OKCG Design

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.


Main Garden


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.


Permaculture Garden


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).


Rain garden


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


Education Pavilion


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.

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