When Alan and Nancy Benoit moved to Vermont, they began by assessing their new yard for clues to nature’s patterns; sun, soil, water and the terrain. They began to plant, fruit and nut trees, including Hazelberts, a cross between Hazelnuts and Filberts. “ It was perfect for the steep hillside, and they have thrived.” Explains Alan.
Next, they carved out a narrow garden bed for raspberries and asparagus next to the driveway, followed by a vegetable garden, also in the front yard. Everything they have planted is both ornamental and productive.
“We plant perennial food crops, not just ornamentals.” Alan explains. This includes asparagus, raspberries rhubarb, fruit trees, nut trees, blackberries and black currents. In fact, you won’t find any annual petunias or pots of zinnias, everything growing (other than their vegetable garden) is perennial.
Alan, an architect by trade, specializes in environmental design, with a soft spot for recycled materials. Everything in their yard was formerly something else and built by the two of them; the small barn where they host intimate dinners; the out door patio area with a fireplace; and the shed where they keep bikes and garden tools.
Eating is important to the Benoit’s overall scheme, as is attracting beneficial insects such as lacewings, ladybugs, tachinid flies and parasitic wasps to counterbalance the harmful bugs, such as tomato hornworm and aphids. In a Permaculture landscape, plants thrive without pesticides or fertilizers, and the result is an eco-system that works together as a whole.
They left some areas natural, to serve as wild life corridors, used regularly by fox and occasionally by moose. They have added layers of low shrubs, mid-story bushes, and taller trees to create habitats for all creatures, big and small, including bees, birds, rabbits and weasels.
What is Permaculture? It’s for the long term.
Permaculture design emphasizes patterns that function with the existing landscape, to allow all species to thrive. The result can often be surprising. Often gardeners select specimen plants as a focal point, yet in Permaculture, the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Selecting plants to succeed in their environment, and with other plants, creates a synergy that allows everything to work together as companions, rather than each to its own. It’s building a more permanent system that will evolve over time.
Attracting beneficial insects to defeat destructive pests means not using pesticides, one of the core principles of Permaculture. Creating a layering effect, by inter planting short and tall plants can result in extremely complex systems that produce a high density of food with minimal input. For the Benoit’s, it is ultimately about caring for the earth, starting in their front yard, and the harvest has become secondary.
Read more about their garden in the Spring 2017 issue of Country Garden Magazine.