A Series of Connecting Plant Guilds
I often think of our garden as a series of overlapping “rooms” with different light, water, and soil conditions that define them. Then it is a simple matter of matching the right plant to the right space and figuring out what works together in space and time.
But nature is always so much more complex. In considering which plants to group into a guild, we can also consider predator / prey relationships, what functions do the plants provide, how do they “fit in?” For example, which plants attract or deter which insects? Which are nitrogen fixers, provide shade, buffer the wind, deposit mulch, or provide food and shelter?
The aha! moment is when you realize that you’ve been able to nurture something that truly works – something that creates its own ecosystem wherein all grow together for the betterment of the whole. Such a bonus when they provide us something useful in return! (Now if we could only get humans to do that!)
Take this link to the Bloom Calendar to see what we have blooming when (lots of pictures!)
(click on tabs for more info; eventually these will have their own pages with photos)
Conditions: Rocky / gravelly, dry, but borders ditch. Often gets sun when other areas do not
Plants: Big fir tree, 3 young figs, wildflowers (poppies, bachelor buttons, lupine, yarrow), saskatoon, mock orange, basketry willow, invasives (mugwort, wormwood)
Comments: Topsoil was removed from this area, leaving flat, gravelly ground devoid of much organic matter. Have been attempting to build it back up with clovers and wildflowers. Although located right next to the irrigation ditch, the plants need deep roots to access the water because it drains so quickly in this area; hence, “weeds” proliferate.
Future: Plan to plant more native plants, possibly a willow fedge, and more plants that can contribute biomass. The area needs compost & mulch!
Orchard & Border
Conditions: A “traditional” orchard planted in rows with fieldgrass. Shady beneath trees; morning exposure to the east; some afternoon exposure to the west. Soil is relatively loamy where it has been worked. The western border (along the driveway) is much more dry, gravelly, and hardpacked.
Canopy: 5 apples, 1 crabapple, 3 cherries, 1 plum, 1 Mimosa (very young)
Herbaceous / Groundcovers: Annual veggies (potatoes, squash, kale), Bergamot / monarda, clovers, comfrey, costmary, currants, daffodils, elderberry, fennel, feverfew, French sorrel, garlic, gooseberry, horseradish, jostaberries, lovage, mock orange, mugwort, plantain, poppies, red flowering currant, red hot poker, Saint John’s Wort, Siberian pea shrub, sweet cicely, weld, wild geranium, willows.
In the outer border bed, (which could be considered a garden in itself), there are assorted herbs, cardoon, globe marjoram, madder, oregano, rosemary, roses (domestic & wild rosehip), sage, sorrel, thyme (several varieties), yarrow. This area is much more dry and sun-exposed. It serves as a good buffer zone for the orchard and is ideal for Mediterranean herbs.
Vine: a grape (up a cherry), malabar squash (annual climber) (hard to find vines that like shade and that can compete with all the grass).
Comments:Morning glory is a real problem in certain areas, but the invasive grass is the worst, even despite cardboard and layers of bark mulch. However, the soil is beginning to improve and we are seeing lots of mushrooms in these areas. My problem with this area is that it is still not a food forest; it is just an orchard with some under plantings. I need more herbs and other plants that can create a stronger ecosystem. Malabar squash did very well in 2014, climbing up into the trees and their fruits drooping down like hanging watermelons. We added a new willow dome, which will be a key feature in the years to come.
Conditions: Dry, gravelly, very hard-packed.
Plants: Alder, elderberries, fennel (wild & bronze), forsythia, goldenrod, holly, hyssop, irises, juniper, kinnikinnick, lady’s bedstraw, lavender, mugwort, plantain, rhododendrons, sage (purple & standard), santolina, Saskatoon, strawberries (groundcover / wild type), thyme, wormwood, yarrow
Comments: This area borders the driveway and drops off the hillside to the road. The Lady’s Bedstraw is starting to spread and makes a nice, soft groundcover when it is mowed and is also a good dye plant. The plants that grow here are all very hardy. The sage has grown so large, it topples over the hillside.
Future: Keep building the soil; possibly plant
Conditions: A variety of conditions, depending on what side of the house you are on; however, most of it gets periodic or filtered sun at best.
Plants: beriberi bush, blue bean tree, burdock, chives, clover, columbine, daffodils, daisies, dyer’s chamomile, fennel, geraniums (wild & domestic), gypsy wort, hollyhocks, honeysuckle (Himalayan: Leycesteria formosa), iris, lamb’s ears, lambs ears, lemon balm, magnolia tree (dwarf), mints (several varieties), morning glory, mugwort, oregano, potato vine, potted plants (seasonal varieties), red flowering currant, rhubarb, rose campion, sweet Cicely, tulips, winter savory
Comments: This area is a constant battle with grasses and morning glory! It needs a lot of work to bring it into Zone 1 status. Most of the plants are decorative or provide cover for birds. Future efforts will be to mulch heavily to get weeds under control and build soil.
Conditions: Although on the south side, this area is on the north side of a fence and blackberries and in the shade of tall trees for most of the year. Most of the plants prefer dappled-to-full shade and moist conditions. The soil tends to be acidic, especially beneath the fir, and has an underlying clay layer. We have amended much of the area with compost and mulch and plants have responded favorably. To the west, this garden gets increasingly dry and receives more sun.
Canopy: Black cherry, Doug fir, poplar
Shrub / mid-layer: azalea, blackberries, elderberry, huckleberries (native), Japanese andromeda / lily of the valley bush (pieris japonica), mock orange, salal, saskatoon, silverberry
Groundcovers: Chinese wild ginger, daffodils, forget-me-nots, heuchera, lingonberries, oxalis, periwinkle, sweet woodruff, trillium
Herbaceous / low layer: black cohosh, columbine, daylilies, ferns, feverfew, lovage, mint, parsley, plantain, primrose
Vines: codonopsis, ground nuts, wild yam
Comments: The poplar trees on this border have grown quite tall in the last 20 years. Our concerns are that they could fall over the steep hill on this side and onto the roadway; but maybe they are what is holding the hill in place. I originally wanted to route household greywater through these beds, but we are worried it might contribute to hillside instability because of the underlying clay layer.
Conditions: Relatively dry, mostly unamended soil, quite a bit more sun than the area to the east. The yard here is bordered by thick Himalayan blackberry brambles; it drops off toward the west into more briar tangles.
Plants: blackberries, daffodils, gooseberries, hollyhock mallow, mock orange, Oregon grape, periwinkle, poplar trees, rosa rugosa
Comments: This area is in Zone 4 and does not receive a lot of attention other than to mulch the shrubs with grass clippings and to pick the wild blackberries when they are ripe. We do not water it much except in extreme dry spells. A lot more could be done with this area as time permits, but it is not a priority. For now, we have planted some native shrubs for food and shelter for wildlife and are calling it good. I will be adding more natives to this area in the future.
Conditions: Hillside Brambles is as it sounds. This Zone 5 area is, for the most part, left untouched.
Plants: Tall firs, poplar, blackberries, morning glory, Oregon grape.
Comments: Morning glory, aka bindweed, has moved into this area and is increasingly making a stand with the blackberries. Between the two of them, it is difficult if not impossible without a machete, to get into this area. However, it is a great homesite for rodents, and I am quite sure other mammals, such as raccoons, have created a pathway of tunnels over the hillside that connects Hurd Creek with tempting edibles in our back field. We used to see quite a few quail, but not as many in recent years (possibly scared off by our dogs). We have cut some of the blackberries back (an ongoing process), but I hesitate to plant anything here that could block our mountain view.
Conditions: A small knoll on the edge of a steep drop-off gives a beautiful view of Hurd Creek and the neighbor’s old barn. The hillside gets a lot of western sun exposure – and also a lot of wind. The soil here is surprisingly soft and relatively rich.
Plants: Alder, black hawthorn, willows (formed into a chair), Siberian pea shrub, wormwood, kinnikinnick, calendula, poppies, sedums, mock strawberries, sunchokes, wild carrot, snowberries, blackberries, saskatoon
Comments: This is an interesting area with a great view. We created a little cemetery here for our pets and eventually buried my mother’s ashes here, too. It might have been a dump site for previous residents, because we find all kinds of farm debris here when we dig. I planted sunchokes out on the edge, thinking they might survive, thrive, and maybe even provide a windbreak – but the water drains so quickly, it is hard to keep them alive. It was a mistake to plant the willows out here because of the difficulty of getting water, but the idea of them twining up a chair on the overlook was a fun idea. They might still make it. I also planted some native shrubs (Saskatoons) on the hillside and some wormwood, which likes dry, sunny, exposed places (and can be invasive – so have to watch this one!) Despite its sentimental value, this area would be low priority except for the recent invasion of wild carrot, Queen Anne’s Lace. This plant is such a threat to local carrot seed crops, that diligence is required to keep on top of it. I think my chop-and-drop methods on this plant is partly why the soil out here is so rich.
Conditions: A mixture of sun and shade, this garden area faces south and stretches from the west end to the beehives. The soil is mostly clay and devoid of organic matter.
Canopy: vine and big-leaf maple, cedars, firs
Shrubs: Ceanothus, Elderberries, Golden currants, Korean rose, Mock orange, Oregon grape
Red flowering currant, Snowberries
Herbaceous & Groundcovers: Catnip, Ceanothus, Clovers, Dandelions, Kinnikinnick, Lemon balm, Mock / wild strawberry, Nettles, Pussytoes
Comments: This garden represents our first forray into building ecosystems that would support wildlife in our backyard landscape, as well as create a future screen of potential development in the 10 acres to the north. A yearly native plant sale through the Clallam County Conservation District has launched us on our way. Although the soil and water conditions are not great, they are perfect for specific native plants, which, once established, have needed very little care. The quick-growing shrubs are really starting to fill in.
Conditions: Part-to-full shade, relatively dry, acidic soil with clay streaks
Plants: Cedars, firs, big-leaf maple, Oregon grape, elderberries, blackberries, daylillies, giant Solomon’s seal, forget-me-nots, Chinese wild ginger, periwinkle, sweet woodruff
Comments: Nestled in amongst the tall cedars and firs and with a growing border of native shrubs, this area is becoming a nice little hideaway. I have been building the soil and hope to make it a place to grow mushrooms. Water, however, can be a bit problematic, without supplemental irrigation.
Beehive Haven & Environs
Conditions: A sunny and dry, relatively exposed area with poor soil.
Canopy & Tall Shrubs: Cedars, Douglas firs, Korean rose, Mock orange, Oregon grape/mahonia, Red flowering currants, Black Locust, Contorted Filber
Herbaceous & Groundcovers: Akira sunflowers, borage, catnip, Chives, Clary sage, Clovers, crocuses, Dandelions, Dianthus, fennel, golden Marguerite, Kinnikinnick, Lemon balm, milk thistle, phacelia, pulmonaria (lungwort), Roman chamomile, Scabiosa (white and blue), sculpit (Silene vulgaris), sunchokes, sweet William, Thymes, weld, yarrow
Keyhole Beds Area: agrimony, anise hyssop, assorted sedums, asters, blue flax, borage, calliopsis, catmint, catnip, catnip, cinquefoil, clary sage, curly dock, fennel, golden Margeurite, golden Marguerite, hollyhocks, horehound, lamb’s ears, lavender, mugwort, mustard family plants, oregano, potentitilla, purple sage, Roman chamomile, salvia, sculpit, Siberian Pea, sunflowers (Valentine and Maximilian), weld, wormwood.
Comments: This garden in front of the beehives has always been a bit problematic. We added the hives after we had planted the cedars and firs, so now a couple of the small trees may have to be moved. We shelter the hives with an earth berm / garden bed, but that berm is made from overturned sod; grass has always been an issue; plus, it doesn’t hold the water well. It is difficult to plant seeds here that require a lot of initial watering, because the bees don’t like to be disturbed with water sprays. I have tried to plant things here that provide early, late, and steady blooms. The crocuses are much appreciated, but they die off quickly, and then leave lots of room for grasses to grow. The trick is to interplant with something that won’t compete. The phacelia, borage, and catnip, in particular, are constantly covered with bees. Future plans are to continue building the beds out to make them easier to work on, mulch to maintain moisture, and plant more herbs, such as oreganos, lavenders, and thymes, that survive well with minimum watering and that are loved by bees. The spiral garden/watering hole for bees (chives, thymes) is a great hangout place, particularly in spring before the nectar flows.
The keyhole beds area is a garden in itself that started by a series of beds radiating out from the contorted filbert, planted at the site of an old firepit. This area has a cage of semi-composted weeds that were intended to become a “living wall.” The garden itself has bloomed into one of my favorites, with a wide assortment of herbs, dye plants, and flowers, all frequented by bees. An improvement would be to continue with heavy mulching to smother grasses. This garden has the most potential for being unusual, beautiful, and having the most variety of plants. It is worth working on, and expanding.
Greenhouse Area – East Side
Conditions: Dry, compacted, poor soil, southern exposure
Plants: Linden tree, clary sage, globe marjoram, weld, fireweed, thistles, plantain, mugwort, brambles
Comments: This area has been a utility area that has become overgrown on the edges with invasive weeds. The fire pit needs to be moved (or eliminated). Part of the area is used for storing recyclable materials, bricks, rocks, and purchased mulches. The too-small greenhouse is not a very effective nursery; nor is the makeshift hoophouse built beside it. However, these areas have potential to be cleaned up and made more useful. Future plans include a “real” greenhouse that could house an aquaponics system, roof runoff catchment, and the site for a small flock of chickens and a few rabbits.
Central Gardens (details coming soon)
- Northwest Plot
- Northeast Plot
- Midwest Plot
- Mideast Plot
- Southwest Plot
- Southeast Plot
- Barn Lavender
- Goldfish Pond
- Midway Square
- Berries, Grapes, & Beds“
- Southern Melange
- Westside Border
(oh dear – do I have too many “rooms” in this mansion??? Perhaps I just need to consolidate a few.)
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Essentially, this page is a place to keep track of where things are, what is blooming, garden tasks, and an assortment of observations on what works, what doesn’t, and what connects me to the earth and sky.
Learning how to upload these ideas to cyberspace has always been a bit of a challenge for me, one that I pick away at on rainy evenings. So of course, this page will ALWAYS be under construction – or perhaps, Always Evolving – and isn’t that the way gardening and life should be?
Hope you find something here that you can apply to your Own garden.
Thanks for visiting!