Introducing Guilds: The Easy Way to Garden!

A guild is a team of plants, that support, protect and nourish each other, working together for the benefit of all. A guild creates stability and best health because the variety of plants above ground brings a variety of roots and soil life below ground. It’s the smartest way to garden. It’ll save you heaps of time and effort.

The photo above is a guild in my vegie garden. Chicory, the main food crop is surrounded by supportive team mates, many of whom also provide the kitchen with food. There’s parsley – a mighty tap root that aerates and nourishes soil. Marigolds that send strong aerosols on the wing, confusing pests. Clover adds nitrogen to surrounding soil and covers the ground, beating out weeds and protecting topsoil. Dandelion is another tap root and a mighty nourishing green at that, so though I didn’t plant it, I’ll leave it here to contribute. Yet more support comes as each of these flowers, feeding a host of beneficial insects.

How to Create A Guild

Dwarf peach trees grown with daylillies, lemon balm, chives, lavender, nasturtium, renga renga, rose geranium and comfrey

A guild consists of a food plant/shrub/tree, teamed up with as many of the following as suits:

  • a nitrogen fixing plant (free fert)
  • a pest deterrent
  • a beneficial insect attractor
  • a tap root (free fert + soil stability + air for clay)
  • a groundcover (living mulch + moisture retention + protection)

Plant lists for each of these follow. Pick the plants you use and the plants you love from each category. There are no rules here! The combinations are endless. Permaculture books are an awesome resource to compliment my basic plant lists.

+ A Nitrogen Fixer

nitrogen fixing nodules on the roots of a lupin
Nitrogen fixing nodules on the roots of lupin

Nitrogen fixers are super useful, magically harvesting unusable nitrogen from the atmosphere and converting it so it becomes available to the plant.

Perennial nitrogen fixers are the best at this game, sharing the nitrogen they dont use with nearby plants. Reap the benefits and include them around the edges and dotted throughout all your food gardens.

Annual nitrogen fixers add nitrogen to the soil, when they are cut down, pre seed development and recycled as mulch, back on the bed they grew.

In the vegie patch

With fruit trees

  • grow nitrogen fixing groundcovers
  • grow nitrogen fixing trees/ shrubs for windshelter and dotted throughout

Nitrogen Fixing Plants

Purple Sprouting Broccoli underplanted with redclover parsnips and red clover
Sprouting broccoli under sown with crimson clover

Groundcovers – Alfalfa, Vetch, Red, White, Crimson or Black Clover
Annuals – Lupin, Broadbeans, Peas, Beans, Soya Bean. Annual nitrogen fixers,
Perennials/ Shrubs – Ceanothus (California Lilac), Carmichealia and other Broom, Kaka Beak, Dyers Greenweed, Gorse!

Small Trees ( 5 – 7 m) Tree Lucerne, Kowhai, Sea Buckthorn, Silk Tree, Siberian Pea shrub, Amur Maackia and Eleagnus.

Big Trees – Robinia, Golden Rain tree, Italian Alder – such a brilliant tree!

+ A Dynamic Accumulator (Wonderful Herbs!)

Borage for Bees

Dynamic accumulators mine minerals. Also called compost plants, companions or compost activators – I call them herbs, and quite frankly – they rule! Apart from medicine for us, they are medicine for the soil in the minerals they accumulate, fodder for the beneficial insects and a ton of mineral rich biomass for compost and mulch. Plant loads everywhere!

Dynamic Accumulator Plants

Comfrey, Borage, Plantain, Yarrow, Dandelion, Chicory, Tansy, Chamomile, Nettle, Calendula, Chives, Parsley, Valerian, Daikon

+ A Pest Repellent

Wormwood has soft grey foliage

Confuse and deter pests with strong scents that waft from punchy herbs like wormwood, rosemary or marigold. Include pest repellent plants around the edges and dotted throughout your food gardens.

Pest Repellent Plants

Rosemary, Wormwood, Tansy, Pennyroyal, Mint, Horseradish, Chives, Garlic, Bunching Onions, Sage, Marigold, Basil, Southernwood, Mexican Marigold

+ A Beneficial Insect Attractor

anise hyssop

Bring those beneficial insects and pollinators in with a year round supply of nectar/pollen rich flowers. At the same time make your life beautiful.

Beneficial Insect Attractant Plants

The options are endless – here’s a list of my favourites.

+ A Groundcover

nasturtium living mulch beneath lavendars

Nature leaves no bare dirt – she swoops in and colonise’s empty soil for a reason! It’s part of her health policy. Use low growing, groundcover plants such as these, to fill the gaps beneath trees and shrubs and along all the edges. Jam them in and beat out the weeds!

Groundcover Plants

Oregano, Marjoram, Thyme, Sedum, Comfrey, Yarrow, Renga Renga, Chamomile, Clover, Plantain, Catmint, Ladysmantle, Chives, Violets, Nasturtium, Pratia, NZ Spinach, Hellebores, Perennial cornflower

+ A Taproot

mid spring
Borage and Fennel are tap roots – aerating my clay in the easiest of ways

Tap roots are important for the minerals they mine and the improvement in soil structure they bring. They open heavy soils and hold light ones.

Taproot Plants

Chicory, Dandelion, Cow Parsley, Parsley, Parsnip, Carrot, Alder, Fennel, Dill, Queen Anne’s Lace, Bishops flower, Avocado, Mallow, Burdock, Elecampane

Start Small and Let Your Guilds Evolve

fruit tree guild

Make your new gardens based on guilds. Start with a couple of plants and add more as the seasons go by. A guild, and infact a garden, is a work in progress.

If gentler plants are overtaken by others that are more rambunctious, let it happen – it makes for an easier life! Perhaps replant the overtaken one with less vigorous companions. If plants die, as they do when the site/conditions aren’t to their liking, either let them go or try again and choose a spot with more care.

The plants that box their way front and centre and hold their space win. They’re covering the ground and flourishing without needing too much attention … exactly how I like it. Divide the plants that flourish at your place and use them again and again.

Evolve your guilds by observing what works and what doesn’t. Have fun! Play!


  1. Evening Kath
    I read somewhere a list of ground cover plants and the minerals each one supplied to the soil, now I can’t find it !!! Is it somewhere on your site, or maybe you know where I can find one please?
    Many thanks