Notes from Windward: #71


Working on the Permagarden


April 13, 2011

     During Windward's first intern year in 2006, Todd1, Jackie and the interns planted what they called a permagarden in the ground that earth-shelters the back wall of the kitchen. Here is a link to their Permaculture Plan.

     Most of the plants incorporated into this garden space are perennials native to this part of Washington that also produce food. However, in the years since planting, many of the original plants have died, probably from grazing or water stress. Thankfully some did survive though only a few have had any substantial growth.

     The area is naturally shady, as there are two large oaks and a Ponderosa pine that in the height of summer let only mottled light through. And since this space is less frequented because of its location behind the kitchen, it tends to be more private and quiet than other centrally located areas. So, my hope for this space is to create an inviting, meditative place where people can come and read or sit or walk through and observe.

     One of first steps was to create a rail fence that would effectively protect the plants. The existing "fence" was routinely ignored by the sheep and cows. We can tend as attentively as possible to the growing plants, but if they are left unprotected from the grazers, the plants will prematurely become a tasty snack. So last summer Andrew and I built a pole fence from trees harvested while thinning the forest. Also, over the past 2 years, the permagarden space has been included in regular summer waterings to encourage those surviving plants to grow deeper more resilient root structures, so they can eventually tap all their own water from existing soil moisture. I have also been accumulating some additional natives to replace those that died.

a newly planted White Currant

     Yesterday, I planted two currants (white currants) to add to the three surviving currants and two hazelnut bushes, as all the original hazelnuts died. Last summer, MaryLou added another Blue Elderberry as well. Already present in the garden area are California Lilacs (Ceanothus spp) that presumably self seeded themselves. While Ceanothus do not provide a known edible food source, they do fix nitrogen, so I decided to let these bushes continue to grow in hopes that they will help enrich the soil for the surrounding plants.

a young hazelnut

     To encourage people to use this space, as well as to protect the plants and bed space from meandering feet, we are creating a path network to guide visitors through the garden. The path is created from stones and wood that we have gathered from around the site, an opportunity to showcase the intricate patterns of the micro world that are too often overlooked. The pattern and distribution of path and bed space are also to encourage people to begin to think differently about how we grow food.

Kotomi gathering logs for the paths

     Sometimes, people think that it is appropriate to walk wherever there is not a visible plant. However, this strategy is not very conducive to perennial gardening where there may be plants that have yet to fully emerge from the soil but are nonetheless delicate, edible herbs and greens that are growing on the forest floor, or root systems that are sensitive to compaction. As our perennial garden spaces throughout the property mature and the soil regeneration reaches a stage that enables the cultivation of food plants that occupy perhaps less obvious niches than, say, a fruit tree, and as the perennial gardens grow in overall size, it will become increasingly important that people internalize the understanding that wherever there is not a path, is growing space.

Nicole transplanting some mullien

     As I write this, I am already taking advantage of the half finished space. In a few hours of work yesterday, Kotomi, Andrew, Nicole and myself were able transform the "feel" of the space into one that simultaneously inspires a sense of calm and creativity. To add to this atmosphere, Nicole is planning on creating another moss garden around the base of one of the large existing oak trees. And there are also plans for a sitting area.

Roxie overseeing the work

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 71