The Permaculture Guild:
A Permaculture Plant Guild is a useful polyculture combination of functional plants that co-exist and produce synergistically with minimal input. It mimics groups of plants grown in natural ecosystems. When mature it is self-mulching, self-fertilizing, free of pests yet full of pollinators and it will produce more in this one little area than any individual monocrop. Remember the Permaculture principles. . .care of the earth, care of the self, share the rest.
One classic example of a guild is The Three Sisters (Corn, Beans, Squash) but often the Indians would add in a forth sister, Cleome (a nitrogen fixer).
The perfect guild would take into account for each plant its needs for sun, water, pH, nutrients, height and spacing. An effective guild will utilize several layers so planting some root crops alongside some trellised or taller tree crops would be optimal. Plants also grow better next to some friends so seeking out a reference on Companion Planting may help in determining what plants you’d like to try in building a guild.
Understanding why certain plants go together is at the center of an efficient guild. Guilds contain:
• An odiferous plant to deter pests but attract pollinators (garlic, basil, marigold) Some plants deter pests in the soil, like borage which repels the tomato worm.
• Plants that can be co-harvested. It seems like many recipes contain seasonings and produce that grow well together in a guild (like a Pizza Guild).
• Plants should have three or more functions: Attracting bees, discouraging pests, has nutritional value, is used for seasoning or is medicinal, visually pleasing, gives an additional color or texture, provides fodder for animals, easy to harvest, shades another plant so that it will grow better, nourish another plant in some way perhaps by accumulating a particular trace mineral or drawing up nutrients from deep in the ground. For example, nasturtiums are pretty, they cover the ground, are self-seeding, improve the flavor of tomatoes, you can eat the flowers and leaves and even use the seed as a poor man’s caper.
• Guilds contain plants that will cover the ground to provide its own mulch as it keeps the soil thriving, keep the area moist, prevent weeds and erosion, add organic matter and add nutrients. You may need to start out with compost, rotten straw or hay, bark chips or grass clippings but eventually plants you can chop and drop like comfrey, ground covers (like strawberries and nasturtiums), and nutrient accumulator or nitrogen fixer plants will take the place of our initial inputs.
• A guild should have plants that create soil fertility (legumes, comfrey, borage
• Plants going into the guild should have similar needs/habitats such as pH and water needs OR the guild should be designed to separate the plants with an intercessory plant that will buffer the disparate needs of two plants. The root system and plant arrangements should not compete but complement each other. Try to visualize the plants as grown up when you set them into place. Planting more annuals in the beginning will fill in the spaces before the perennial plants, trees , shrubs and vines mature.
• Guild plants keep things intact in a no-till situation providing habitat for critters along the way.
• There is something to look at during all seasons of harvest even after pulling an annual plant (and usually something to harvest).
After hours of extensive research, I’ve put together a list of plant groupings that I can use to build guild examples on our farm:
Three Sisters Guild: Corn, Beans, Squash, Cleome, Chilies, Sweet potatoes, Comfrey, Sunflower (not planted next to corn) Amaranth, Crimson Clover, Fava Bean
Animal Guilds: Poultry or ducks following mature plantings.
Apple/Herbal Guild: Apple, Chokeberry, Thyme, Oregano, Violets, Clover, Yarrow, Comfrey, Sorrel, Dill and Fennel to prevent Coddling Moth, Spring bulbs (Daffodils which are toxic to mice) to open up the soil, Garlic planted 8 inches from the trunk to distract mice from chewing on the bark. Green manure plants like legumes to feed and chop/drop for mulch
Apple Guild: Apple
• Grass suppressing plants: Daffodils, Camas, garlic, Chives, ramps, Egyptian onion, garlic chives, wild leeks Insectary plants (dill, Fennel, bee balm, umbels, red hot poker, salvia)
• Nutrient accumulators (Yarrow, Chicory, Plantain)
• Mulch plants (comfrey, Artichoke, Cardoon, rhubarb, clovers, nasturtiums )
• Nitrogen fixers: pea shrub, clovers, lupine, alfalfa, beans, peas, vetch
• Shrubs: Goumi, senna, Siberian pea
• Soil fumigants: marigolds, nasturtiums
• Habitat nooks: stones, logs, ponds, puddles, insect huts
Blueberry Guild: High-bush and Half-high blueberry plants, clover, strawberries, yarrow
Chestnut guild: Chestnuts are overstory and berry bushes are understory
Fir Tree Guild: Fir trees—Douglas, Trillium, Service berry, Snowberry, Honeysuckle, Ocean spray, Nine bark
Forest Guild: Lodgepole pine, snowberry, blue eyed grass, Ocean Spray, Rosa rugosa
Fruit/Nut Guild: Semi-Dwarf Fruit tree, Little leaf Linden, Hazelnut, Runner Bean, Currant, Big Hip Rose, Kaki Squash, Garlic, Ramps, Strawberries, Spring bulbs
Gooseberry Guild: Gooseberries, Yarrow, Sorrel, Clover
Gooseberry/Cherry Guild: Cherry Tree, White Dutch Clover, Comfrey, Creeping Thyme, French Sorrel, Red And Green Gooseberries (Get Mildew Resistant Varieties), Lovage, Oregano, Aster, Violets, Yarrow, Anise Hyssop
Grape Guild: Grapes, Mulberry, Roses, Rosemary, Nasturtium, Comfrey, Coppice Willow
Maple/Apple guild: Maple deep rooted and Apple Deep rooted plus supportive plants
Medicinal Herb Guild: Angelica, Anise Hyssop, Bee Balm, Sage, Clover, comfrey, Fennel, Echinacea, Saint John’s Wort, Self Heal, Wood Betony, Yarrow, Comfrey, Astragalus
Native Plants Guild: Persimmon, Paw Paw, Hazelnut, Plum, Aronia, Grape, Groundnut, Serviceberry, Wild Indigo, Black Cohosh, Mountain Mint, Ramps, Echinacea, Woodland Strawberry, Spring bulbs
Persimmon Guild: Persimmons planted in an 8 foot wide pit surrounded by corn
Pizza Guild: Onions, carrots, tomatoes, garlic, oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary, parsley, peppers
Plants of the Bible Guild: Date, Persimmon, Broom Shrub, Grapes on Trellis, Sumac, Saffron, Garlic, Nigella, Thyme, Burnet, Rue, Coriander, Orach, Mint, Fig, Sweet Flag, Lotus, Job’s Tears, Rushes, Lilies, Soapwort, Roses, Semi-dwarf Apple, Maypop, Oregano, Alum
Plum Guild: Plum (Prunus sp) Hardy Kiwi (Actinidia argute) Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara)
Traditional Chinese Medicine Guild: Jujube (Chinese Date), Chinese Hawthorn, Forsythia suspense, Ciwujia, Prinsepia sinensis, Goji, 5 Flavored Fruit, Chinese Yam, Codonopsis pilosula, Dong Qui, Chinese Rhubarb, Balloon Flower, Bold Banded Lily, Blackberry Lily, Red Root Sage, Baikal, Skullcap, Korean Mint, Dianthus, Garlic Chives, Celosia, Ahi Mu, Water Lily, Job’s Tears, Brohmi
Walnut Guilds (Note, Juglans tolerant plants are the most likely to grow under the mulch and shade of a walnut tree): Walnut (English or Black), Hackberry, Goji berry, (Wolfberry), Peppers, Autumn Olive (Elaeaganus), Mulberry, Grape, Pokeweed, Blackberry, Currants (all kinds), Elderberry, Borage, Gooseberry, Fiddlehead Ferns, Nettles
Western Medicinal Guild: Sour Cherry with Grape Vine, Arbor Vitae, Black Elderberry, Willow, Mints, Lovage, clary Sage, Elecampane, Grapes on Trellis, Apothecary Rose, Lemon Balm, Sage, Angelica, Comfrey, Echinacea, Baptista, Valerian, Spring bulbs
Wet meadow guild: Chufa Nut hedge (Tiger nuts), Turtleheads, chaline
Helpful Links and References for Permaculture Guilds:
• The Black Walnut Tree Guild: https://designerecosystems.com/2014/10/28/the-best-permaculture-walnut-guild-and-how-to-produce-more-food-from-a-smaller-area/
• Book: Gaia’s Garden – a Guide to Home Scale Permaculture. By Toby Hemenway
• Guild Planting Guide: https://www.backyardabundance.org/Portals/0/p/Handout-PolyculturePlantingGuide.pdf
• Permaculture Guilds: https://midwestpermaculture.com/eBook/Plant%20Guilds%20eBooklet%20-%20Midwest%20Permaculture.pdf
Keywords for Permaculture Guild: guilds, nurse crops, insectary, dynamic accumulators, natural pest protection, apple guild, walnut guild, herbal guild, blueberry guild