When practicing permaculture, food and flowers can live harmoniously. They can even be one and the same. Even though we have a designated vegetable garden, we don’t exclusively plant vegetables there. One of the joys of permaculture, as well as of gardening in general, is the endless way we can combine plants for multiple reasons. This is how to “stack functions,” and “stack elements,” which are part of the bigger picture in permaculture principles.
Let’s first dive into what “functions” and “elements” are in permaculture. Think of elements as the nouns and the functions as the verbs. An element can be a garden plants, a barn, chickens, wildlife, or a house, for example. Elements often have many functions, that is, they “do” many things. In permaculture, it is desirable for an element to have as many functions as possible, hence the term, “stacking functions.”
In the photo below, the tomato plant is surrounded by other flowering plants that make good garden companions.
Marigolds, in the foreground, offer some pest protection, as do the nasturtiums. The bee balm attracts pollinators, along with the other flowers.
Borage protects against tomato “worms,” and the bees really love it. My neighbor up the hill keeps bees and offers us some honey each year.
All of the plants create beauty, with their greenery as well as vibrant blossoms. The tomatoes are not the only edible plant in this cluster, either. The nasturtium flowers and leaves can be eaten. The flowers of bee balm and borage can be made into tea or used to garnish salads.
Additionally, the plants produce oxygen. They also provide soil nourishment when they whither and die by feeding the compost pile.
Each of these plants is an element, the garden is an element, the bees and pollinators are elements. When planted together, we are combining, or stacking their multiple functions.
With this in mind, let’s take another look at the garden.
I love Morning glories. They climb the garden fence and provide beauty, plus the pollinators love the blossoms. I’ve tried to surround the outer vegetable garden fence with numerous pollinator-attracting plants.
One more example of stacking functions, as well as elements, is in another area of the garden altogether. You see, when we first bought this property, there was a large hemlock tree near the house. Under it, someone had planted the rhubarb patch. There were a few Evening Primroses as well. We have since expanded it to include:
Can you tell I love Columbine? The above photos were taken in late May and early June.
Here is what the rhubarb looked like in the early spring, after it finally stopped snowing.
Unintentionally, I created a “guild.” This is another Permaculture term. In Permaculture, a guild is a grouping of plants, trees, animals, insects, and/or other elements that work together to help ensure their health, growth, and productivity.
Guilds in Permaculture are very often groups of plants beneath a tree. Another type of guild could be an orchard with lots of companion plants within the group of trees. This particular grouping of plants bloom and/or ripen at different times, making it continuously lovely and full of surprises. My little guild’s stacked functions include the following:
Rhubarb, asparagus, and horseradish are all grown as food sources. They all have the same soil requirements and protective qualities making them good companion plants. They are all perennial, making them easier to maintain. The columbine and rhubarb make good companions in the garden, as well. The lamb’s ears are on the other side of the tree, and the deer avoid them, so I guess they provide another protective layer. The poppies were planted by a fluke – I scattered seeds a couple of years ago and they are multiplying rapidly. They are also beautiful, and some types of poppies are culinary.
I tend to plant petunias near the asparagus every year since they are effective at warding off the asparagus beetle. In late autumn, the spruce tree drops its needles, creating a natural mulch for the guild plants.
So far this guild is thriving well. Here is a picture with the full height of the spruce tree.
The tree is rather tall, but it survived Irene, so I’m not too worried. Evergreens tend to bend and sway more with the winds than do deciduous trees. It is still possible that they could snap, break, or become uprooted, but so far so good. Just beyond this is another group of trees which forms a pretty good wind break.
Do you have a guild? Or guilds? Do wildlife or pollinators love to visit your garden? What kinds of plants do you combine in your garden to make good companions?
Food and Flowers in Permaculture
I’d love to know what is happening in your Permaculture journey.
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*This post has been updated to keep information current.