August 12, 2020

TreeUtah EcoGarden, Permaculture In Action

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It’s a beautiful sunny day and you are standing in an EcoGarden, a permaculture demonstration space, situated on the grounds of the Day-Riverside Library, in the Rose Park neighborhood of Salt Lake City. It fills the space between the library itself and the Jordan River, providing an inviting link between the building and the riverside trails that connect with the surrounding community. As you are surrounded by the plants and trees it is obvious this is a special community space but how did it all start and what does it mean for a community?

This ever-evolving EcoGarden was first laid out in 2005, under the direction of renowned permaculture expert and author, the late Toby Hemenway and former TreeUtah director Vaughn Lovejoy. Since then it has been sustained by dedicated volunteers, neighbors and TreeUtah staff. The land the garden sits on was originally intended as an overflow retention basin for the Jordan River. When TreeUtah decided to do an EcoGarden, they considered putting it at Bend in the River Park along the Provo-Jordan River Parkway Trail. However, the land was too toxic with mercury and lead to grow anything edible. The plot by the Day-Riverside library seemed to be the perfect solution.

The guiding principle of permaculture is to cultivate food, medicine, and other useful plants in harmony with and in imitation of the surrounding ecosystem. Traditional farming techniques prioritize annual plants and require a continual input of nutrients, pesticides, and new plants, permaculture relies on a thoughtful mix perennials to create a more closed self-regulating and sustainable system.

The garden is designed around fourteen guilds or smaller plant communities. These are each centered around a fruit or nut tree. Each tree is planted with a specific mix of shrubs, flowers, grasses, herbs, and native plants that complement one another through their unique characteristics. Some plants might fix nitrogen in the soil, making it available to the surrounding plants. While others perhaps attract pollinators that will benefit the entire group. A third species may discourage pests or invasive plants with the scent of its flowers or the oils in its leaves.

Additionally, the guilds are designed to maximize water retention, by slowing evaporation and runoff called Swales. Swales are ditches dug along the contour of the land, so as water runs downward, it is caught on the formation, and moisture is more effectively contained. Many of the plants are also drought-resistant, meaning the garden can survive (and even thrive) with minimal watering and even go long periods without any surface water at all. The irrigation that is in place is a drip system that delivers water directly to the plants root systems.

Finally, and most importantly, the EcoGarden is a community gathering space. The area is not fenced off from the neighborhood. Rather it is an inviting space, with benches, picnic tables, and a shade structure grown over with grapevines. We encourage residents of the neighborhood to utilize the space for gatherings, quiet contemplation, and of course as a source of food.

The library brings children into the garden for storytime. Nearby elementary schools bring students for outdoor lunches. Garden maintenance and upkeep is done by volunteers. TreeUtah holds regular workshops on topics ranging from tree pruning, to mason bees, to uses of medicinal herbs. A healthy ecosystem necessarily includes the people who live in it, join us in our work in creating sustainable communities. Contact