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Place: UK, East of England Ground: Raised bed, 1.5m*2m

I've just cleared the bed of weeds. I should plant something before the weeds return, but... what? Ideally, that would be:

  • Low maintenance
  • Useful (vegetables, cooking herbs, etc)
  • Won't mind being forgotten for a few months
  • Will self seed or similar

I fully accept that those four requirements are somewhat mutually exclusive. That's why I'm bringing it to you guys!

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    Too broad, imho. And a word of warning: Weeds will return... it’s just what weeds do ;-) – Stephie May 20 '18 at 19:21
  • 'low maintenance' and 'vegetables' are definitely incompatible, some herbs are low maintenance. Need a photo of the area please, and information re the conditions, i.e., sunny or shady or half and half, heavy or light soil, windy and exposed or sheltered, as well as width and length of the planting area – Bamboo May 20 '18 at 19:35
  • Sheltered, half and half, soil is"ok" base plus a third well rotted horse manure. Photo to follow later. I realise that my requirements are mutually exclusive. I was hoping for variety in answers, so I could pick one requirement to drop based on the gain from dropping it. – user2702772 May 21 '18 at 6:39
  • @Bamboo potatoes and courgettes/pumpkins are both good for ground cover/weed supression and don't require huge amounts of maintenance for decent yields. They're annual of course. In E England watering is a good idea (necessary for courgettes). – Chris H May 21 '18 at 15:38
  • @ChrisH - sure, but I suspect the owner of the garden would prefer low or no maintenance, and vegetables, as you say, need planting annually and the soil improved annually too. And they certainly won't manage 'being forgotten for a few months'... especially in the dry East of England. – Bamboo May 21 '18 at 16:08
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That's a small space - you could fill it with a couple of low maintenance shrubs such as Skimmias, or one Mahonia aquifolium and some ground cover. Or a couple of Spiraea 'Goldflame', though these are deciduous. Ground cover plants are low growing, spreading plants which simply cover the soil and suppress weeds whilst (hopefully) looking good year round - Helianthemum (sun), Arabis procurrens, Iberis sempervirens, Ajuga reptans (shade) are examples.

If you want low maintenance, shrubs and ground cover are the best way to go. Oreganum vulgare 'aureum' is a herb and makes a good, wide spreading ground cover at a height of around 3 inches, but like most herbs it prefers a sunny position (or at least half a day's sun) and free draining soil. Other herbs which are hardy in the UK and perennial are Chives, Thyme, Sage (though it looks tatty after winter and will need cutting back in spring) and Rosemary, but the latter becomes a large shrub (up to 2m wide and a little less tall) over time which will fill the space you have on its own.

Whatever you decide to plant will not be low maintenance initially - at this time of year, you will need to keep them well watered up till late autumn, and employ the hoe to keep down weed growth until the plants have settled in and started growing/spreading.

Vegetables generally need sun, and obviously, need a lot more tending and care if you expect a crop, and ongoing you will be planting those every six months or every year, depending which vegetables you choose.

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Will self seed or similar

is pretty much the same as "will turn into a weed". Oregano grows as a weed all over my patio, for example.

Many perennial culinary herbs will grow well with a thick layer of bark mulch around them. Now that will keep the weeds down.

My herb beds only get harvested as required and trimmed in autumn. I'm in Bristol on a clay soil and grow lavender, rosemary and oregano very well. Bay is good but mine was killed by hard frosts and the replacement lives in a pot I can move to shelter.

If you've got a decent depth of soil, you could try black (or red or white) currants. Once established they only need harvesting and an autumn tidy, and you can make excellent jam (or redcurrant jelly, I like to add homegrown sage and red wine). Water well in dry spells for the first couple of years. Bark underneath again.

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    Thyme is also a similar herb which is more frost resistent – Giacomo Catenazzi May 22 '18 at 7:55
  • @GiacomoCatenazzi true. I haven't had problems with oregano even down to -10°C (it comes back in spring) and my soil doesn't grow thyme well so it's rubbish for ground cover. In a previous garden (slightly more urban) sage was an option. – Chris H May 22 '18 at 8:15
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You could grow large-seeded sunflowers (e.g. Mammoth Grey Striped). They require little, if any care in my area (SW Idaho; not sure how they do in England), and they reseed easily. They help remove heavy metals from the soil. You can eat the seeds. You can use the stalks for bean TPs or such. You may actually have to pull up some sunflowers in the spring, though, and they may spread into your neighbor's yard.

You might also try Jerusalem artichokes, if you don't mind the invasive-and-hard-to-get-rid-of factor. They produce edible tubers. They're hardy perennials that are related to sunflowers. I've read that they're pretty easy to grow.

You might try Allium fistulosum bunching onions or Welsh onions. They're pretty easy, and I imagine they could thrive in your climate. You can grow them like perennials if you just harvest the greens (and they'll multiply).

Garlic chives are pretty easy, too, and can spread via seed. It's a perennial, too. Some say they can be invasive. Regular chives are also easy and require little care, but I don't consider them invasive.

Sorrel is a pretty cool perennial vegetable. It doesn't require that much care.

Yarrow reseeds easily and is a nice herb with ornamental value.

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For low maintenance vegetables I think you could easily fit half a dozen couple globe artichokes in there. They cover the ground around themselves somewhat and inhibit other weeds a bit, they are architectural and attractive even if you don't eat the flowers, perennial (if a little short lived) relatively hardy and don't really need watering once established.

Mine (Kent) weathered the beast from the east ok but then two out of four succumbed to the next wave of cold weather that we had.

Otherwise "perpetual spinach" is good. It's not true spinach but leaf beet (I.e. chard) and you can harvest it all year. It goes to seed easily but readily self seeds so just pull the leggy ones out to make room for seedlings. It grows like weeds on my allotment and I don't water it (maybe I would be less prone to bolting if I did).

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