We can identify two main goals as we build the collection of plants in our gardens. One is collecting diversity: this can be diversity of species, diversity of cultivars, diversity of heirlooms. Another goal is propagating enough bulk plants that we can establish guilds: to have enough quantity of individual plants to sheet mulch a new garden bed, and immediately fill it to capacity with dozens of individual plants that thrive in our climate with very little demand from us except harvest.
Because that is the most efficient way to expand a garden: do the work ONE TIME to establish a new planting area with no weeds, and immediately fill it enough so that weeds have no nich to come back through.
In my experience, the best way to get new plants for diversity sake is the Green Elephant Plant Swap, or visiting the garden of a friend, or Johann’s Garden down in Buckley. These are excellent ways to get top-tier plants, but they are not effective ways to get the bulk quantities needed to fill out a guild. For that, we need to propagate plants on our own… and together.
So here’s the idea: we document which of us have an abundance of valuable permaculture plants, right now. Then we periodically coordinate to bring bulk quantities of those plants to Saturday gatherings, and send someone (or multiple someones) home with enough of them to immediately plant a new guild into their garden. Of course, planting such a guild at the home of the host of the Saturday would be fitting, as long as they are interested!
This will allow us to immediately start making serious investments in the productivity of each other’s gardens. Investment is the key word here: we will do this in such a way that the work we spend is not wasted, but immediately and permanently increases the value we receive from our gardens. And the more of us have guilds filled with these valuable plants, the more we’ll be able to propagate in bulk.
The next level of sophistication is to identify some really valuable plants that we as a group collectively don’t have large quantities of yet: like garden and french sorrel, cutleaf coneflower, camas, or stingless nettles, and make a coordinated emphasis to save and start seeds, baby along divisions, and otherwise boost our numbers so we can start weaving them into the matrices of our guilds.
We are looking to focus on plants that are the very best suited for permaculture gardens in our region. If you want to read more about where these criteria come from, I recommend these excellent essays from Mike Hoag
Our collaborative nursery is focused on the plants listed below, that we consider to be the easiest wins in the garden. The criteria are (1) perennial plants that abundantly produce food or medicine that we can use in large quantities, (2) they grow vigorously with or without irrigation, (3) they are easy to propagate, and (4) they don’t cause management problems when well-harvested and grown in a well-mulched bed. The goal is not to list EVERY valuable plant, just a decently broad selection but narrow enough for us to make systematic progress with.
For right now, we are leaving off annual plants from seed (developing an organized seed saving / breeding program will be INCREDIBLY valuable, but we can focus on organizing that after we get rolling with perennials).
We’re also skipping stuff we can easily or inexpensively propagate from the grocery store, like celery, green onions, garlic, potatoes and etc. There are valuable heirlooms of those, of course, and eventually we’ll add them to this organized effort… but we can do passably well for now buying a 10 pound bag of Yukon Golds at Safeway, or bulk garlic at Fred Meyer. We can’t do that with Sweet Cicely or Cutleaf Coneflower. :)
Last note - this list is also skipping things like dandelion and plantain that we can easily and ethically propagate in bulk from wild public places.