Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Worst Permaculture Guild Ever

In permaculture, there is a term called a guild—a grouping of plants that interact together in a mutually beneficial way. The most classic example of a guild is the three sisters: corn, beans, and squash planted together.  The corn stalks provide a trellis for the beans to grow up, the beans help to fix nitrogen in the soil, and the squash plants spread out, covering the ground with lush vegetation and shielding the soil from evaporation. All three plants benefit from the neighbors around them.

When we bought our house, we didn’t initially notice that there was a thriving guild on the hillside immediately adjacent to our future garden spot.  However, once we set to work clearing it, we noticed that our hillside was dominated by 4 plants--- which seemed to be working in tandem to squash out all other life on the hillside, and to increase our misery by constantly trying to take over our yard.  These four plants formed an elegant guild:

Upper tree Layer: Black Walnut- The beautiful assassin of the plant world.  Black Walnuts look gorgeous, but they emit a toxin called juglone which, kills all other life including tomatoes, asparagus, puppies, and pretty much all worthwhile living things. Ruefully, poison ivy is immune to juglone.

Secondary tree Layer- Buckthorn-The Jar Jar Binks of the plant world. This small tree pops up everywhere.  It is obnoxious, and absolutely no one likes it. Buckthorns make approximately one ga-jillion berries per small tree, which fall into my lawn in such abundance that instead of grass, we just have tiny buckthorn trees coming up everywhere. I’m not sure which I would rather run over with a lawnmower—baby buckthorn trees, or Jar Jar Binks himself.

Shrub Layer- Multi-Flora Rose- The Sitcom Mother-in-law of the plant world.  You know the show Everybody Loves Raymond? Multi-flora Rose is kind of like the Mother-in-law from that show. Sure, she smells kind of good, in a floral old-lady sort of way.  In fact, you may even want to invite her over, but pretty soon she becomes invasive—not respecting your boundaries, and criticizing the way you load your dishwasher. It’s best to eradicate her immediately.

Vine Layer- Poison Ivy- The Poison Ivy of the plant world.  I gave it this title because I can’t think of anything worse than Poison Ivy.  Let’s be clear. Poison Ivy is the ABSOLUTE WORST.  I hate everything about Poison Ivy.  If I could obliterate poison ivy from the face of existence, I would do it without a second’s hesitation. When I was a little girl, I got poison ivy in my EYEBALLS.  One of my husband’s many charming qualities is that he doesn’t get poison ivy, and he can go before me into the fray, wiping out any poison ivy in our path and clearing the way for me to do yard work. He is a total hero. 

The way these four plants assisted each other was really quite impressive.  The Black Walnuts released juglone, which cleared the understory of any competitor plants.  The multifloral rose created a thicket of inviting bird habitat for the feathery invaders that gorged themselves on buckthorn berries and dropped the seeds across our lawn. The poison ivy provided a calf-high groundcover that thwarted any enterprising young home owners who foolishly dreamed of cleaning the area up.

That is, until Sean entered the picture. I'll never forget the sight of him--in his carhart overalls, charging across the landscape with his chainsaw and his work gloves, and his beard blowing in the wind.  He chopped, sawed, shredded, and dug-- looking exactly like Hercules-- and protected his sweet wife (and her eyeballs) from the perils of the monstrous poison ivy and it's botanical cohorts. Maybe the plants will move on this Spring--seeking out backyards with less rugged heroism and fewer eyeball vendettas-- but maybe they won't be so wise.  Maybe they will come back, and if they do, we'll be ready for them. Oh yes, we'll be ready...

Here is the hillside when we moved in. I know it looks lush and green, but literally everything living on it had to be destroyed.
hillside full of poison ivy, buckthorn, black walnuts, and multiflora rose

Here is the same hillside now pre-spring.  We've planted paw-paws, mulberries, redbuds, wildflowers and much more to replace the invasive buckthorns and roses.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so sorry about the Poison Ivy in your eyeballs! I don't get it either but my little sister wiped with it once when we were little after a backwoods camping trip where we learned about using leaves...

    I miss you!

    Lydia Price (Kitts)