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

The 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: