How to Tour Local Permaculture Sites – Part 1
Touring, photographing, and sharing permaculture gardens in my area seems like I task I will never get tired of. With that in mind, welcome to my new blog series.
I will be showcasing “official” tours as well as informal visits to existing and aspiring permaculture sites in the region. Learning from the ingenious little ways people connect to their ecosystem is so much fun! I’m looking forward to providing a database of area permaculture gardens that people can access from wherever they live.
The first garden on the tour is a home in Asheville, NC that has a three year old permaculture landscape designed by Zev Friedman. You can contact him and ask to be added to his email list if you’d like to be notified about his future group tours.
This home was located on a downtown residential street in Asheville and fully exemplified how stunning a permaculture landscape can be. A yard this pretty makes it easy to win over the neighbors!
Plants on the property included white oak, plums, persimmons, apples, mulberries, serviceberries, hazelnuts, elderberries, aronia, raspberries, blueberries, fruiting roses, grapes, passionfruit, Jerusalem artichoke, strawberries, culinary herbs, lavender, horseradish, comfrey, begonias, sochan, tomatoes, echinacea, black-eyed Susans, lovage, yarrow, spiderwort, wood nettles, willow, mountain mint, yellowroot, euonymus, monarda, cup plant, coreopsis, and more.
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Ponds, swales, and cisterns are usually the first thing to come to mind when considering water catchment. However, one of the cheapest ways to store water is in the soil and that means you need to make sure rain can be absorbed into the ground. Walkways, driveways, patios, and other hard surfaces don’t have to be solid. There are many water permeable paving options.
Many people think paths are an afterthought, or even superfluous. That may be true on a large property where you aren’t carefully managing a growing area, such as a food forest. However, on the typical urban property this is unlikely to be the case — I’d venture to say that any property 1/2 acre or smaller needs to plan garden paths for every growing bed.
Why is this so important? Soil compaction causes serious, long-lasting damage to the health of your plants. Compacted soil retains less water, produces less plant nutrients, harbors more disease, and reduces the growth of roots. If you labored to “fluff” up those beds when you first planted, it makes even less sense to waste that effort by walking in it later. The key to great gardening isn’t how you treat your plants, it’s how you treat your soil.
One thing that is heavily affected by great, uncompacted soil is how fast your new plants will grow. This plum tree is over 10′ tall and loaded, in spite of only being planted three years ago.
The best roses are underused in American landscapes. Most of the time we plant spindly hybrid teas or scentless ‘Knockout’ types. Instead, try to find roses bred for a shrubby shape, naturally healthy foliage, and great hips. Rosa rugosa is a particularly hardy and fruitful species. Here’s a list of some exceptional roses for the southeast.
Planting edible plants, flowering plants, and fertility plants intensively in the same bed is functional and beautiful at the same time. Well-matched plants make up what permaculturalists call “guilds.”
Plants for permaculture guilds are chosen by attributes that make them work well together in the same space. In this photo you can see horseradish growing underneath a plum tree. The horseradish deters plum pests while also accumulating nutrients in the leaf litter.
Horseradish and comfrey can both be used as chop and drop mulches. Zev is shown using his hand sickle to cut comfrey tops as a nutrient-rich composting mulch for the surrounding plants. This can be done multiple times a year, since comfrey regenerates quickly.
Comfrey mulch rapidly breaks down into rich soil, but in the meantime, it also protects soil organisms from UV light and conserves moisture. It’s rare to see a permaculture garden without comfrey.
There’s a reason yarrow is one of the go-to plants for permaculturalists seeking beneficial insect attractors. The shallow nectaries of the tiny flowers are perfect for predatory insects like wasps, or the soldier beetle pictured here.
There are few small trees as attractive and useful as a serviceberry (also called a Juneberry). Although they resemble blueberries, they are more closely related to plums.
When people tell me they want something easy and edible to grow, I recommend blueberries. Unless the spotted wing fruit fly changes things, I can’t think of any plant with more reward for less effort.
Spiderwort, raspberries, elderberries, hazelnuts, sochan, wood nettles, and more line a path that winds around the house into the backyard.
If you want to grow raspberries in your yard, check around to see if someone will give you some starts for free. Once established, they constantly reproduce by root suckers.
Asian persimmons sometimes struggle to get established after transplanting but once they have settled in they are mostly trouble-free. The shiny, tropical-looking leaves ensure an attractive specimen in the landscape. Many Asian persimmon fruits have the added benefit of not being astringent when unripe.
I haven’t tried planting nettles yet but they are a healthy and tasty spring green (I’ve eaten them, and they’re yummy). Our native wood nettle, Laportea canadensis, is supposed to be superior in flavor and nutrition to common nettles, Urtica dioica. The “sting” can be avoided with gloves and disappears when cooked.
If you can beat the squirrels to harvest, hazelnuts are an excellent choice for permaculture gardens. Healthy fats and carbohydrates are our most difficult needs to supply from the garden and hazelnuts are nutritionally similar to olive oil.
Gardens on steep slopes have to contend with swift moving water and erosion. In this plan, the bank is covered in strawberries and comfrey to help retain the soil. Some of the elements in the design haven’t been added yet — a catchment pond will eventually replace the trampoline.
Strawberries often fruit the first year, but they give better harvests after their second season.
The chicken tractor resides at the top of the bank, which means it probably doesn’t do a lot of tractoring. Still, it’s helpful to be able to easily move a coop when needed.
Three to six chickens is a good-sized flock for a single family property in the city. Depending on the breed and age of the chicken, you get approximately 5 eggs a week per hen.
Mulberries are an excellent tree for coppicing. The cut limbs can be used for building, tinder, or animal fodder and the lower stature makes fruit easy to reach. Plus, no one ever sings about dancing around the mulberry tree.
Another tree that lends itself to human manipulation is the willow. They can be coppiced or simply woven into living sculptures.
A lot of the beneficial insect plants on the property were just on the verge of bloom, but this little coreopsis is well underway.
Monarda is another great multi-use plant. It attracts good insects and has culinary uses as an herb or tea.
Hazelnuts don’t just offer a rare yield of oily nuts. You can use them as foundation plantings to help regulate the temperature of your home through the seasons. Since they are deciduous, the sun will reach the walls in the winter and help warm the house. In the summer, their dense foliage produces cooling shade.
Edible plants can work as well as ornamentals in social areas. Here hazelnuts, grapes, passionfruits, and apples create a beautiful “garden room” near the compost bins.
A ‘Honeycrisp’ apple hangs over a stone retaining wall. Apples can be fussy, but are not as difficult as peaches.
It’s best to give apples full sun and plenty of air circulation to reduce disease.
Doorways and gates are good places to add an arbor for vining edibles like passionfruit, cucumbers, beans, malabar spinach, and groundnut. If the arbor is very strong you can grow heavier plants like hardy kiwi, muscadines, or hops.
Good soil often supports large populations of worms, but a worm bin can be versatile and useful in a permaculture design. Sometimes you may want to use worm castings for a special application or harvest your worms for livestock food.
I hope to see permaculture designs like this popping up in every neighborhood across the world. Wouldn’t it be nice if this was the norm, instead of the exception?