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Garden Design


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. Approximately 12,000 sf of leveled space makes up the main garden. Within this area there is 7,000 sf of plot space available for families, individuals or groups to use for their personal gardens, and an additional 5,000 sf of a surrounding berm that is a shared community permaculture garden. Other areas include pathways, a flowered insectary garden, a covered pavilion, a shaded seating area and an amphitheater to use 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 eight foot high fence that rests on the outer edge of the berm, keeping the plants inside and the animals outside.


An eight foot wide central path allows 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 provide 14 spigots to water the garden beds. Water lines with sprinklers or drip lines irrigate the plants on the berm and in the insectary.


Organic gardener, permaculturalist and garden designer Frank LeBeau was OKCG's primary architect; in addition, a number of knowledgeable people contributed their ideas and suggestions to the garden's design, 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.

The 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 eight foot wide path that is

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 garden beds. The pathways between the terraces are three 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 as it flows downhill. They also contain the irrigation lines that will provide water to the gardens.


OK Garden currently provides 45 plots total with six of them dedicated to Riverview School.  Here by the south gate are raised beds and an adjoining hoop house that the school's science teacher has incorporated into the school's natural science curricula.  The north gate opens onto the common herb and garlic plots that master gardener Marye Jackson has developed for use by all of the OK gardeners.  The northwest corner is home to the Memorial Garden where OK members have planted bulbs and other flowers to honor their departed families and friends and the southwest corner houses the Education Pavilion where a variety of workshops are held.

The individual plots are surrounded by an elliptical permaculture berm that
contains a food forest and insectary.  The food forest has perennial fruit-bearing trees and shrubs that provide sustenance year after year.  The east side of the permaculture berm is primarily an insectary of perennial shrubs and herbs, both culinary and medicinal ones, that attract beneficial pollinators.  In the southwest corner of the garden is the Education Pavilion where workshops are held to educate members about a wide variety of topics.

Purple Flowers
Permaculture Garden

Permaculture Garden

Image by Nika Akin

The berm surrounding the OKCG occupies approximately a 4,650 sf 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 several fruit trees (such as apple, cherry, pear and plum) 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.


The fruit tree anchoring each guild is 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 perform the various functions in each guild. Using a diversity of plants strengthens the resiliency of the fruit trees and 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 several

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); Insectary plants that attract beneficial insects (mint, sage, yarrow, borage, lovage, dill, salvia, calendula, catmint); 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 (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, lupine, Siberian pea shrub).

To find out more about permaculture at the OK Garden, see our Permaculture Food Forest Field Guide.

Memorial Garden

Located in the northwest corner of the Food Forest berm, the Memorial Garden at Ohana Kuleana began on Oct. 14, 2018 at a commemoration to honor the recent passing of two of our founding members -- Bliss Bruen and Tamsen Wiltshire. Friends and family of the two gathered at that time to plant a variety of flower bulbs to blossom forth in the spring as a sign of rejuvenation and faith in the future. Since then, a shade-cloth canopy has been installed nearby, and OK members continue to plant flowers and bulbs in this corner of the OK Garden to honor and remember their loved ones who have passed.





The amphitheater 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 3 tiers that provide seating for 40 adults.  A small stage of grass and mulch in front of the seating allows for small productions of concerts, plays or lectures. The amphitheater is also a comfortable site for informal gatherings or a place for relaxing and looking out

over the garden below.

The insectary is the sloped area on either side of the amphitheater. It contains several types of flowering shrubs and perennials such as wine cups, catmint, yarrow and honeysuckle to attract and feed pollinators and other beneficial insects that prey upon and control insect pests.

Education Pavilion

Education Pavilion

Copy of Riverview 003.jpg

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.


Irrigation and Rainwater Harvesting

Plant & Irrigation System

Ohana Kuleana Community Garden offers its members two sources of water to help nurture plants in our dry high altitude climate.  Several rain barrels next to the OK Education Pavilion collect rainwater from the roof drains, which gardeners use early in the season to nurse plant starts and seedlings.

Later, once warmer temperatures arrive and the threat of frost is gone, OK turns on its irrigation system fed by Durango city water. Hoses from spigots spaced conveniently along the pathways enable gardeners either to water their own plots using a hose, or screwing the hose to a drip watering system that many have installed to water their personal plots.

The irrigation system also waters the food forest on the elliptical berm encircling the individual plots that comprises the perennial fruit trees, shrubs and herbs including an insectary that attracts and supports our beneficial pollinators.

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