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Permaculture Garden Growing at Hannah Williams

Volunteers planted an array of edible plants at Hannah Williams Saturday.

Some day soon a trip to Hannah Williams Playground could include some fresh- from-the-branch, free strawberries along with plenty of playtime.

On Saturday, a group of 10 volunteers spent about four hours landscaping and planting a permaculture-style garden, the Hannah Williams Ecological Food Garden, along the back edge of Wayland's Hannah Williams Playground.

Kaat Vander Straeten began talking about an organic edible garden at Hannah Williams back in February 2010 when town officials began planning renovations to the park and playground.

The , and, thanks to the generosity of Wayland Beautification, Vander Straeten was able to purchase the various plants for the garden and volunteers joined her to get them in the ground over the weekend.

Vander Straeten said she had hoped to get the garden planted about three weeks ago, but a lack of funding as well as uncooperative weather created a delay.

She explained that the garden follows the guidelines of permaculture gardening, which means that every plant is intended to work with and support the other plants around it. The garden, full of perennial edibles, is designed to basically care for itself within a few years -- with the occasional person pulling a few weeds.

A peach tree and an apricot tree create "guilds," Vander Straeten explained. The stone fruits (those with hard pits) require much calcium from the soil, but don't have the root structure to pull the calcium from deep in the soil. To compensate, volunteers planted smaller plants with deep root systems around the trees. The smaller plants, such as chicory and comfrey, don't need as much calcium, but have root systems that will pull the mineral up from the deep soil and make it accessible to the nearby fruit trees that do need it.

"Everything has a function," Vander Straeten said, explaining that numerous species in the allium family -- the family to which onions belong -- have been planted in the garden. Deer and chipmunks don't like the pungent smell of alliums, so they will stay away from the garden all together.

Other plants in the garden include blueberries and strawberries and Vander Straeten hopes to add elderberry and red and white currents next season. She said that is donating a collection of culinary herbs, which she hopes to get in the ground this week.

As the garden grows and spreads, Vander Straeten said the plants will be transplanted to gardens throughout town.

"When I think of this creating yield, it's not just edible," Vander Straeten said. "We'll give the plants away and this garden can spread to other gardens. The idea of perennials is to have as little maintenance as possible -- except for taking plants out and spreading them around town."

The third form of yield -- and the most important form for Vander Straeten -- is the community that can be built around the garden. Within a few years, the Wayland Green Team will be able to use the garden as an educational field trip destination for area students.

"The idea is people come to the park, pick a peach and eat it right here," Vander Straeten said, stressing that the garden is fully organic, with no pesticides or herbicides being used.

Already, she believes people are taking some ownership for the plot. After the plants went in on Saturday, Vander Straeten said she returned on Sunday and found a mystery gardener had watered the plants.

"I hope the community will come and eat and pull a weed once in a while."

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