The planting methods in the Permaculture Sphere follow two basic permaculture principles: 1. Make use of the resources you have, and 2. Mimic nature. When you eat a tomato, simply smoodge the seeds out on the ground and let nature take it from there. Look to the fruits of the market to provide your seeds rather than those little expensive packets. The squirrels might make off with some, but they’re bound to leave a few behind to take root in your garden.
Visiting the Permasphere, L.A. Arboretum‘s Permaculture garden was a highlight of the 2010 AHS Children & Youth Garden Symposium in Pasadena. The excursion day offered three options; a public garden tour, a school garden tour and an environmental education tour. The public garden tour included a visit to the Permasphere, which for me was a launch of sorts for my permaculture travel-research. With so few public gardens in the world that actively engage in permaculture, and the L.A. Arboretum the only U.S. example I have identified that actively practices permaculture and calls it that, I was eager to see it for myself. However I managed to get on the wrong bus and about ten blocks after we’d pulled out of the Westin, our tour guide introduced herself and announced the itinerary, which was NOT the itinerary I had signed up for. I grabbed my bag and asked the bus driver to kindly let me out, then jogged 10 blocks until I found an open business: Bally Total Fitness from whom I borrowed a phone book. About twenty minutes of phone time and two cab companies later, a yellow taxi pulled up and I was off to my true destination: The Los Angeles Arboretum. My cabbie, a lovely Armenian man who spoke of his neurosurgeon nephew and his teenage daughter who excelled in math and science chuckled as I told my wrong bus story, and appreciating my plight, delivered me to the arboretum in what must have been record time. I thanked him and approached the desk positioned out front of the main entrance, which was staffed by what appeared to be day-camp greeters. None of them knew about the permaculture garden, and directed me to the front desk. I hurried in.
The woman at the front desk graciously allowed me to the front of the line when she saw the sweat on my brow, conference badge around my neck, and twinge of panic in my eye. A lost duckling her expression read. She kindly invited me to the front of the line and pulled out a garden map. “Yes, let’s see, I hope we can find it here. Oh, yes, here it is,” she said, as she pointed to the perennial garden. Eager to lose no more time than necessary, I said, “I’m looking for the permaculture garden.” “Hmmmmm….” she said. “Best to check with Mark – mustache, hat, guy who knows pretty much everything, and you can find him in the gift shop.”
Moments later Mark was lamenting there was no staff to lead the way; it was nearly impossible to find on my own, he said. He paused, reconsidered, then thoughtfully explained how to find it; “follow this path straight ahead until you get to the circle plantings; bear left then right and go through the gate into the back alley, parking area, and you will see it on the right.” I started on my way and soon realized there were multiple paths spurring off in different directions and with no signage or clear landmarks I abandoned my map and asked a visitor (or maybe it was a camp counselor?) who, fortunately, knew just where it was. I arrived at the Permasphere in time to catch the last half of Caitlin’s tour.
If you’ve ever attended a conference that includes excursions, you know what it is to be whisked along on a time-table that belongs to someone else. Large group field trips rarely allow time to soak in a place or experience. The goal is to introduce a place or project, a whetting of the whistle perhaps, not in-depth exploration. I was fortunate that the group had been split into two and I tacked on to the next group for a repeat of the 15 minute tour of the garden. Caitlin explained the state of the site when it came under her purview not even one year ago. Old furniture and trash filled the site. In addition, thousands of gallons of rain water were swept across the adjacent asphalt, down the drains, and out to the ocean during rain events.
After ridding the site of the debris, a team of volunteers cut the curb and dug swales to invite rain water in to the garden. From there, the site design emerged. The garden has only been ‘finished’ (in as much as a permaculture garden is ever ‘finished’) in the last few months and now features a hand-crafted cob oven and welcoming keyhole cob shaded seating area. The food forest includes bananas, figs, rosemary, poppies, tomatoes, chard, among many other species of edible and medicinal plants. The space, though only recently planted, is already becoming lush and inviting. And it all exists on a very modest and replicable scale: about 20′ x 40′ (74 square meters).
Caitlin was originally hired as a nursery horticulturist and with the support of the arboretum’s CEO, Richard Schulhof, moved into her current role as Permaculture Curator. By all appearances, it seems the Permasphere and the permaculture principles demonstrated and taught there have been very well received by the public.
However, Caitlin is moving to San Fransisco in just less than a month, and her replacement has not yet been identified. What will become of the Permasphere in her absence? Technically, the garden is not open to the public, and visitors clearly miss it if not on a specific mission to get there. Will another permaculture curator be hired to continue the work Caitlin started, or will it fall back into the background that it has recently grown forth from?