Hello, everyone, and welcome to Advanced Gardening! In this course, we’ll build on concepts from my previous course, Small-Scale Gardening, and present some new ones. However, you don’t need to have reviewed that course to understand the content in this one. Over the next ten days, we’ll take a more in-depth look at a range of gardening topics, including: plant guilds, hugelkultur, cover crops, crop rotations, wide rows, square foot gardening, vermicomposting, greenhouses, and seed saving. If you’re already comfortable digging in the dirt, you may find these techniques to be an enjoyable addition to your gardens.
Let’s jump right in by discussing plant guilds. In my previous class, I discussed the concept of companion planting. Companion planting is when two different kinds of plants are placed near each other for the betterment of both. For instance, garlic planted next to roses will keep pest insects away and prevent disease in the rose’s blooms. Guilds build on the concept of plants supporting themselves through their innate qualities and take it a step further by incorporating multiple kinds of companion plants that all support each other.
The ability to create guilds is an incredibly useful tool for gardeners, particularly those of you who have a limited space to grow. Not only do the plants support each other for the health and betterment of the whole, but guilds also represent what is called a “stacking” function. Stacking means you can multiply the overall production of the plants by integrating several components in one place.
Putting the Pieces Together
Guilds are often named after a key component plant. Let’s walk through a potential plan for a favorite type of guild for many gardeners: the apple tree guild. Apples are a popular fruit tree in gardens because of the delicious fruit they produce. As the key piece of a guild, they are useful because they grow tall, leaving lots of room underneath for other plants. They offer protection to delicate seedlings and allow filtered sunlight in through their branches. You can keep pests away from the base of your tree by planting a circle of daffodils just under the edge of the tree’s crown. To attract beneficial insects to pollinate the apple blossoms, you could plant edible flowering herbs, like bee balm or borage. Comfrey at the base of the tree would be an excellent weed suppressant, nitrogen fixer, and eventual compost and mulch provider.
Common Guild Types
Oak tree guild
• oak tree: nut producer for animals
• comfrey: ground cover, nitrogen fixer, and composter
• borage: flowering, edible herb
• strawberry: edible weed suppressant
Bee guild (attracts pollinators to the garden)
• American linden or basswood: flowering tree
• rose apple: flowering, edible shrub
• lovage: flowering, edible herb with deep roots
• mint: flowering, edible herb
• daffodils: early source of pollen
Fruit tree guild
• apple, pear, peach, cherry, apricot, or nectarine: food-producing trees
• hazelnut: food-producing shrub
• daffodils: beneficial attractor and pest repeller
• strawberry: edible weed suppressant
Three Sisters guild
• climbing beans: edible, flowering vegetable
• corn: edible, provides support for beans
• pumpkins: prevents weeds from growing
While the above examples are a great way to start thinking about guilds that might interest you, you aren’t limited to just a few designs. Take a little time to research companion plants that seem interesting, and build your own guilds. Feel free to experiment with colors, shapes, and plants that work best in your landscape. You can always change and modify your design from year to year.
That’s all for today, and I hope you’ll be inspired to create a few plant guilds of your own. Tomorrow, we’ll be talking about the perfect gardening technique for lazy gardeners: hugelkultur!
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