Plans to Plant

plants to plan for

As I mentioned in this post, I finished Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway last weekend and it was a very good book, highly recommend. There were many great things in the book but the two big ideas that have really been rattling around in my head sparking ideas are polycultures or plant guilds and alternative garden layout arrangements.

Polycultures, aka plant communities, aka plant guilds are all about planting things in mixed together groups that benefit one another instead of in individual monoculture groups. Nature abhors monocultures and nature is the best gardener of all so it would behoove us to follow her lead. The right polycultures can help everything grow better if the correct plants are chosen that work with one another to create healthy communities both above and below ground for plants, insects, and animals. Hemenway’s book goes into great detail about these ideas so I will not; but if you garden at all I think it would be worth your time to read.

The alternative garden layout ideas extend in some ways from the polyculture ideas. If we aren’t planting single rows or groups of one type of plant that opens the door to a wide range of alternative layouts such as this one from his book:

Image from Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway

While trying to find that image I stumbled upon another article that discussed taking his ideas even farther to really maximize not only the amount of space used for growing things but to combine that with as much space that is within easy reach.

image is from

I have much more to learn on this topic, but I am super excited and super inspired by what I have learned so far.

These two things combined with my ideas for what I’d like to do for the Lawns to Legumes grant we received and a rough draft of an idea is starting to take shape in my head.

I’m thinking of putting together a small fruit tree guild based on all edible native Minnesota plants. The basic idea is you have a fruit tree in the center surrounded by beneficial and edible plants all around it. The tree is possibly planted with a “nurse” plant of some sort to help offer shade and act as wind break for the young tree as it is growing. Ideally the nurse plant would also be a fruit producing shrub or a nitrogen fixing shrub so that it not only offers physical protection for the baby tree but either nutrition to the tree or nutrition to the human who planted it. Then surrounding them both with various other shrubs and plants, which are either edible foods like wild strawberries, ramps, wild ginger, etc, or offer benefits like breaking up heavy soil, fixing nitrogen in the soil, drawing up other nutrients, attracting pollinators, etc. I still have much research to do about exactly what plants will work in our soil and with our intense winds and of course consideration for the fact that in the beginning there will be full sun but as the tree matures there will be less sun. But many people have been planting fruit tree guilds and there are tons of examples online, such as the one below, so I know this is doable it is just a matter of figuring out which plants will work for our location.

image from 

One of the sticking points for me is that most of the fruit trees native to MN are also toxic to horses. I am still searching to see if I can find one that isn’t, but regardless I am not planting any of these things inside their current paddock or any future paddock so if I can’t find a fruit tree that isn’t toxic I think we’ll still be okay. Though it will mean being vigilant after any storm to pick up anything that may blow into the pasture and making sure they always have hay available so they are not tempted into poisoning themselves out of hunger or boredom.

One of the resources Hemenway recommended to learn more about polycultures/plant guilds are the Edible Forest Gardens Volumes I and II by Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier. I just got them from the library this week and started reading them but then anther book I had on hold came in that I need to read for a book club. The learning cirlce is hosted by the Land Stewardship Project and we are reading Building Community Food Webs by Ken Meter. Our first session is in two weeks so that book has moved to the top of my reading pile.

So many ideas and so much more to learn and so much excitement! I’m going to make this regenerative farm thing happen!