Often the first vegetable in the garden to herald the arrival of spring, asparagus provides a delicious welcome to the coming season. While it can take some patience, there is little that comes close to the taste of your own asparagus plucked straight from the ground. Once established, asparagus plants can produce for over 20 years.A member of the lily family, Asparagus officinalis is a perennial plant with fern-like fronds growing to 1.5 m high. It retreats to dormancy in the cooler months, with quick-growing shoots emerging from the ground in early spring. It is these shoots that we recognise as asparagus spears, and when they start to emerge, they will need to be picked every day or two to get the sweetest, most tender asparagus for the pot. If left to grow, the spears continue skyward and the tightly bunched scales on the tip loosen and elongate, eventually becoming branches on the tall, ferny plant.Once established, around eight to twelve plants will provide a family of four with a good amount of asparagus for two or three months over spring. Nutritionally, it’s a great addition to the vegie garden, containing B vitamins, vitamin C and potassium, as well as a number of antioxidants. It also contains the compound asparagine, which gives asparagus its ‘umami’ flavour, the savoury fifth taste that’s also found in tomatoes and mushrooms.