Have you heard of a fruit tree guild? They’re a way of designing and planting your garden to give maximum support to the health of your fruit trees.

Like many things in gardening, guilds are an ancient technique that has been borrowed and made new again. For example, the concept is talked about often in permaculture.

Guilds aim to get the most productivity from the space beneath your fruit trees. At the same time, the plants are chosen to bring benefits to the trees or the soil.

Guilds usually consist of multiple elements:

  • one or more fruit trees
  • possibly smaller trees or shrubs
  • insect attractors
  • nutrient accumulators
  • mulch makers
  • nitrogen fixers
  • weed suppressors

The garden beds at Perth’s Urban Orchard in Perth contain a lot of the elements. We’re not sure if they are specifically modeled on guilds but many beds meet the criteria.

We were very taken by this beautiful community garden at Perth Cultural Centre and have also written about it here and here.

Edible and medicinal plants in fruit tree guilds

One of the things we noticed about this garden was the focus on edible and medicinal plants. Many of the plants came from all around the world, with a few Australian natives mixed in.

Perth’s climate is quite Mediterranean with hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters. This probably explains why the olive trees in beds 1, 3, and 7 (and their understory plants) have thrived.

For anyone trying to create guilds around their fruit trees, it can be hard to know which flowers, herbs, and veggies will grow well with fruit trees. We hope you find some inspiration here, we certainly did!

Beds 1, 3, and 7: Manzanillo olives

Bed 1 is one of the smallest in the Perth Cultural Centre community garden
Bed 1 is one of the smallest in the Perth Cultural Centre community garden

These beds planted out with black Spanish olives are some of the smallest beds in the garden. They are good examples of how even small spaces under single trees can be productive.

The larger olive tree in bed 3
The larger olive tree in bed 3

Each bed contains a mix of Mediterranean herbs – perfect to go with olives! Plants growing under the olive trees in these beds include:

  • Prostrate rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis ‘Prostratus’)
  • Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
  • Sage (Salvia officinalis)
  • Genovese basil (Ocimum basilicum)
  • Alyssum (Lobularia maritima)
  • Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
  • White salvia (Salvia nemerosa)
  • Mint (Mentha)
  • Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)

Bed 2: Naval orange, red grapefruit, and black mulberry trees

Plants growing under the trees in bed 2:

  • Society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea)
  • Lavender (Lavandula stoechas)
  • Citronella geranium (Pelargonium ‘Citronella‘)
  • Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
  • Bush basil (Plectranthus graveolens)
  • Salt bush (Atriplex nummularia)
The geraniums in bed 2 are quite dominant but beautiful
The geraniums in bed 2 are quite dominant but beautiful

Bed 4: Almond and lime trees

Plants growing under the trees in bed 4:

  • Geraldton wax (Chamelaucium uncinatum)
  • Pine scented geranium (Pelargonium denticulatum ‘Filicifolium)
  • Citronella Geranium (Pelargonium citronellum)
  • Curry plant (Helichrysum italicum)
  • French lavender (Lavandula stoechus)
  • White salvia (Salvia nemerosa)
  • Salvia hotlips (Salvia microphylla)
  • Purple vervain (Verbena bonariensis)
  • Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare)
  • Strawberry (Fragaria ananassa)
  • Society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea)

Bed 9: Nectarine (var unknown)

Bed 9 is a riot of colour and productivity
Bed 9 is a riot of colour and productivity

This was one of our very favourites in the garden. It was densely packed and included lots of colourful flowers, useful herbs, and vegetables.

The epitome of what a great fruit tree bed can look like.

Beautiful pink echinacea flowers under the nectarine tree in bed 9
Beautiful pink echinacea flowers under the nectarine tree in bed 9

Plants growing under the trees in bed 9:

  • Sunflower (Helianthus annus)
  • Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea)
  • Capsicum (Capsicum abyssiunium)
  • Italian parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
  • Rocket (Eruca sativa)
  • Bok choy (Brassica rapa)
  • Fennel (Feoniculum vulgare)
  • Genovese basil (Ocimum basilicum)
  • Lemon basil (Ocimum basilicum citriodorum)
  • Sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima)
  • Marigold (Tagetes)
  • Calendula (Calendula Officinalis)
  • Lemon myrtle (Backhousia citriodora)
  • Mountain pepperberry (Tasmania lanceolata)
  • Davidson’s Plum (Davidsonia pruriens)

One of the most interesting things about bed 9 was the inclusion of native food plants, which is not generally a strong feature of the gardens.

Personalising flowers under the fruit trees in your garden

It’s fantastic to seek inspiration from this beautiful community garden. But it’s also really important to come up with your own plant list.

What flowers do you love? Which ones grow well in your climate? What herbs are you likely to use?

The garden at Perth Cultural Centre has obviously evolved over time. Some plants that are listed on the information boards are not evident in the garden. Likewise, there are plants in the garden that are not on the board.

And that sums up gardening, doesn’t it? There’s always so much trial and error. Good ideas don’t always come to fruition. Plants (and even fruit trees) sometimes die.

And plants have a mysterious way of turning up in your life, even if they don’t appear in your gardening plan!

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