How Your Garden Grows
By Sarah Carson
For more than fifteen years I have wrestled to transform our city home’s backyard into an ed- ible oasis. Projects like reclaiming soil riddled with lava rocks and yuccas, tilling cubic yards
of organic matter into packed clay, and breaking apart
hardpan, foot by foot, have been some of the more
So as we continued our journey to an edible refuge,
we decided to experiment with permaculture ideas
that would conserve water, create interdependent
systems, and begin to maximize both horizontal and
vertical spaces. I can now say that all of these efforts,
big and small, led to the wild and crazy idea of …
hugelkultur in the city.
So what is that Hugelkultur (hoo-gul-culture) is a
German word meaning hill or mound culture. It is, in
my mind, the ultimate in raised beds. There are many
ways to approach this idea, but essentially it is building a miniature ecological system that waters, feeds,
and flourishes, all with the bonus of being vertical.
The concept is to stack wood, which then acts as both
a sponge, absorbing water, and host to biodiverse
organisms, including fungi.
At its best, the wood stack can be as high as one’s
head, if you have the space to support a wider foundation. Once stacked, wood is covered with organic
matter like turf or soil. This becomes your growing
compound in a new vertical garden bed. Over time,
interdependent ecological systems will form and
become self-sustaining, meaning the wood waters
plants and fungi, the fungi slowly decomposes the
wood into compost, and the plants absorb the water
and nutrients while providing ground cover to help
conserve water. It was revolutionary in its simplicity
and a much-needed solution to the difficult issues
within our landscape.