Bur oak guild: selection and installation

After months (or has it been years?) of planning, I installed my first “permaculture guild” this weekend. It is not, strictly speaking, a Toby Hemenway-style “food forest” guild, because only one item (the oak) is even marginally edible. However, I followed many of his basic principles and added one other: all the species are native to my area or are slightly aesthetically-selected varietals of local species. Here’s the result. Or perhaps the beginning, since this will really take 50 years to get into shape. 🙂

Bur oak guild

Bur oak guild

When planning a guild, you need to think in layers and functions. Here’s how I’ve addressed them in this guild, which draws on the Oak Openings found in SE lower Michigan and NE Ohio:

  • Overstory layer: Oak tree
  • Shrub layer: White and blue false indigo – will get up to 3′ tall and wide
  • Groundcover layer: Canada anemone and Pennsylvania sedge
  • Nitrogen fixers: White and blue false indigo and non-native Dutch white clover (seed not sprouted yet)
  • Insect feeders: Butterfly weed
  • Biomass: I did plant some non-native seeds (flax and borage, which are also good for insects), though I’m sort of wishing I hadn’t now. I will plant mullein seed in a few weeks when it becomes available – the first mulleins are just starting to bloom now.

Because this planting is so small, I don’t have an understory (small tree) layer or a vine layer. Eventually, I expect this guild to expand to this entire corner of the yard, and I’ll add serviceberries, New Jersey Tea shrubs, maybe buffalo berries, and some more flowers (blazing star, culver’s root, and thimbleweed).

Close-up of bur oak guild



  1. Momster said,

    July 17, 2010 at 5:38 pm

    We saw this little gem in person. So glad you love the earth!!

  2. UrsulaV said,

    July 18, 2010 at 5:20 pm

    I hope you have better luck with New Jersey tea than I have–mine’s been in the ground since mid-spring, and has done…nothing. It’s alive, it’s green, it’s apparently fine, but it resembles an annual petunia significantly more than it resembles a shrub. I’ve also had iffy luck with butterfly weed–“easy to grow” apparently doesn’t apply if you live in a swamp. I’m tempted to try it in a large pot of half sand, which will by-god be well drained…

    The false indigo, on the other hand, is glorious and fantastic stuff and will undoubtedly do you proud, and I don’t think I could say enough positive about Culver’s root or blazing star.

    Another native plant I’ve had amazing luck with that goes well with indigo and is great for bringing in the pollinators is mountain mint. It’s a big clump plant–mine’s keeping pace size-wise with the false indigo next to it–but it doesn’t run like true mint. You could use it for tea and get a minty flavor, but the really impressive trick is the way it brings in the teeny little pollinators. The flowers do bring in some bees, but mostly TONS of the little nameless wee bugs that nobody notices. (Ironically, it is also supposed to be good as bug repellant. Don’t ask me how this works.) It would probably make a pretty good biomass plant–it forms a pretty large clump, and it’ll take absolute crap soil and generalized neglect, as well as a run-in with the UPS truck. I don’t know why the heck it’s not more well-known, I’m becoming an evangelist for the stuff in the garden.

    (I have tried none of the uses listed below, but apparently it’s useful in other ways, too!)

    *cough* Sorry, you got me talking about plants, there…

    • Emily said,

      July 18, 2010 at 5:25 pm

      And rambling on about plants is a problem because…?

  3. Anonymous said,

    May 6, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    I second the mint. We live in the high desert and the stuff grows like ground cover with no human attention or intervention. It invites the little bees and bugs that my tomatoes like.

  4. August 29, 2014 at 3:11 pm

    I would love to see an updated picture of your guild, 4 years later!

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