A guild, according to the Macquarie Dictionary, is an organisation of persons with common professional or cultural interests formed for mutual aid and protection, also, or more particularly, a guild is one of the associations, numerous in the middle ages, established for mutual assistance and protection or common purpose.

Historically, a carpenter could pay tribute to join a carpenter’s guild. He would then be protected by the society of fellow carpenters… protected from price gouging, unfair trade, etc. and protected from others stealing their “secrets”. The carpenter could then focus on being the best carpenter he could be while making a good living for himself and his family.

This term has been applied to Permaculture, describing a collection of plants (a polyculture) that individually could survive on their own, but perform much better when grouped together.

The classic Permaculture Guild is called the “three sisters” named by the Iroquois (Native American tribe). The three sisters are corn, beans, and pumpkin. The corn provides support for the beans. The bean is a legume and pulls nitrogen from the air and puts (fixes) it in the soil with the help of bacteria and fungi. The nitrogen fertilises the corn and pumpkin. The pumpkin, with its large leaves, shades out weeds and prevents moisture evaporation, and has prickly leaves which deter animal pests. Finally, pumpkin, beans, and corn are nutritionally complementary.

Polycultures (as opposed to monocultures like a field of corn) offer many benefits according to Dave Jacke (Edible Forest Gardens):

•As a whole, yield more than comparable monocultures
•Require less labour, energy, and material inputs
•Minimise stress, competition, and herbivory
•Maximise harmony and cooperation
•Generate self-renewing fertility
•Live within a sustainable water budget
•Remain stable with little to no maintenance

Ideally, a Permaculture Guild will provide the following:

•Increase vital nutrients: main nitrogen with nitrogen-fixing plants, but also phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and other minerals with mineral accumulating plants, and general fertility plants.
•Attract Beneficial Insects (like ladybugs, lacewings, mantises, predatory wasps, etc.) to reduce pests.
•Attract Bees (including honey bees) through the use of honey plants (nectar-producing plants) to increase pollination.
•Confuse pests with strongly aromatic plants (so pest can’t find the one plant they usually prey on).
•Give support to a diverse population of bacteria, fungi, insects, and animals, which increases diversity.
•Contain plants with differing soil profiles (plants with different root patterns and systems, i.e. shallow vs tap roots… so the plants are not competing for the same soil space).
•Contain ground cover plants that suppress unwanted species, i.e. “weeds”.
•Contain plants with the genetic diversity and/or selective breeding that resist pests and disease.

Using these principles I was fortunate enough to be invited to design the polyculture for the Qld Garden Expo held in Nambour 2019. The design at the top is what I submitted after research and taking into consideration the needs of the various plants using a niche analysis and the forest gardening ecological design principles.

Along with these principles, we take into consideration what it is we are trying to achieve

Dave Jacke breaks guilds down to three different components

image courtesy of goodlife permaculture
 Resource-Partitioning Guild
This type of guild is a group of plants that inhabit the same niche and have the same general needs, but which also partition the resources so that their competition is minimal.

Image courtesy of goodlife permaculture
Mutual Support Guild
This type of guild is made up of many kinds of species which form a network of mutual support, for the benefit of all.
Aid in the forms of complementary nutrient requirements, growing condition, and how each plant interacts with the soil food web.

Image courtesy of goodlife permaculture
Community Function Guild
This guild is a group of elements that are grouped in the medieval sense of the word guild (i.e. a guild of craftspeople, all of the same skill type). It’s a group of plants that achieve the same activity, which is grouped together in a design for their ability to back up, giving a level of redundancy.

All this combined and taking into consideration context can really make something not only useful and multi-functional but also beautiful.

All this combined and taking into consideration context can really make something not only useful and multi-functional but also beautiful

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