to consider when planning this type of garden is the quality of plants you select. Stay away from hybrid and genetically modified varieties. Look for the term “heirloom” meaning the plant will retain its original genetics and produce viable offspring. These can, however, be pollinated by neighboring gmo plants.
You also need to take care to control invasive, widely spreading herbs such as mint or horseradish which can overtake an entire garden. These are better off in pots or raised beds. You also need to leave room for all your plants to grow and spread a bit in future years. Fences, arbors and trellises should also be added for climbing vines like squash, melons, beans and grapes to save space and reduce soil borne diseases. Don’t forget to check whether your plant is a “bush” or “vine” variety while planning the trellises.
Diseases can also take hold of some plants such as tomatoes and potatoes, so occasional rotating may be necessary.
Here’s the list. Make sure to check your zone and research the variety you plan on purchasing before planting.
- Beets (biennial)
- Broccoli raab
- Carrots (biennial)
- Collard Greens
- Kale (biennial)
- Onions (biennial)
- Parsnips (biennial)
- Squash (pumpkins, butternut, acorn, zucchini, summer, cucumbers, etc)
Reseeding Herbs and Flowers:
- Bachelor Button
- Parsley (biennial)
- Sweet Alyssum
- Broccoli (Nine Star, Purple Cape)
- Good King Henry
- Jerusalem Artichoke
- Onion (Egyptian and Potato)
- Ramps (Wild Leeks)
- Scarlet Runner Beans
- Sea Kale
- Spinach (Ceylon, Malibar, Sissoo, New Zeland)
- Sweet Potato
- Tree cabbages/tree collards
- Water Cress
Perennial Herbs and Flowers:
- Basil (African Blue, East Indian)
- Black Salsify
- Lemon Balm
Perennial Grains and Grasses:
- Sugar Cane
Perennial Trees, Bushes and Fruit:
- Goji Berries
If you know of any other veggies, herbs or fruits to add to my list please comment below. I would love to hear more ideas and garden success stories.
If you are new to gardening or seed starting, check out my Veggie Garden Supply List (includes starting seeds indoors)!