Albany gardener plants the seeds of 'edible forests'

TANGENT — Nobody ever looks at a stand of 300-foot firs and wonders how much phosphorus and potassium someone had to add to the soil to get them to grow.

Instead, said Charlotte Anthony, they just say, "Wow."

That's the kind of reaction Anthony is hoping to get from people who see her friend Ann Settino's yard a year from now.

By then, what had been a 25-by-25-foot square of grass should be a growing, thriving "edible forest," complete with herbs, vegetables, berries, trees and arbor vines.

"This is going to be a very beautiful landscape," Anthony said on a recent Saturday afternoon, surveying the ground floor of the new "forest," a thick layer of hay. "It'll be filled with all sorts of wonderful things to eat."

Anthony, an organic gardener, founded a group called Victory Gardens for All in 2008. Since then, she has helped to create 564 gardens in and around Eugene.

The idea is to create a plant system that, as much as possible, mimics a forest landscape. The trees, bushes and ground plants interact, sharing nutrients and sustaining each other without the use of pesticides or fertilizer.

Anthony, Settino and a half-dozen or so volunteers spent most of a recent Saturday planting the forest garden.

Jana Seelinger of Corvallis was among them, looking for ideas for her own fruit trees.

"I didn't know you could grow almonds here," she said, gazing at the fruits of their labor. "I'm going to go out and get an almond tree."

Besides the almond tree, the group put in a cherry, an Italian plum and a ginkgo tree, a mulberry bush to attract birds (and keep them away from the cherries), three blueberry bushes, more than two dozen strawberry and raspberry plants, three kiwi plants, and an assortment of artichokes, leeks, onions, chives and herbs.

Comfrey, burdock and French sorrel will pull nutrients into Settino's yard and help keep back encroaching grasses. A layer of soluble mychorrhizae, beneficial fungi, helps extend plant roots and acts as a conduit for the nutrients. Essentially, aside from a lot of watering and some light maintenance in the next several weeks, all Settino has to do is wait for harvest.

Settino has lived in the Tangent manufactured home park for about a year and a half.

She planted a few tomatoes this year, and herbs in containers last year, but otherwise had done little with her yard.

Settino said she'd always been concerned about the potential for food and fuel shortages. Recent disasters — hurricanes, spikes in gas prices and the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico — have spurred in her a new urgency to bring healthy food production closer to home.

Imagine, she said, if her neighbors took up the idea, planting and sharing different fruits, nuts and veggies. "And it all supports itself," she said. "How amazing is that?"

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