Permaculture Experiments: Combining Art with Agriculture

The entrance to our garden has been beautified by an herb spiral.

In our spiral we planted rosemary, aloe vera, basil, jamaica and more.

In our spiral we planted rosemary, aloe vera, basil, jamaica and more.

An herb spiral is not only a great way to pack more plants into less space, but it is also an aesthetically appealing permaculture design. Herb spirals are usually designed with stone and utilized when there is not much space for gardening. However, when a group of volunteers and interns noticed that there was an abundance of mostly hollow bamboo pieces left over from a bamboo construction workshop that Rio Muchacho hosted in early June, they decided to make a permaculture art project.

These pieces were carried up to the garden, where a circular pit of earth was loosened so each of the 100 pieces could be buried about half way to secure them in ascending height into the shape of a spiral. Our design is about 1 meter in diameter with a soil ramp spiraling up the middle.

At the center of the spiral, the highest in elevation, we placed large rocks, then soil, then dry earth, then a mixture of compost and earth. The purpose of the layers is to work with gravity and ensure that water drains freely to all levels of the spiral, which in turn creates different moisture zones: a drier zone at the top, perfect for herbs such as aloe vera, lavender and rosemary and a moist area at the bottom, ideal for moisture-loving plants such as mint and chives. Herbs are to be planted in the spiral according to their needs, with the sun-loving herbs like basil placed to receive the sun at its strongest, and herbs that require more shade placed strategically to receive less sun throughout the day.

The spiral also helps conserve water. Some of the bamboo pieces serve as cups to collect excess water that does not stream down the ramp when watered from the top. In the future, we plan to plant flowers inside some of the bamboo cylinders!

Here at Rio Muchacho, we are always experimenting with nature and permaculture. Follow our blog to learn more, visit to enjoy some of our many tour options, or better yet, be a volunteer!  

The spiral is dedicated to our former gardener and resident, Franklin, who was lost during the earthquake.