The Edible Ecosystem Teaching Garden at Wellesley College Botanic Gardens
How well can we design a plant community that mimics the properties, principles, patterns, and processes of natural ecosystems but produces food and other products useful for humans? The desire to explore this question lies at the heart of the Edible Ecosystem Teaching Garden, located on a portion of Observatory Hill in the Wellesley College Botanic Gardens (WCBG) in Wellesley, MA, USA.
As the first of its kind at a college botanic garden, the Edible Ecosystem Teaching Garden (EETG) provides robust opportunities for people to explore food-producing ecosystems in an aesthetically appealing setting. With establishment beginning in 2011 and still ongoing, this mosaic of productive plant communities mimics the structure and function of different stages of forest succession where visitors can engage with a variety of edible and useful species.
The site's variable conditions and constraints supports the development of several distinct habitat types designed to thrive in those conditions. The garden demonstrates edible habitats mimicking oldfields, grassland-heath mosaics, shrub thickets, open woodland, denser woodland edge, and mature-tree understory, all in under 3/4 of an acre. The EETG's species center on edibles requiring minimal care while still yielding well, and on competitive groundcovers well adapted to the site. The various habitats and plants in the garden will also provide diverse foods for creatures of all kinds. This should reduce herbivory by providing habitat for predatory and parasitoid species that can control pests. Therefore, the EETG should provide an array of yields while requiring low inputs and minimal maintenance.
This project also represents a major new thrust in ecological research: experiments in regenerative, whole ecosystem design. We live in an era when the need for regenerative design of damaged environments while meeting human needs is increasing at an increasing rate: peak oil, peak water, economic distress, global climate disruption, mass species extinction, and a host of other issues all demand our attention. The world desperately needs the field of ecology to help meet this challenge by developing solutions that integrate humans with nature, ecology into society, and ecological science with design.
We must synthesize reductive ecological models into real-world designed ecosystems intended to improve ecosystem health and function while producing food and other products for human use. Wellesley College Botanic Gardens' focus on food of all kinds (not just for humans) and its mission to involve a broad spectrum of people in the Gardens presents an opportunity to integrate all these goals. We believe this project represents a solid step towards a multifaceted, interdisciplinary garden and educational program that will draw casual visitors, students, and serious researchers alike into interaction with the College's botanical and educational resources. The varied habitats the garden offers provide an ideal situation for a "test of concept" kind of project, which the field of ecosystem design very much needs at this time in its development. The project will yield useful data, testing of conceptual models, experience, and training for Wellesley College students that can help solve some of the world's greatest current and future challenges.
For information about visiting the EETG,
The Friends of
Wellesley College Botanic Gardens
106 Central Street, Wellesley, MA 02481