Edible Perennial Gardening

Jennifer Lauruol | Monday, 12th May 2014
An attractive book filled with a range of edible perennials for any size permaculture garden, with a warm introduction and useful directory of plant sources.
Author: Anni Kelsey
Publisher: Permanent Publications
Publication year: 2014
RRP: £14.95

I read this very attractive book with interest, as I am always looking for ways to explain gardening with permanent edible plants to my garden design clients.

Anni Kelsey usefully describes how to grow and manage a rich polyculture of edible plants in a small suburban English garden. She explains the theory with reference to the late Japanese pioneer of polyculture Masanobu Fukuoka, and to the works of current practitioners Martin Crawford, Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier. This helps the reader understand the concepts and accept Anni's enthusiastic 'wild is beautiful' approach. 

Written in an engaging yet erudite style, Anni recounts her experiences of several years in the manner of a neighbour sharing a cup of tea. This record of how she transformed her damp and shady suburban garden into a perennial polyculture invites the reader to ‘have a go’ without fear of failure. Banished is the spectre of allotment perfectionistas keeping military order on perfect vegetable plots. This is helpful; some of my clients now feel drawn to this style of gardening thanks to Anni’s honest description of her experiments.

The most useful part of the book, after the warm invitation to simply get going, is the directory of plant sources and the instructions about which elements are needed to create a successful perennial polyculture.

As a planning tool I felt that leaves, roots and tubers were well covered; I was disappointed, however, by the small amount of information on edible flowers, even though this is covered elsewhere in the literature. Flowers communicate beauty so effectively I felt more emphasis should have been given to this element to help neighbours and newcomers understand and accept the polyculture style more readily.

I liked the very useful list of plants and suppliers. Latin names appeared in the text descriptions but were absent in the appendix. In my experience Latin names are still the nomenclature of choice with online nurseries and plant suppliers both in the UK and on the Continent, so I hope a future edition would include them the appendix.

Viewed through the eyes of most of my mainstream clients and workshop participants, the book might appear rather far to one end of the ‘wild’ spectrum of gardening styles. Many of the people I teach and design for do not have the botanical knowledge or experience to be able to differentiate amongst such a large number of plants in close proximity, and would be intimidated by the complexity. These people are interested in the idea of layered gardening, but need time to learn a palette of wild edible plants and acquire a working knowledge of the families which domesticated vegetables belong to before being able to make use of this book with confidence.

I find Edible Perennial Gardening an excellent addition to my own library of permaculture and forest garden literature, and I recommend it to readers who already have a working knowledge of botany, foraged wild edibles and basic vegetable gardening.

Jennifer Lauruol is a permaculture designer at www.carpe-diem-gardens.co.uk

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