Forest Garden Guilds

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A guild, in permaculture terms, is usually used to define a harmonious assembly of species clustered around a central element (plant or animal) that acts in relation to this element to assist its health, aid our work in management, or buffer adverse environmental effects (Mollison, via Jacke).

Dave Jacke has taken this concept further and identifies a range of different types of guilds that generally (but not exclusively) can be applied to aid forest garden design process. Like many permaculture design elements, these guild types at once simple, and deeply complex… 

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Resource-Sharing or Resource-Partitioning Guild

This type of guild is a group of plants that inhabit the same community niche (ie have the same general needs), but which also find a way to partition resources so that their competition is minimal.

I think we humans have a lot to learn from this guild type in how we relate to each other, but let’s leave that for another day…

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Mutual Support Guild

This type of guild is made up of different types of species which form a network of mutual aid and support, for the benefit of all.

Aid in the forms of complimentary nutrient needs, growing condition needs, how each plant interacts with the soil food web, and so on.

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Community Function Guild

This guild is a group of elements that are grouped in the old sense of the world guild (ie a guild of craftspeople, all fo the same skilltype). It’s a group of plants that perform the same function, which should be submitted for consideration to be grouped together in a design sense for their ability to backup each other, in the interests of a failsafe system.

Some species in a community function guild may well compete for space or light or nutrients, and that’s something you have to consider in your design… the point of considering community function guilds is to be able to ask yourself things like ‘so if that acacia dies because conditions are too dry/wet/rocky/etc for it just there, what will provide my nitrogen fixation in this part of my design?

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The upshot of these guild types is that if you usilize them when designing a forest garden (or any other type of garden, for that matter), you will get more bang for your buck; in terms of system stability, garden health, energy expended to keep it all working, and yields.

Also, you’ll notice these guilds are intended as patterns – relationship templates – analogs. This is not a ‘you must plant this species with that species’ type design tool. These guilds are frameworks into which you can insert whatever species best grow in your biosphere.

The point is how these types of species relate, not the particular species themselves…

Planning a garden that incorporates these guild concepts will also give you a much more resilient garden, which is a massive consideration in times of weather uncertainty and stress, as well as general resource (like water and available nutrients) scarcity.

Dave Jacke writes extensively on the details of these guild types (and many, many other extremely useful aspects of forest garden design) in his excellent two-volume work Edible Forest Gardens Vol I & II

But the above info is a great start to get you thinking about how species in your garden can benefit from super complimentary relationships, when you design it right.

I think, as we all move towards resilience being a primary factor when designing our food, fibre and woodlot plantings, you’ll find yourself thinking in guilds more and more. Because interdependence and complimentary functions will be the name of the game, if we want to create abundance in an environment of uncertainty.

>> More posts about Forest garden design and implementation here…

Hey! We stopped offering forest garden short courses because there didn’t seem to be sufficient interest in them after the first few… has this changed? Do you want to skill up in forest garden design? If so, click here and tell us.

If we get enough interest, we’ll start up this course stream again. Which would be great, because it’s a brilliant knowledge area with far-reaching implications for everyone’s home and community food security…

Big thanks to Hannah Moloney for drawing up the above guild types into quick posters for teaching tools during the recent Forest Garden Design Intensive with Dave Jacke at Milkwood Farm.

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4 responses to “Forest Garden Guilds

  1. Any chance you could do an online course! I know this sounds almost unworkable but…. I just wonder whether something is possible?

  2. We are currently doing a 5 session webinar training course with the Sustainable Sites Initiative in USA. I am surprised at how well this delivery method works. Much better than training videos. Just a thought…

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