Polyculture (Guild) Garden – Update & Evolution

Last April when I wrote about The Orchard as Monoculture, I said Looking back at the experiment, it was an unqualified success and We were pleased enough and learned enough that we’re going to do another guild garden in the orchard while also growing more in this one.

I’m not quite sure why I said that although I suspect from the date of that post – April 2, 2011 – that it was before the first spring burst of growth of thistles, quack grass, plantain, dandelion and everything else that found the rich bed perfectly suited to vigorous growth. Joyce did a fantastic job of clearing out the unwanted plants and we once again planted beans, tomatoes, squash, fava, and soybeans. Once again, everything did well, in particular, the soy.

But when we looked at the garden this spring and saw a future of thistles, quack grass, plantain, dandelion and everything else that found the rich bed perfectly suited to vigorous growth, we decided not to plant the garden this year so we let those plants take over. We shifted the beans and squash to raised beds and moved the tomato towers to the edge of the uncut area surrounding our raised beds.

But we still were bothered by the fact that the orchard was a monoculture.  Once again Nature has shown us a possible solution. And once again, one things leads to another.

Last year one of the small grassy areas in our raised beds had a few gloriosa daisies self seed.  Knowing that Joyce loves that flower, I left the area uncut.  It turned into pollinator heaven with red clover, black eyed susans, gloriosa daisies, white clover, and chicory bringing in bees, both honey and wild, butterflies, ants, praying mantis, crickets, and on and on.  This year we intentionally cut the area before things started growing to clear out the previous year’s dead remains.  And Nature repeated the rich beauty again.  Seeing what had happened,  I decided in late May to stop cutting an area of the orchard that has only a couple of trees in it.  The richness was repeated although not quite as varied.  At the end of the summer when the rains started again and we were able to start planting out the many pots that were sitting at the end of the driveway, we were faced with finding places for extra purple coneflower, orange butterfly weed, grey-headed coneflower, gloriosa daisies, and coreopsis.  Why not add them to what we were starting to call our wildflower meadows?  They had well developed root systems and would do very well.

Then we started thinking about an area of the lawn where we were adding a layer of top soil and reseeding with deep rooted fescue grasses.   The idea is to plant trees into this “grass meadow”.  I won’t have lawn to cut; we’ll be adding more native trees; the fescue grass will choke out unwanted plants aka weeds.

It was a small step to realizing that we could take the bits and pieces of what we were seeing and doing with out natural wildflower gardens and our more interventionist trees-in-a-grass-meadow and add biodiversity into the orchard to offset the monoculture.

THE PLAN – We’ll take a small area, skin a layer of topsoil over it, seed deep rooted fescues and simultaneously transplant some of volunteers that pop up each spring – trilobed coneflower, gloriosa daisies, purple coneflower, Dames Rocket.   Perhaps we’ll end up with a lush green carpet full of colour and no weeds.  If it doesn’t work, Nature will take it back to the way it is now.  I suspect, though, that it might work since many of the pieces in the process are already working elsewhere in the garden.

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