Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Gardens, Orchard, Prairie: Planning for the Future

In the picture above, the Prairie Hill Land Committee is pouring over a map of our 7.89 acres. The commonhouse and dwelling units will occupy approximately half of the land on the lower eastern end of the site. That leaves an intoxicatingly large acreage available for the horticultural fantasies of many of our members. Informed by permaculture principles, our current plans include a section of prairie on the steep southern slope, two large garden areas with panoramic views near the center of the upper site, fruit and nut orchard to the west as well as east, and edible landscaping surrounding the buildings. A number of our members have years of experience in gardening. Some have permaculture training. And we are grateful to be working with landscape architect John Thomas, as the final plans for the City of Iowa City are developed. There are many things to consider: we'd like to plant as many native species as possible; we want frequently harvested plants closer to the dwellings; we'll make piles of topsoil removed from the lower site to be cherished up above as well as wood chips from the brush now covering the building site; and perhaps most important of all, we want to be sensitive to the qualities of the ecosystem already there, planning in coordination with the micro-climate and the existing life on the land.

It is an important time, with ground-breaking scheduled to occur in the spring. We know that this project will be an evolution, one step at a time. Nourishing the garden spaces will be one of our first projects. We want the layout of the different growing areas to be pleasant and attractive, with one function moving gracefully into another. In our brainstorming sessions, we've often talked about how good it would feel to have a large tree somewhere on top, a gathering tree. Perhaps we'll plant that tree as part of a special occasion, with our members gathered around.