Introducing Guilds

mid springMutually beneficial relationships bring out the best in us. We are better, stronger when we team up. Same goes for plants. Fruit trees team up with pollinator seducers and dynamic accumulator herbs for best production and health, groundcovers hold moisture and build soil at the top floor and everyone benefits when a nitrogen fixer is thrown in the mix.

It’s this idea of teamwork, or in permaculture speak – guilds – I want to celebrate today.

A guild is a team of plants, that support, protect and nourish each other. Working together for the benefit of all (my dream for the world 🙂 ), and it’s taken right out of nature’s book. A guild creates stability and best health, and when done well eliminates a heap of labour. The carefree, wild look belies a carefully crafted, low maintenance, smart garden.

Make your new gardens based on guild thinking, and improve existing gardens by adding another couple of layers to them. The more layers, the stronger your garden. Keep evolving your guilds by observing what works and what doesn’t. The combinations and options are endless – play!

Guild It

Choose three or four or seven from the list below and make a garden with them. Choose the plants you use and the plants you love.

A Food

apples summerA guild is generally centred around a food plant or a tree, but don’t be limited by this. Food for humans, beneficial insects, bees, chooks or stock

A Nitrogen Fixer

Nitrogen fixers are one of the most useful plants in the edible garden. Magically harvesting unusable nitrogen from the atmosphere and converting it (with the help of rhizobia bacteria), making it available to the plant.

Perennials are the best at this game. They use a bit themselves and share a bit with close neighbours. For annuals the main dose hit’s the soil when pre seed development, the tops are cut and the plant matter is recycled as mulch or lightly dug into the topsoil.

In the vegie patch

  • pair nitrogen fixers with heavy feeders
  • grow legume greencrops pre heavy feeders
  • grow nitrogen fixing shrubs/ plants around the edges of your food garden.

In the orchard

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

A Dynamic Accumulator (Wonderful Herbs!)

Dynamic accumulators mine minerals. Sometimes 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.

A Pest Repellent

yellowand blueDeter 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.

For The Pollinator’s

agastache and dillBring those pollinators in with plenty of nectar/pollen rich flowers. Aim to have plenty of these flowering year round.

A Groundcover

Nature leaves no bare dirt – she swoops in and colonise’s empty soil for a reason! It’s part of her health policy. Go her way and cover your soil completely with plants. While you wait for plants to grow and fill the space, keep the soil covered with mulch.

A Taproot

Deep roots are important for the minerals they mine and the improvement in soil structure they bring. They open heavy soils and hold light ones. They can be big … security in a storm, soil building, nitrogen fixing Alders. They can be little … beneficial insect fodder, soil opening, soil building Cow Parsley.

Plant Lists

These lists scratch the surface – I’m just giving you a starting point here. I’m hoping that after reading this – you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how many of these plants you’ve already got growing, and that you’ll look at a few of your ‘weeds’ with new eyes. Our very best place to go shopping in NZ, for these often hard to get plants is Kahikatea Farm.

A Nitrogen Fixer

dwarf beans

Groundcovers – Alfalfa, Vetch and Red, White or Black Clover
Annuals – Lupin, Broadbeans, Peas, Beans, Soya Bean
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. Alders are my top pick for people with land. Such a brilliant tree. Excellent wind shelter, tap root to open heavy soil and stand strong in a gale, nitrogen fixing, deciduous for outstanding leaf supply, stock fodder, firewood.

A Dynamic Accumulator

hoverfly on yarrow

Comfrey, Borage, Plantain, Yarrow, Dandelion, Chicory, Tansy, Chamomile, Nettle, Calendula, Chives, Parsley, Valerian (one of my favourite fragrances)

A Pest Repellent

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

For The Pollinator’s

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

A Groundcover

living mulch

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

A Taproot

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

An Example: A Fruit Tree Guild

fruit tree guildA healthy, stable system around a fruit tree. Many of the trees nutrition needs are met by the dynamic accumulators, moisture is retained with the living mulch, nitrogen is added, soil life encouraged, pollinators are fed and hang around to work the blossom, the soil is aerated and nourished, umbelliferae flowers feed the parasitic wasps who manage caterpillar pests and a little corner of the world is healed + made beautiful.


  1. Bena Denton-Woolley says

    Hi Cath,

    Whats your bank account details? Pay pal not working and will AP ‘Buy me a coffee’ instead…



  2. 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