Suburban Permaculture Garden Walk & Learn

Last Monday we spent the evening with Andrew & Teri Hill at their home in Wheaton along with many fellow suburban permaculturists. The Hill's suburban home has been transitioning from lawn to permaculture garden since about 2010, soon after they earned their Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) from Wayne Weiseman, Bill Wilson, and Mark Shepard.

Hill Suburban Permaculture garden walk & learn 72114 Hill suburbran permaculture Garden Comfrey Swale

As all good permaculturists do, Andrew & Teri started with water. Their yard had major flooding issues before they installed a rain garden, swale, and french drain. The rain garden is now a habitat for beneficial insects and native perennials and prevents flooding around the foundation.  The swale installed on the side of the property and planted with comfrey slows and sinks the water into the fruit tree guild garden and the side vegetable bed.  The french drain was added to direct water away from the shed into the dry well near the mixed garden.

Teri's love of native perennials is definitely on display throughout her garden, but she admits to becoming more enamored with the edible perennials in her garden like grapes, raspberries, rhubarb, service berries, and blueberries among others.

Bill Scheffler Pear & apple treeThe Hill's recently grafted two dwarf apple trees and added them to their pear tree guild. Bill Scheffler shared his opinion on growing apple trees grafted to standard root stock and dwarfing them through pruning. He explained that the dwarfing apple root stock has the effect of dwarfing the tree because of the inability to assimilate copper, an essential micro-nutrient. Dwarf apple trees will also require permanent staking due to their weak root system.  The benefits of growing apples on dwarfing rootstock are faster fruit yields (usually in 2-3 years versus 7-10 for a standard), less labor in terms of pruning, and a compact tree. The disadvantages are disease and pest pressure, and decreased longevity.  Bill educated everyone on how to prune both the pear and apple trees to increase fruit production and shared his secret fertilizer recipe.

Teri showed the group how to make comfrey tea fertilizer using a 5 gallon bucket. If you have comfrey, chop and drop throughout the spring and summer and use it to make fertilizer. Your plants will thank you by growing and producing an abundance of flowers and fruit.  She also recently added to her garden fertility by adopting two rabbits, Ace and Wimbledon.

We discussed how to train raspberries to increase their productivity while decreasing their brambling nature through pruning and trellising. Grapes are more productive the harder you prune. Teri learned this lesson by accident, but will now use this knowledge to maintain her grape vines.


Hill Suburban Permaculture Garden_serviceberriesBill had everyone dig into the wood chips to experience the soil underneath. In our area we have clay soil and wood chips break up the clay allowing oxygen in. Roots need oxygen as much as they need water and other nutrients. Applying wood chip mulch regularly to clay soils opens up the clay without tilling.  Tilling actually increases compaction in clay soils. Bill recommended the Hill's add wood chips to many areas of their garden.

The garden walk wrapped up in the hazelnut blueberry area where Teri brought out some service berries for everyone to sample. Of course we all lingered for a while chatting and buying comfrey plants. What a great evening had by all. We look forward to hosting more.

Please let us know if you are interested in hosting a suburban permaculture garden walk & learn. We are looking for gardens in all phases of transition from sheet mulching to water harvesting to adding new fruit trees. These walks are empowering and highly educational. It helps when we share our thought process, successes and failures, and learn from each other. Sometimes all it takes is for a person to see what a dwarf fruit tree looks like, a swale, or sheet mulching to take the first step in transitioning their own suburban yard.

Russian comfrey plants
We still have Russian comfrey plants for sale, $3 each. Contact Michelle to purchase and pick up in Naperville. Sales support the Edible Forest Garden project on the McDonald Farm.