Edible Ecosystem Teaching Garden

planting EET garden
plant guild
EET garden

The slope below the Whitin Observatory is the site of this garden, designed by permaculture experts Dave Jacke and Keith Zaltzberg along with Wellesley College students, staff and faculty.

The Edible Ecosystem Teaching Garden is a designed plant community that mimics the properties of a natural ecosystem but produces food and other products useful to humans with a minimum of maintenance. A forest is the type of ecosystem native to much of New England. No one waters or fertilizes a forest, yet a healthy forest produces a diversity of useful products for the animals that live there. The EET Garden is a “forest garden,” providing food and useful products for humans.

The first plantings were established in spring 2011, and community planting workdays are held twice a year, in spring and early fall. The overall design concept is a “bowl of fruit,” with taller tree species fringing the swamp and dwarf trees planted closer to the observatory. This design will allow for unrestricted sight lines from the telescopes even as the garden matures. Among the specific habitats planned are a nut grove, fruit woodland, eddow (edible meadow), and a fruit thicket.

The guiding concept for the plantings in the EET Garden is a “guild:” a carefully planned group of species that support the focal plant (usually a woody) in various ways. Guild members perform the following functions. Many of the plants selected serve multiple functions.

 

Function

Description

Examples

Nitrogen fixers

Convert this essential nutrient into a form that other plants in the guild can use

milk vetch

Aromatic pest confusers

Strong odor prevents herbivory of other plants in the guild

garlic chives

Beneficial insect attractors

Pollen provided by these long-blooming species provides an alternative food source for beneficial insects

coreopsis

yarrow

Nutrient elevators (aka dynamic accumulators)

Roots draw nutrients from deep in the soil into the plant’s foliage. When the leaves fall and decompose, these nutrients are made available to other guild members

comfrey

Ground covers

Retain moisture and deter weeds

wild strawberry

 

This garden is being planted in stages over the next few years. The tree species are small and the guilds surrounding them are expected to spread. There are succession plans in place for when the trees mature enough to shade out the sun-loving members of the guilds.

Click here to view the garden's plant list.