Ohana Kuleana Community Garden Design
by Frank LeBeau
(This is the official garden design. Because of time and money limitations the design will not be complete the first year. Additionally, aspects of the design may change based on what we learn as we go through the first year and based on funding.)
The design for the Ohana Kuleana Community Garden (OKCG) is based on the
requirement for the space to serve multiple purposes, the unique features of the
site, and the need to address various social and safety concerns of those living in
the neighborhood. Ohana Kuleana is a Hawaiian term that means “community
responsibility”. This garden’s design is intended to provide an abundance of
healthy food for a diverse community, while also providing a place where people
can gather to learn and share ideas or to relax in a peaceful and beautiful setting.
The Garden’s primary function, of course, is to provide a space for people in the
community to garden. It has 16,000 square feet (SF) of leveled space that make
up the main garden. Within this area there is 9000 SF of actual garden plots of
varying size available for families or individuals to use for their personal gardens,
and an additional 4600 SF of a surrounding berm that will be used as a shared
community permaculture garden. Other areas include pathways, a rain garden
for flood control, a flowered insectary garden, a play space, a shaded picnic area
and an amphitheater to be used as a lecture or social gathering space.
Flood control is addressed by several features, primarily by the surrounding berm
and the drain that sits in the northern corner of the garden. The main, central
pathway and its parallel pathways are placed on contour and also serve as swales
to absorb excess runoff as water flows downhill towards the drain. This drain
rests on the back edge of a circular berm that forms the edges of a rain garden
that will contain and slowly release any excess water that isn’t absorbed by the
gardens and swales.
Wildlife is kept out of the garden by an 8 foot high fence that rests on the outer
edge of the berm, keeping the plants inside and the animals outside. Fruit trees are placed on the lower, inside edge of the berm, twelve feet in from the fence so that they
aren’t accessible to wildlife.
An eight foot wide central path will allow trucks to drive into the garden and
deliver materials such as compost, wood chips or top soil. It is gated at each end.
An irrigation system that follows two of the main footpaths will provide 14 spigots
to water the garden beds. Water lines with sprinklers will irrigate the plants on
the berm and in the insectary.
A number of knowledgeable people contributed their ideas and suggestions to
the design of the OKCG, including Michael Buchenau of Denver Urban Gardens,
local permaculturalist, Chris Ricci, Bill Wilson of Midwest Permaculture, Stephanie
Syson of Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute, Tom Skiles of Bear
Smart, Darrin Parmenter, La Plata County Extension Agent and Shari Fitzgerald and
Mia Carrasco Songer of The Garden Project of Southwest Colorado. Thanks to all
for their contributions.
The general layout of the main garden follows the natural contour lines of the
site. The pathways follow these lines of elevation in a curving arc that runs east
to west. Although the site has been leveled, and the contour lines on the original
map are no longer accurate, there is still a drop in elevation moving south to
north and southeast to northwest, generally from the driveway to the drain in the
north corner. This is the direction which water flows.
The natural entry point into the garden is the north corner. This is the low point
from the driveway that allows the easiest access to the main path. Another gate
is at the far end near the west corner.
The main path divides the garden in half. It’s an 8 foot wide path that will be
covered with a 3” layer of “crusher fines”, allowing trucks to drive on it and
deliver landscaping materials to the garden beds.
On each side of the main path are two rows of terraces, also placed on contour,
that form the garden beds. The pathways between the terraces are 3 feet wide.
These paths are also swales dug to a depth of one foot and filled with wood
chips. They serve three purposes. They allow access to the garden beds and they
capture excess rainwater a sit flows downhill. They will also contain the irrigation
lines that will provide water to the gardens.
The terraces are 14 feet wide and subdivided into 20 rectangular plots and 2
triangular plots. Though they vary in length, most are 23 feet long. These
length-to-width dimensions follow the golden ratio found in nature and used
by Classical Greek, Renaissance and Modern architects to create harmony and
beauty in their buildings. (The golden ratio is expressed mathematically as 1
plus the square root of 5 divided by 2. The ratio is 1:1.618 or roughly 5:8). The
plots measure 23’ X 14’ and contain 317 square feet of growing space. Each plot
will have smaller one foot wide paths that allow access to the planting spaces
within each plot. These smaller pathways can be designed in various decorative
patterns that allow reachable access without having to step on the beds, thus
avoiding soil compaction.
Some gardeners will want to use an entire 317 SF plot for a larger family garden.
Perhaps 12 or so of the gardens could be this size with the remainder subdivided
into two smaller 150 square foot plots. This is the size that Michael Buchenau
of Denver Urban Gardens recommends. Still others may be divided even further
into 75 square foot plots. It’s good to have various sizes to accommodate
different people’s needs.
The berm surrounding the OKCG occupies a 4650 square feet area (more than 1/
10 of an acre) that can grow a considerable amount of food. This is the perfect
site for growing a permaculture garden, or what is sometimes referred to as a
“food forest”. In the documentary film, Homegrown Revolution the Dervaes
family of Pasadena, California demonstrated that they could grow 6000 pounds of
fruits and vegetables annually at their suburban home on a similarly sized plot.
The garden design is centered around each of the 12 fruit trees planted there.
Each tree is organized into a larger planting of companion plants called a “guild”.
Each plant in the guild serves a particular function. Some are ground covers that
suppress weeds and grass, some provide fertility by fixing nitrogen, some are
“dynamic accumulators’ that bring essential minerals up from the subsoil, others
repel pests or attract beneficial insects like lady bugs or honey bees. The guild
design creates a self-sustaining ecology that mimics natural ecosystems. Once
established it is highly efficient and highly productive.
There are five guilds in this garden: an apple, cherry, peach/apricot, pear and
plum guilds. They are surrounded by other perennial crops that add further
food production to the garden. These include various fruiting crops such as
raspberries, strawberries, currants, gooseberries, grapes and blueberries,
medicinal and culinary herbs, and perennial vegetables such as asparagus,
rhubarb and sun artichokes.
Different plants can perform the various functions in each guild. Using a
diversity of plants will strengthen the resiliency of the fruit trees as it expands
the aesthetic and botanical interest of the garden. The selections are taken
from permaculture guilds designed by Jerome Osentowski of the Central Rocky
Mountain Permaculture Institute, and Tree Utah’s Eco Garden guilds in Salt Lake
City. The location of these two established permaculture gardens matches the
soil and climatic conditions of the OKCG in Durango.
In addition to the fruit tree at the center each guild there are about 50 total
plants fairly evenly divided into five categories in each guild. Most of these
supporting plants exist within the outer circumference of the tree’s drip line,
which is about 15 feet in diameter for semi-dwarf fruit trees. These plants
include: Grass suppressing bulbs such as daffodils and alliums (garlic, chives,
Egyptian onions, wild leeks, and camas, an edible indigenous plant similar to yams
once widely eaten by Native Americans); Insectary plants that attract beneficial
insects (mint, sage, yarrow, borage, lovage, dill, butteryfly bush); Mulch plants
that can be cut and placed on the ground to suppress weeds and provide compost
material that breaks down and improves soil fertility and structure (comfrey,
clover rhubarb); Nutrient accumulators that bring up essential minerals from
the subsoil (chamomile, strawberry, peppermint, savory, dandelion); and
Nitrogen fixers that, with the help of beneficial bacteria, can take nitrogen out
of the atmosphere and put it in the soil to nourish plants (clover, alfalfa, vetch,
columbine, lupine, chamomile, Siberian pea shrub, blue false indigo, wisteria).
The rain garden collects excess rainfall that flows to the lowest part
of the garden in the north corner. It has a level, circular berm that fills up with
water during big rain events. The already constructed concrete and metal drain
is located at the back of this berm and serves as an overflow valve to divert flood
water into the sewer. Typically rain gardens have a 12” layer of gravel buried a
foot and a half below the surface that serves as a French Drain to remove flood
water. Given the other measures to control flooding in this garden, it may not be
necessary to include this feature. The rain garden is planted mostly with prairie
grasses and flowers that can naturally withstand the extremes of floods and
The amphitheatre is a 30’ diameter sloped circular area built into
the southeast side of the garden, designed for holding workshops and other
social events. It has 5 tiers that provide seating for 40 adults. If faces north so
that the audience will be looking away from the sun. It will be covered with grass
and serve as a comfortable arena for formal gatherings or a place for relaxing
and looking out over the garden below.
The insectary is the sloped area on either side of the amphitheatre.
It will contain flowers and flowering shrubs to attract and feed pollinators and
other beneficial insects that prey upon and control insect pests. It will contain 10
flowering shrubs and 40 flowering perennials.
Design by Eva Montane of Abundant Earth Gardens
This feature is a shaded picnic area situated in the western corner of the garden. Designed and built by Kelly Mathews of Straw House Builders, the Education Pavilion was built with local, horse-logged Ponderosa Pine from fire mitigation areas and treated with a non-toxic preservative, Lifetime. Sandstone blocks set the base. The design is influenced by Japanese aesthetics. It offers gardeners a place to cool off on hot summer day, have a picnic or other small gathering, and host the monthly workshops and lessons for Riverview Students and Boys & Girls Club kids.
The Education Pavilion was made possible by The Colorado Garden Foundation and The La Plata County Boys & Girls Club.
Quiet Cairn Corner
The Quiet Cairn Corner is an area located east of the rain garden for rest, relaxation and meditation. Rocks of all sizes are there to be built and rebuilt into cairns.