Sunday, April 28, 2019

Goucher College Community Garden Permaculture Design

I recently coached Goucher College's Ag Co-op in Permaculture Design. Through a series of 5 workshops, students generated a master plan for the campus community garden. Using a step-by-step process to guide decision-making, we started by clarifying the club's Vision:

  • Demonstrate regenerative agricultural systems 
  • Produce food for the greater college community 
  • Create educational opportunities for all academic disciplines 
  • Exhibit models of social justice and environmental stewardship
  • Be financially self-sustaining
  • Accommodate social space where people can connect with each other
  • Provide a healing environment where people can connect with nature and enjoy beauty
            Site Analysis of the Goucher community garden

Students identified program Needs;
practiced Observation; studied nature's Patterns; conducted Site Analysis to determine design parameters; brain-stormed Opportunities and researched their feasibility; explored Plant Guilds.

WIND:  The garden site is located at the bottom of a slope in a cold sink.  It is also buffeted by north winds, concentrated by a wind tunnel effect from campus buildings located upslope.

Solution: A windbreak of native evergreen shrubs, planted behind the 4' high solid wood fence will protect the garden from damaging winds. Facing south, this windbreak will also function as a suntrap, providing a beneficial microclimate for sun-loving edibles.

SUN:  The design takes advantage of a 3-story, southeast facing stone wall at one side of the garden by locating a half-hoop house to extend the growing season. This wall acts as thermal mass, storing the sun's heat during the day, providing passive solar energy for the unheated greenhouse at night. It also creates a microclimate in front of it, ideal for heat-loving edibles, like figs!

WATER:  Our site analysis during a rain shower revealed that the garden slopes slightly away from the building toward the long length of fence. Swales can be constructed along the slope contours, and above raised garden beds to harvest this run-off for passive irrigation and to prevent soil erosion.

     Permaculture Design for the Goucher community garden
Two large cisterns on site collect water from a rubber roof, which is toxic to edibles.  Students located a new rain barrel at the corner of the existing tool shed, which has a non-toxic green roof. Native shrubs and flowers can be watered from the cisterns; edibles from the rain barrel, as well as from the existing hose.

SOIL: Compost tumblers recycle kitchen waste from students and the campus dining hall.

PATHWAY:  Inspired by the sunburst pattern, the pathway accesses all areas and entrances to this irregular shape using the least amount of space.

LABOR:  Work will be shared by co-op members and volunteers.

PLANTING SCHEME:  The garden perimeter is zoned for
perennials, with taller fruit trees at the north end to allow sunlight to reach shorter plants. Annual crops, which require more attention, are assigned to the garden interior, where rectangular raised beds accommodate row tunnels in cold weather. Guilds of native flowers will support fruit trees and berries.

Since students will not be on campus during the summer season, spring and fall crops will be prioritized, along with long season crops, which mature in the fall (winter squash, apples...).

PRODUCE will be shared with the campus community and the homeless.

CASH CROPS: Bon Appetit, the campus dining hall will purchase fresh culinary herbs from the Ag Co-op.  Garlic will be another great cash crop, since it requires minimal work, has a high value, and can be dried for storage.

A few raised beds can be rented to students or faculty for a modest fee.

SOCIAL SPACE:  A shade arbor, located in the center of the garden, can also host a grape vine.

For more information visit:

Monday, March 4, 2019

Waterfront Swales with a Hugelkultur and Dune

Run-off area
At this residential property on the Maryland coast, I was tasked with designing a native landscape to manage polluted stormwater coming from the road, running down the driveway, across the lawn, and ultimately exiting into a cove on the Chesapeake Bay. 

Due to underground utility lines and space constraints, the only location for this new device was at the waterfront. 

Beach litter collected for Hugelkultur

Waterfront site, BEFORE

My design consists of two adjacent swales and berms. The level swales are filled with wood chips, which act as a sponge, collecting the stormwater and enabling it to percolate into the soil, interrupting its journey to the bay. The plant roots at the berms absorb this water as passive irrigation. 

Installed in October, the upper berm was constructed as a hugelkultur, mounded with harvested beach litter (drift wood and seaweed) and covered with the soil excavated from the swale above. My client had already imported sand to make an artificial beach, and asked me to construct the lower berm as a dune.

Berms and swales under construction
Mimicking the local coastal plant community, the upper berm was planted with native shrubs that tolerate brackish water, some growing in the wild area right next door. Their woody roots will anchor the soil against the deluge of stormwater during harsh storms, and buffer strong winds off the Bay. These shrubs also create privacy for the beach by blocking the view from the road. The Southern Bayberry fixes nitrogen in the soil. 

Before planting; after the first rain
In a functional landscape, every component serves at least one purpose, besides providing beauty. The dune was planted with local, salt tolerant grasses and flowers, which will attract beneficial insects like bees and butterflies.  To create a gentle transition between this native landscape and the lawn, I added some non-native aromatic herbs and ground covers. These will deter mosquitos, and eventually negate the need for mulch. 

Finished Rain-scape; swales filled with wood chips (winter)
Hugelkultur swales and berms with driftwood and beach litter
Hugelkultur berms and swales were built with driftwood and seaweed, adjacent to the wilderness next door.  Native trees will be planted there next year, after the hugelkultur has decomposed a bit.

Fall is a great time to plant because new plants can go dormant while their roots establish over the winter.  There is no stress from hot summer temperatures or the need for daily watering.  When spring comes the following year, plants stand of better chance of thriving without constant attention

For more information visit my website at:

Monday, January 7, 2019

A Native Edible Riparian Buffer

Volunteers planting live stakes into the river bank.
Last spring I designed a riparian edge for a Gunpowder Valley Conservancy Bayscape Program participant whose lawn borders the Gunpowder River in Kingsville, MD.  Our objective was to restore the eroded river bank by planting trees and woody shrubs to hold the soil in place.  Two existing Pin Oaks, and a Quince (shrub) were preserved.

Live Red Twig Dogwood stakes were planted directly into the stream bank by making 18" holes with a steel rebar.  These will create a brilliant splash of color in the winter time.

Native edible trees and guild plants 
Native trees and woody shrubs were planted at the top of the bank.  These included a beautiful Red Bud (a nitrogen fixer), and edible Paw Paws and Common Persimmon.  Red Elderberry and Sheep Laurel and provide the shrub layer.

An herbaceous guild supports the edible trees with delicate Eastern Columbine (another nitrogen fixer), Wild Bleeding Heart (a beneficial insect host) and Nodding Onion (a dynamic accumulator), plus shade-loving Green and Gold, Cinnamon Fern (with edible fiddleheads) and Christmas Fern. Existing moss was left intact.

To give these native trees and plants a jump-start and increase their root mass, we added a microbial mycorrhizae innoculant to the soil.

A fully effective riparian buffer would need to extend at least 50' in depth from the stream in order to successfully filter sediment.  However, by replacing lawn, this demonstration riparian buffer, once established, will help stabilize the river bank, patch a hole in the wild life corridor, and provide fresh, organic, autumn fruit for the property owners.

Gunpowder Valley Conservancy volunteers with the finished project.

For more information: 

Friday, December 7, 2018

A Bayscape for Stormwater Management

As a consultant for Gunpowder Valley Conservancy, a nonprofit watershed stewardship, I design and install several Bayscapes each year for local homeowners. These native landscapes are constructed with plants, shrubs and trees that are found in this coastal region of Maryland. They are situated at sites where stormwater run-off is causing erosion or pooling.  I typically include swales and berms as a water capturing device.

The example depicted here shows where stormwater from a driveway runs down a sidewalk and collects at the corner of the house, resulting in a soggy area.

This Bayscape was installed with funds from Gunpowder Valley Conservancy grants and labor assistance from local volunteers. A series of swales and berms were laid out along the contour of the slope, just below this shady corner of the sidewalk, to disperse the stormwater run-off. The berms are created with soil from the swales and planted with water-loving natives. Understory trees and shrubs, located at the north edge, include a Redbud, Elderberry, Red Twig Dogwoods, Spicebush, Arrowmwood Viburnum, and Inkberry. These were underplanted with Eastern Columbine, Woodland Phlox and several types of Fern.

Since native plants are adapted to local climatic and soil conditions, they are a practical means of reducing landscape maintenance. Many have duel functions, which minimize the need for soil amendments and insect control. Redbud and Columbine fix nitrogen in the soil; Spicebush and Phlox are beneficial insect hosts; Ferns and Phlox will eventually make a great ground cover, eliminating the need for mulch. The swales, filled with wood chips, double as paths, useful for tending the garden.

This Bayscape is irrigated passively with rain water, reducing the need to get out the hose. A simple strategy of swales and berms not only resolves a stormwater issue, but decreases lawn area, recharges the water table, increases wildlife habitat, and provides natural beauty.

For more information visit my website at:

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Permaculture Design for Stormwater Management

READY trainees at the construction site.
Howard EcoWorks is a nonprofit organization in Howard County, MD. Their "READY" program employs and trains young local residents to build Conservation Landscapes that manage stormwater and reduce flooding from roofs, roads, sidewalks, lawns, and other impervious surfaces.

This past summer, I was asked to design and supervise construction of several Permaculture-style landscapes as part of their "Soak-It-Up" campaign. The techniques we employed harvest and filter stormwater for two suburban sites in Ellicott City, an area of numerous hills and converging streams, that has been in the news recently for severe flooding.

A Rain Garden, Log Terraces, Riparian Buffer, and a Hugelkultur were designated for the first site, a semi-wooded, hillside sloping steeply toward a creek, that floods regularly. The Rain Garden collects water at the bottom of a long gradual slope, and allows it to filter through its basin composed of a sand/compost medium.

Located at the top of a slope, a series of stepped Terraces, built perpendicular to run-off flow, intersect the stormwater. READY youth members cut and filled the existing grade to make the steps, and amended the clay soil with compost. Long fallen logs were collected from native trees on site and bundled together to retain the soil in place. (Rot-resistant Black Locust and Cedar are always best, but we used what we could find.) Native water-loving plants - Ferns, Eastern Columbine, Wild bleeding Heart, Elderberry, Inkberry and others - absorb run-off, and are irrigated passively by this low-tech strategy. Although the Terraces have a practical function, the resulting rustic aesthetic suits its wild setting. Once the plants fill in, the effect will be magical.

Swales and Berms
Our second site, a suburban yard, was seriously eroded due to a neighbor's run-off. READY staff constructed two stormwater practices, both located adjacent to the side yard property line to address the issue as far upslope as possible. Swales and Berms, laid out on contours of the slopes with an A-frame level, intercept the water flow. The swales (level trenches) were filled with wood chips, which act as a sponge, holding water and irrigating our sun-loving native plants - Winterberry, Silky Dogwood, Swamp Milkweed, Black-eyed Susan, Blue False Indigo, Eastern Columbine, Blue Flag, Nodding Onion, and Virgin's Bower (a vine).

Fish Scales with an overflow drain
The second, much larger practice was designed as Fish Scales. Again, another series of swales and berms are laid out on contour, but their ends are staggered like masonry, to allow overflow from one swale to exit into the berm below it. Since this location is shaded by canopy trees, the berms were planted with woody shrubs -Witch Hazel, Serviceberry, Sweet Pepper Bush, Inkberry, and Silky Dogwood - to create an understory. The larger the plant the more water it drinks. Our herbaceous layer included Wild Bleeding Heart, Eastern Columbine, and lots of native Ferns. A border of river rock was installed on one side to slow overflow during large rain events.

There are many strategies for managing stormwater issues. The trick to selecting the right technique, or combination of techniques, is to understand the unique characteristics of a site and its water flow.

For more information visit my website at:

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Upcoming Events; Permaculture Design Certificate Course Update

Permaculture Design Education at the 
Accokeek Foundation
In March, Permaculture Design  Certificate Course participants studied Natural Building and Passive Solar Energy among other topics.  We built a cold frame and a worm bin, covered a hoop house, planted cover crops at our Persimmon guild and made Biochar, an ancient soil amendment. 

Biochar is a kind of charcoal, which converts agricultural waste, or in our case, tree branches, into a valuable soil enhancer, which sequesters carbon and can remediate contaminated soil. Native peoples of the Amazon River basin used this “Terra Preta” for hundreds of years to produce dark fertile agricultural soil.  It can be made by using a home-made kiln with metal drums, or by lighting a fire to organic material at a garden bed, then burying it with soil to remove the oxygen and hold in the heat.  The baked product is carbon-rich biochar.

Guild Design
Our ongoing course project is an Asian Persimmon Guild.  A plant guild mimics the interdependence of naturally occurring plant communities of plants/trees, insects, and animals, which benefit each other to accumulate nutrients control pests, provide shelter or shade, and reduce root competition.  Many indigenous cultures have farmed sustainably for centuries with agricultural guilds. 

The “3 Sisters” guild of pole beans, corn and squash is a common Native American example.  Corn provides a scaffold for the bean vines. Beans provide nitrogen for the corn. The large squash leaves shade and protect the soil as a living mulch, inhibit weeds, and keep the soil moist and cool.  These mutually beneficial relationships produce higher crop yields, with less water, and no fertilizer, in smaller square footage, than if any of the 3 crops were planted independently.

Following the indigenous model, a Permaculture guild is a highly productive artificial assembly of useful native and non-native plants. It is designed to provide food, herbs, pest control, pollination, and restore soil, while reducing the gardner’s labor and eliminating the need for chemical pesticides, herbicides and other synthetic additives.

In the fall we sheet-mulched our site and planted the self-pollinating Persimmon in the center with a Southern Bayberry wind buffer.  This month we prepared the site further with these functional bulbs and cover crops:
  • Daffodil - at the future drip line as a “fortress plant” to suppress grass and repel rodents
  • Daikon Radish - breaks up compacted soil, edible
  • Fava Bean - fixes nitrogen, edible, poultry forage
  • Dutch White Clover - Ground cover; fixes nitrogen; attracts beneficial insects - lady bug, minute pirate bug, and lacewing
This month we started perennial seedlings to add to the guild when the weather warms in May.  These plants provide food, fiber, medicine, attract beneficial insects, repel pests, fix nitrogen and/or accumulate minerals in the soil:
  • Yarrow - mines copper, potassium and phosphorus; attracts lady bugs, hoverfly, lacewing and parasitic wasp
  • Sorrel - edible; mines calcium, iron, potassium and phosporus
  • Bronze Fennel - culinary herb; attracts lady bug, hoverfly, parasitic wasp and lacewing
  • Flax - fiber for cloth; mines manganese, iron and potassium
  • Lemon Balm - tea; medicinal/culinary herb; repels voles and rabbits; mines phosphorus; attracts tachinid fly, hoverfly and parasitic wasp
  • Salad Burnett - edible salad green; mines sulfur, calcium and magnesium
  • Good King Henry - perennial vegetable (like spinach), standing biomass
Stay tuned for the next phase of our Asian Persimmon Guild and other course projects!
                                                                                                                                     -  Patricia Ceglia

Save the Dates:___________________________
Accokeek Foundation                    3400 Bryon Point Road, Accokeek, MD 20607           

Sunday, April 30, 2017
1:30 to 4:00 PM 

It’s time to plan your garden or take it to the next level!  Bring photos, a site plan/survey, google map, sketch, or measurements of your space/garden, along with your imagination. 

Learn how to maximize the productivity of your site by observing and analyzing your site for natural resources and unique
characteristics.  Design your garden based on Permaculture principles and select appropriate perennial plants. This workshop is suitable for any urban, suburban or rural property, residential, public, or educational situation. If you attended our Winter Garden Planning Workshop, this one will tag onto it. If not, you can start at the beginning.

Held at the Education Center and on-site. Come appropriately attired and prepared for spending time outdoors. Space is limited so register now!!!

REGISTRATION: $30;  $25 Accokeek Foundation members 

2016 Permaculture Design Certificate Course graduate, Olivia Canfield  presents her suburban homestead design.

Certificate Course

Sunday, May 21, 2017

11am - 3:00pm

Come see our students' innovative designs. Each has created a Permaculture plan for a real site, applying the principles and strategies learned in our current certificate course. There will be a variety of urban, suburban & rural sites, residential & farms.

Drop in any time. We will break for a 50-mile Potluck lunch at 1:00pm! Please bring a dish with ingredients sourced within 50 miles of your home. This exercise not only supports local agriculture, but also demonstrates how we can all get involved in local food security.

Held at the Education Center.


"Accokeek" is Algonquin for "Land of the Wild Fruit." Hike the trails by the river, tour the heritage livestock and the National Colonial and Ecosystem Farms, before or after your event.  

Friday, September 16, 2016

Permaculture Design Offers Solutions

The term, Permaculture, was coined by Bill Mollison, Australian scientist, research professor, and author, who borrowed the concept from the book title, Tree Crops, a Permanent Agriculture, written in 1929 by Virginian, J. Russell Smith, geographer, conservationist, Wharton School of Business economics professor.  

Permaculture Design by Wilson College student for rural homestead.

A culture can not survive without a permanent, or sustaining, form of agriculture.  

We can all become producers as well as consumers. Permaculture Design is a methodology for creating human habitats, which produce more of our daily needs for food, medicine, water, energy, shelter, waste cycling and fiber.  Permaculture design is a process for managing your land and dwelling to be highly productive in an ecological manner.  By making relationships between design components, we expand efficiency and create a living system that regenerates itself, rather than depletes itself.  The result is increased security.

I first discovered Permaculture in 1990, after a year a searching for a more ethical design approach than that which I was practicing as a young architect.  My boss had just asked me to design a gigantic strip shopping center with a parking lot as large as a football field (not the glamorous type of building I was used to designing as a college student).  I attended Mollison’s workshop at San Xavier Indian Reservation near Tucson, AZ and was hooked.  

Mollison was inspired by his childhood experience growing up in Tasmania, where he lived next door to aboriginal people. He had the unique opportunity to observe their life-style, and later compare it to that of his western culture.  He noticed that natives did not live in a true wilderness, but rather cultivated their forest ecosystem.  If they observed an animal or fish dwindling in numbers, they stopped hunting it until it recovered.  If a tree species started dying off, they collected its seeds & planted them.  Mollison’s experience eventually led him to direct his life path to collecting and sharing universal indigenous knowledge as applied ecology.  

What do all native cultures have in common?  They practice a behavior code of ethics, making decisions that insure their own survival, and that of all species.  We are all descendant of indigenous peoples.  We can learn how to become native to place, wherever we are, by adopting life-supporting ethics, by becoming intimately familiar with our land and natural resources, by evaluating our daily needs, planning for the long term, and thinking creatively. 

Permaculture Design students plant a pear guild with a swale and berm.

With his graduate student, David Holmgren, Mollison developed the current 2-week Permaculture Design Certificate curriculum so that it could be taught to anyone, anywhere, with no prerequisites for college education or specialized experience.  The methodology contains a set of guiding ethics, a set of planning principles, mimicking those found in nature, and a tool-kit of strategies for optimizing production.  Permaculture Design is site-specific.  A design for one site cannot be replicated elsewhere because it is a response to its particular climatic and geographic conditions and built structures.

A recent Permaculture Design Course graduate presents her design.

The Accokeek Foundation is offering this 72 hour course over the span of 9 months this fall 2016 and next spring 2017.  This time-frame enables participants to digest the comprehensive course content in between classes and produce a design of their own.  Many students design their own properties.  Others have designed more public habitats such as schools and neighborhoods.  Here are a few:
  • Multi-functional residential “Green Alley,” Baltimore, MD
  • Colorado vineyard
  • Low-income housing project, Pretoria, South Africa
  • Multi-family townhouse complex, Annapolis, MD
  • Organic CSA farm, Eastern Shore, MD
  • Historic family vacation compound, southern France
  • Public & private schoolyards in Hershey, PA, Baltimore & Rockville, MD, & Washington DC
  • Suburban house, Accra, Ghana
  • “McMansion,” Washington DC suburb
  • Adjacent empty lots converted to a farm/park/school garden, Baltimore, MD
  • Rural Montana mountain homestead
  • Rural cohousing community, Libertytown, MD

For more information about the upcoming Permaculture DesignCertificate course, see 

More on Bill Mollison: