This spring I’ve been working on designing a guild. For those of you who don’t know what a guild is here is a good definition I found on http://www.neverendingfood.org. “In Permaculture, a guild is a grouping of plants, trees, animals, insects, and other components that work together to help ensure their health and productivity.” I see it as a family. Everyone has their roll, and some of those rolls interact. You can observe the relationships between the plants, trees, animals and insects. Building guilds requires looking at all the dynamics of those relationships and guides it into a formation that you believe will benefit the whole as well as the individuals.
Building a guild is quite a challenge. There is so much information which you need to take into account. I have a very specific place I want to put my guild, so I needed to pay attention to many factors. Since I’m wanting to put it on a fence line of a neighbor and don’t want to block much of the view, I want it to stay fairly low. I’m wanted a meadow feeling with a few bushes to give a little privacy. This guild would function to bring in beneficial insects and provide a little food and medicine for the home.
I chose sea berry (sea buckthorn) as my bush. Sea berries are nitrogen fixers, meaning they extract nitrogen from the air and “fix” it, or convert it into ammonia or other molecules which are available to living organisms. As well, they have edible berries(which are high in vitamin C), create wildlife habitat, can be used as medicine and fodder, prevent erosion, are salt tolerant, and are drought resistant. They grow in zones 2-9, Do well in sand or gravel. Best in a well-drained soil with a pH or 5.5-7.5. Apply a thick organic mulch, fresh each spring. They need very little pruning, you can cut out damaged or unproductive limbs. They do need a male and a female to produce. One male for every 6-8 females is sufficient. They require very little space, you can plant them anywhere from 3-8’ apart. At three feet apart, they will create a hedge. They are wind pollinated, so keep the females close to the male. Sea berries require full sun to thrive, and may die quickly if not in full sun.
My dynamic accumulator for this guild is Rosy Red yarrow (achillea millefolium). It grows anywhere from two to four feet high, with flowers that attract beneficial insects. It also acts as a shelter for beneficial insects and a aromatic pest confused. It grows in slightly acidic, hot, dry soil in dappled light. It’s hardy from zone 3-10. This species can be invasive, so be aware of spreading.
Harebell, also know as Bluebell Bellflower (campanula rotundifolia) is a native perennial which has edible leaves, which can be eater raw or cooked. It doesn’t cross breed easily, so would make a good seed saving plant. It’s self fertile with hermaphroditic flowers that are also pollinated by bees and flys. It has elegant bell shaped flowers that make good cut flowers, and is bloom June through September. It’s suitable for light (sandy) and medium (loamy) soils which are well drained and have a pH which is neutral to alkaline. It self-sews and can live in zones 3-7. It grows to about 12inches in full sun or partial shade.
Tarahumara Chia (salvia tiliifolia) I choose because I love chia seeds. This plant grows to three feet tall and is in the lamiaceae family. It has edible seeds, can be used medicinally and is pollinated by bees. It’s drought tolerant, and grows well in well drained light sandy soil. In recent studies, using alkaline soil combined with arbuscular mycorrhiza fungi enhanced the nutritional value of the chia leaves. Chia can however, be grown in soil which is mildly acidic to mildly alkaline. Like other lamiaceae, it self-sews freely.
Wild Flax (lino salvaje) is another perennial flower which is native to Alaska. It grows 18-20” tall, but rarely stands straight up. It has blue flowers which bloom anywhere from March till September. Flax likes full sun and dry sandy soil. It is highly drought tolerant and is native to woodlands, prairies/meadows/fields. The seeds are edible when cooked and it can also be used as a fiber crop. It does best in a soil which is mildly acidic to neutral (6.5-7.5). It is supposedly especially valuable to native bees.
The last plant I picked was red clover. Clover functions as a ground cover, and a nitrogen fixer (it’s a legume). It is also highly beneficial to bees. Clover is a short lived perennial which prefers slightly acidic to neutral, well-drained soil. Its long deep roots help break up soil compaction and build soil structure. As well, clover can be used as hay, or as biomass. It tolerates shade but prefers sun.
I think this design will make a inviting habitat for beneficial insects, and a beautiful separation between the properties. One which provides some privacy, while still being neighbor friendly. It can provide flowers, teas, edibles, fiber crops to the humans living on the property as added benefit beyond the stunning landscaping. Stepping stones, a small water feature and little sculptures placed throughout, will complete the vision.
I’m curious to see how all of these plants interact. Many of them reseed or sucker themselves quite easily. How will this guild look if left alone for a few years? Will one species take over? Will other plants move in? Since they all function well in sandy, moderately acidic, well drained soil, and full to partial shade, and none of them require much attention. Will It be a bed which is easy to ignore? I am slightly concerned by the invasiveness some of these plants display, so I will watch them closely to make sure they don’t take over where I don’t want them. I’m looking forward to observing the progression of this guild and seeing how all of my choices function together.