A guild is a group of plants that work well together. In other words, they have complementary functions.
(When such a grouping of plants assembles itself naturally, it is called a community. A guild is a group of plants brought together by a gardener.)
To explore this concept, let’s look at an example of a guild. This guild centers around a linden tree, a common species in Madison, and its primary purpose is to provide habitat for pollinators – a recently-adopted goal of the city.
Plants in a guild work together in multiple ways. To start, they generally differ in size and requirements. For example, a linden tree is large and needs sun, while the other plants in this guild are small and tolerate shade. Thus, the other plants can be placed under the tree, conserving space while giving every member of the guild what it needs.
Plants in a guild normally also differ in their functions. In this guild, all the plants perform the function of providing habitat to pollinators. But, each plant also provides other functions. In this way, the guild collectively fulfills many purposes. Let’s look at the additional functions performed by this guild.
- The leaves of linden trees can be eaten by people.
- Early-blooming flowers – like crocus, hyacinth, and daffodil – and late-blooming plants, such as sage and 4 o’clock, provide cheerful color in spring and fall.
- Rose apple (or the smaller rugosa rose) and turtlehead are medicinal.
- Cup plant and compass plant form a screening hedge and attract birds.
- Lovage and coneflower draw up nutrients from deep in the soil, making those nutrients available to plants with shallower roots.
- Comfrey can be cut back and turned into compost almost endlessly.
- Mint, dill, caraway, parsley, and fennel serve as groundcovers and are, of course, very tasty!
Advanced permaculture practitioners, who are familiar with the properties of many plants, can create their own guilds. For new practitioners, examples to borrow can be found by googling “permaculture guilds”.
Thanks to Bryce Ruddock of Midwest Permaculture for this guild example.