The Willow Garden

I mostly write about the food forest of Mortal Tree here, but I do have other gardens I maintain using the common sense that people have labeled as Permaculture.


My favorite is the willow garden, named for the living fence of brake willow which used to completely, and today partially, surrounds it.

The garden is 36′ long by 16′ wide, and is divided into eight roughly 8x7ft beds, accessible by Keyhole paths. I think of it as two circular mandala gardens.

I said that now the willow ‘partially’ surrounds the garden. Nearly all the willow on the south side just hasn’t lived like the north side, which is a regular hedge. Why it’s just the south side that died, I don’t know.

That the willow is growing at all is a mistake really. I didn’t expect the willow to grow when I just hacked off the sticks in early spring from the riverbed where they grow on our farm and stuck them in the ground. A few weeks later, the dead sticks just started to leaf out!

I don’t recommend this for anyone else, since this kind of willow shoots up all over the place from underground roots, making it a “weed.” I get along with it though.

I was caring for the garden traditionally –tilling, weeding, taking those weeds and composting them in a pile then returning to the soil with added nutrients from off-site, although I did mulch with straw or hay from elsewhere on the farm.

I have made several changes:

  • I don’t till
  • I pull very few weeds, and mostly cut down all the ones that do come up.

IMG_0884 In this polyculture I have Broccoli, self-seeded Borage and Sunflowers I moved from elsewhere, Sweet Peas, Marshmallow (Althea officionalis), Sage, Salsify, Cosmos, self seeded Camomile, an Anchusa (Anchusa azurea), Nasturtium, a Dahlia, and Comfrey at the corners!
  • I have lots of Comfrey and one patch of Nettle plants in the garden which I cut once a month for tea for the garden. What I don’t use for tea, I put down as mulch where needed.
  • I have diverse polycultures, using lots of plants.
  • I didn’t have the keyhole beds until lately, so that was a change from the 8×7′ beds which weren’t quite so accessible. Also, my reach from the keyhole beds doesn’t reach to the very corners of the formerly square beds, so these corners make niches for the comfrey, nettles, and other nutrient accumulators I cut down once a month.
  • I mulch everything in place –weeds, and finished crops.
  • IMG_0876

    For the beds I am just converting to permanent mulch cover and no till, I usually dig out a keyhole path, mulch with straw, and then plant with a cover crop like this one I have planted with cowpea (a legume) and Japanese Millet (a grass to absorb excess nitrogen). Funny thing is, the common weed in my garden I call Foxtail Millet came up and did better than its close relative the Japanese Millet I planted. I still got very nice mulch though, and now have the bed planted with Daikon radish to suck up more nitrogen and make more organic matter.

    One big difference between this garden and Mortal Tree right now is the pace at which life moves. Here, things shoot up fast, lush, and green. When I cut this growth down for mulch, the worms gobble it up, especially Comfrey. I can stand in the garden and watch the worms pulling plant material down their holes.

    Mortal Tree, on the other hand, is dry, and not nearly so life filled. Mulch will sit there and dry, not rot. I have seen comfrey leaves sit there for months and not rot.

    I think the difference between these two sites is mostly the amount of life per square foot of soil. This life I am referring to is bacteria, worms, and insects. It is larger animals, such as rabbits and chickens –any animal really. It is life force in general.

    We can encourage bacteria, worms, and insects by mulching with a variety of plants making food and moist hiding places for them to live. We can keep larger animals for their manure, using our weeds to feed them, surging the process of decomposition of these weeds forward. We can encourage life force in general by doing both of the above. Plants, animals –large and small, all have life processes that takes dead, mineral earth and turns it into their living bodies and “waste products,” which are far more complex than mineral amendments.

    I plan to keep the willow garden as a propagation site for plants I want to have more of for planting Mortal Tree. I also want to keep it as a more annual garden than Mortal Tree –no woody plants (besides the fence) — and mostly self-seeding annual rather than perennial vegetables and fruits.

    It’s always nice to compare the two gardens, knowing that someday Mortal Tree will be as enlivened, lush and fruitful as the Willow Garden –or better with the added dimensions of trees and vines. Also, I am not bringing in nearly so much, or as many kinds, of amendments for Mortal Tree as I did here. I am excited to see the outcome. I’ll keep you posted.


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