Permaculture gardens featured on Open Garden Day

By Annadeene K. Fowler | Aug 19, 2012
Bright blooms and pond in MeisenhemerMallamo Garden.

Belfast — Belfast Garden Club’s Open Garden Days visits the permaculture gardens of Karen Meisenhemer and Ric Mallamo at 10 Bradbury Street; and neighbor Karen Ireland, 123 Cedar Street in Belfast Friday, Aug. 24, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets for the Open Garden Day can be purchased at the either garden for $4. Proceeds benefit Belfast Garden Club’s civic beautification projects.

10 Bradbury Street — Master Gardener and environmental educator, Karen Meisenhemer, and husband Ric Mallamo began their garden project five seasons ago. The philosophy was to model their in-town landscape on natural ecosystems by sowing native plants, allowing “volunteers” to grow where they may, integrating food producing plants and pollinators, and encouraging natural water sources. “Our method is to go along with what the site has to offer, rather than fight it,” Meisenhemer explains. For example, a recess in the earth between the house and the garage-studio is a natural drain for water coming down the hill from homes and streets above. Instead of changing the course of the water, Mallamo has made use of the contours of the land and dug a small pond in that low area. Native lily pads and frogs make their homes here rounding out the garden’s ecosystem, making use of the available water, and creating a focal center to the surrounding garden.

Another goal of the permaculture garden is to include edibles in layers from trees and shrubs to ground level plants. The Meisenhemer/Mallamo property is home to many long established trees, including possibly the oldest birch in Belfast, as well as many new nut and fruit trees including peach, plum, beechnut, and walnut. Raised beds for vegetables and fruits such as grapes, kiwi vine, low bush blueberries, native raspberries and Jerusalem artichoke are intermixed with perennial and annual flowers. Nasturtium, calendula, marigolds, and coneflower provide cheerful color and help with pollination. The spacious 1/3 acre lot includes an experimental section by the driveway nurturing native species of goldenrod, feverfew, wild New England aster, and Jack-in-the-pulpit which have replaced a patch of pesky Japanese knotweed.

The couple will provide a map of plants and a handout about permaculture. Meisenhemer’s nature-inspired sculptures can be enjoyed throughout the garden; she will open her garage-studio on the day of the tour (Note: Help is needed identifying a “Mystery Strawberry Plant” which sets white fruit and has the taste of peachy pineapple). A wild border at the property line is parted by a woodland trail and paths to their neighbors’ houses. Take the path closer to the grape arbor through to Karen Ireland’s where she is working with a newer experiment in permaculture.

123 Cedar Street — One year ago a large section of lawn near the border with the Meisenhemer/Mallamos was the site of a Permablitz to help with a project Ireland calls her “lawn eradication program.” A visiting bicycling group interested in addressing issues of fossil fuel use partnered with Belfast Area Transition Initiative (BATI), and community members to install a 30-foot-diameter, seven ring labyrinth in an afternoon. A labyrinth traditionally is a symbolic spiritual path for meditation. Ireland’s is lined with beds of strawberries, self-sown lilies and garlic, which lead to a central stone unearthed from the property.

Ireland grows copious amounts of fresh tomatoes and basil for canning, “to keep me happy through the winter,” she smiles. Stone-lined beds of the ripening fruit spill over near a grape vine climbing a curving lilac branch arbor at the edge of the deck. Three newer permaculture beds reclaim an asphalt driveway to produce food and flowers. A kitchen scrap “digester” converts meat, fish, bone and other kitchen scraps dispersing the organic material underground to tree roots. The garden includes peach and cherry trees, raspberries, and cheery yellow blooms of the compass plant. Black locust trees help fix nitrogen in the soil, and a large fruiting butternut may be an edible experiment this year. Ireland is hopeful that a new swarm of bees will have taken residence in her prepared bee box by the time of the tour.

Directions: From Downtown Belfast, take Main Street up the hill to Congress Street; left on Congress several blocks to Bradbury Street (across from Public Works site); left on Bradbury one block. Park along the street.

Next Tour: Belfast Garden Club’s Open Garden Days will switch to the second Fridays in September and October. Join us Friday, Sept. 14, at Troy Howard Middle School Gardens; and Friday, Oct. 12, for the grand reopening of Grove Cemetery Chapel and a tour of the Cemetery and Remembrance Garden ($5 admission).

For more information call Diane Allmayer-Beck at 338-3105,, or

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