Planting in Guilds

Plant guilds are groupings of plants that embraces the natural patterns of biodiversity and layers to create thriving ecosystems on a micro scale.

Seven Layers make up the system:

1. Canopy

2. Low Tree layer

3. Shrub Layer

4. Herbaceous layer

5. Root layer

6. Soil surface

7. Vertical Vine Layer

Food Forest

A food forest is a whole plant system (guild) incorporating food producing plants (trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, and fungi) These dynamic systems emulate natures utility and diversity. A food forest becomes a self organized system providing for its own pollination, pest management, water capture, and soil health.

Food forests can grow flowers, fruit, nuts, roots, fungi, herbs, vegetables, fiber, and wood. One of the greatest design features is the layering and stacking properties of the forest, making it possible in the smallest of urban sites.

The Canopy layer should have a maximum of 40% shade over the site. Placing this tree towards the north side of guild will allow for less shade to other plants. In a residential site we almost always choose dwarf or columnar varieties to make room for more light. These can include columnar apples, pears, mountain ash, small nut trees.

The low tree layer would consist of larger shrubs and small trees. Cherries, plums, apricots, sea buckthorn.

The shrub layer, would consist of small berry shrubs, medicinal shrubs, nitrogen fixer shrub.

The herbaceous layer consists of perennial herbs, fruit, vegetables, pollinator attractors.

The root layer can be root vegetables, medicinal root herbs, nitrogen fixers. Mycelium, mushrooms and other fungal resources are in this layer.

The soil surface consists of mulches or ground cover.

The vertical layer consists of trellised vines and espalier trees.

How we organize these plants depends on site conditions, light conditions, wind conditions, sight lines, access to water, drainage issues, overhead lines, proximity to house.

Types of Guilds:

Medicinal Garden

A medicinal garden is designed with serving the needs of your general health and maintenance. These are plants that can be harvested to make teas, skin products like balms and creams, tonics, and tinctures.


Parts used: flowers

An inti-inflammatory and pain relief for a wide rang of of conditions along the digestive tract. Chamomile is widely used as a relaxing nerve tonic, relieving mental stress and tension.


Parts used: flowers

An immune stimulant, assisting the body to resist infection more efficiently.


Parts used: flower

One of the best diaphoretic herb, a standard remedy for fever relief. It is used for hypertension. As a tonic it is used as an astringent, anti-inflammatory, and bitter tonic for gastrointestinal system, it can help normalize irritated and inflamed states of the digestive tract. Used externally for wound-healing.

Medicinal Healing Plants:

Yarrow, Lady’s Mantle, Wild Ginger, Echinacea, Daylily, False Sunflower, Lupin, Bee Balm, Cat Mint, Hops, Chives, Valerian, Mallow, Hyssop, Thyme, Woodruff, Arugula, St. Johns Wort, and Lovage.

Fruit Garden

A fruit garden is a mix of fruiting trees, berry shrubs, vines, and perennials.

Careful thought should go into your fruit choices. Many fruiting trees get huge and the harvest will be to much for most home owners. Another consideration is the shadow they will cast blocking light to the under-story. All planting zones will have a variety of dwarf and columnar specimens. Below is a small list but the options are great. Really do some research on what grows in your area, mature size, taste, and will you eat what you grow?


Apple trees will need a second apple that flowers at the same time to pollinate. If you don’t have a nearby neighbor apple tree you will need to plant two. Pruning an apple tree every year is essential. Training the tree to have a central leader and thinning out interior branches for proper air flow. There are many columnar varieties to choose from and many of these ripen earlier than their big cousins.


Plums are a great addition to any eatable garden. They tend to be easier than other fruit trees to grow and are compact. Plums need to be eaten right away or canned into jelly.


Careful consideration to mature size. There are dwarf varieties to choose from. Most pears will need a second to pollinate, and because pears are less popular than apples most people don’t have neighbors growing pears. Pears are easy to care for. Harvesting the pears before they are ripe is essential for juicy fruit. As soon as they start to change color bring inside to refrigerator for a few days then take out to ripen at room temperature.


Cherries come in many forms from smallish shrubs to large shading trees. Always considering the under-story light in our guilds, I like the more columnar shrub shape. Cherries vary region to region. In the colder climates a sour cherry has be cultivated to create a whole line of different cherries with higher sugar indexes. A high performing beautiful shrub to add to any landscape.


Currants are self-pollinating small shrub and don’t require another variety to produce fruit. The berries come in red, black, and white. The fruit is tart and excellent to eat ripe, used in jams and jelly’s, and dried.


Raspberries are an excellent come again and again crop. If picked the harvest can last longer than a month. Thoroughly prepare soil with a compost and a peat textured fiber material. Bearing on last years wood. After bearing the cane dies, prune out the dead wood from patch.

Grape Vine

Adding a striking elegance to any garden this ancient treasure is sweet and versatile. Eaten fresh, dried to raisins, WINE, jelly. Even the leaves can be used to jar with pickles to keep them crisp. These vines need support, and look amazing overhead an eating area. Before planting soak the roots in water for a few hours. The vine should be pruned back to two or three buds. In the first couple years the vine shouldn’t be allowed to bear fruit, this will allow the root and base of vine to thicken up to handle the fruits weight.

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