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By Diane C. Kennedy.

Fallbrook’s Finch Frolic Garden is a food forest begun in 2011. A food forest is a collection of useful plants arranged in relationships that allow the plants to grow without unhealthy competition.

Nature arranges plants by their talents; every plant has a particular major function although it will have many jobs. These arrangements of plants are called plant guilds. Some plants are canopy trees which help protect the soil through shading, the dropping of leaves and by shattering raindrops into slower, gentler droplets. Some are deep rooted mining plants which break through hard packed soil, harvesting minerals. The nutrients are sent up to their leaves which, when they die, deliver that nutrition to create topsoil. Others have a symbiotic relationship with certain bacteria in the soil. They create root nodules of the nitrogen harvested from the atmosphere. When the roots die the nitrogen is released into the soil. Other members of the guild include vines, groundcovers, sub-canopy trees and insectaries.

Following this template you can design your garden with plants of your choice which function in those particular ways. Finch Frolic Garden is a forest of fruit and nut trees, medicinal herbs, ornamental vines, vegetables, timber plants, and flowers of all sizes to feed a wide variety of insects. The plants are organized in irrigation hydrozones so that watering is exact and kept at a minimum.

As there is no artificially produced fertilizer, no insecticides, poisons, herbicides or bagged additives used at Finch Frolic, the garden is full of life and movement as habitat. Ninety-eight species of bird have been seen at the garden, 47 species of moth, and 47 species of butterfly. There are lizards, newts, skinks, frogs, assorted mammals, and most wonderfully, a pair of threatened native Western Pond Turtles.

The lower portion of the property’s soil is slick heavy clay from years of erosion deposit prior to the garden’s installment. Permaculture focuses on seeing a solution in the problem, so the water-holding clay became unlined ponds. These are topped up from the well and are the ultimate rainwater destination. There is no artificial aeration or filtration, as the plants and fish keep the water clean. This body of water humidifies the garden which keeps pollen viable in our drying climate. Most importantly it is a chemical-free water source for an amazing assortment of wildlife.

A food forest is not for everyone, but the feeling of being in a garden which is functioning without much human control delights visitors. Permaculture practices can be utilized by everyone for every garden type, for the benefit of the earth and the gardeners who play on it.

Diane and her daughter Miranda Kennedy operate Finch Frolic Garden Permaculture, a food forest in Fallbrook, CA. They consult, design and lecture on permaculture. Search for article about plant guilds at


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