Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Deodar Guild

No, that's not a new race of beings for a fantasy action adventure game. It's a plant name and a concept in a combination perhaps never seen before.

Deodar is the name of the beautiful cedar trees along our fence. There are four Cedrus Deodara 'Aurea', or Golden Deodar Cedars planted just outside our backyard fence along the south side of our property. They are well established landscape trees with a drooping aspect and golden color. But what sort of benefits do they provide beyond beauty? What other functions do these trees have? This is a very 'permaculture' question - are there stacked functions at work in these trees?

That's where the Guild concept comes to play. I recently finished 'Gaia's Garden' by Toby Hemenway. I highly recommend this book for anyone seeking a better understanding of permaculture practices that can be adapted for home scale use. A plant guild is an intentional community of plants grouped in order to maximize benefit from shared proximity and stacked function. A good beginner example is the 'apple guild'. Google it if you want to know more about it. I'm talking about a Deodar guild here - something never seen before, as far as I can tell.

Hemenway suggests a means of developing plant guilds by researching native plant communities. I discovered a plant survey from the Himalayan region of India where the Deodar Cedar is native. I found a short list of plants that nature has thoughtfully placed around Deodar cedars. Then I did a brief search on each - first to learn what the common names were, since the list was in Latin nomenclature, then to see if any could find a home in my yard surrounding my trees.

This was an exciting process of discovery. I found plants in the shrub, vine, herb and ground cover levels that could be easily adapted to my microclimate as guild plants surrounding Deodar cedars. Here's what I found: Viburnum, Artemisia, Lonicera and Indigofera. Let me parse that for you - Highbush Cranberries, Tarragon, Honeysuckle, and Indigo. Ah, that's better.

The Viburnum could be the blooming variety, but why not pick one that fruits? Sheep berry or blackhaw would work too, but I know that Highbush Cranberries work in this region. The Artemisia is the Wormwood family (mugworts and sagebrushes too). But again Tarragon provides an edible, medicinal herb as well as purported insect control to protect other plants.

I could plant a vining Lonicera, or Honeysuckle, but here in the Pacific NW we can grow Blue Honeysuckle bushes, or Honey Berries. Just like blueberries they need two varieties to polinate. Hmm...Territorial seed company sells Honey berry bushes in just such a pairing. How 'bout that. Finally an Indigo, like the Hairy Indigo is a forage/compost crop that fixes Nitrogen. It will probably die back in the winter, but Indigofera Pseudotinctoria stays 2'-3' high and likes full sun.

Throw in some clover for a spreading ground cover and I'm well on my way to a thriving Deodar Guild. Two berries - one red and one blue, plus an herb and a nitrogen fixer/compost crop, all of which should (theoretically) do very well in my location around my beautiful cedar trees...this oughta be fun! Now it may be a while before we can afford any new plants but I have a head start on the selection when the time comes. If any of you readers have any thoughts on plant guilds, let me know what you think of my combination.

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