Hugelkultur: The Antithesis of Lawns, Concrete and Astro Turf

A raised hill, which is made of logs, leaves grass clippings and other compostable material, provides a perfect regenerative planting area.

Residents enjoyed a fascinating landscaping presentation on February 1 when Shawn Maestretti and Leigh Adams spoke to the Pacific Palisades Garden Club via Zoom.

Co-hosted by Palisades Beautiful, the duo from Studio Petrichor explained, “We are on a mission to restore the planet one garden at a time.”

Shawn Maestretti

Maestretti, a landscape architect who has designed gardens in California and Nevada and is a member of Climate Reality Leadership and a Kiss the Ground Soil Advocate, works with regenerative landscapes.

His co-presenter, Adams, is an eco-sensitive designer and horticultural interpreter at the L.A. County Arboretum and Botanic Gardens and has received a Global Citizen Award from the United Nations.

Their focus is not only the beauty of a finished landscape project, but how to build healthy soil and invite moisture into the landscape.

What’s important, they said, is learning how landscapes function and how to be a co-creator, rather than landscape “control.”

The two emphasized that true sustainability, given climate change, must come from regenerative practices. “Our living depends on healthy living soil,” they said, noting that the world has lost a third of farmable land in the past 30 years.

One challenge is in cities, where trees and other green pathways keep rainwater from going deep into the soil. But still, they argue, “We must stand up for urban forests.” They pointed out that desertification (the process where fertile land becomes desert, because of drought, deforestation or inappropriate agriculture) is increasing.

One method of working with the earth/soil is through hügelkultur (pronounced hoo-gul-culture), which means hill culture or hill mound. These are no-dig raised beds that can be built on lawns, on parkways and parks.

You start by putting mound logs and branches on the earth. Next, add leaves, grass clippings, straw, cardboard and compostable discards. Then top with soil.

The gradual decay of the wood provides long-term nutrients and as the branches and logs break down, soil aeration increases. The wood acts like a sponge, so when Southern California gets its occasional rain, that is stored and released during drier times.

Vegetables or plants can be planted on top of the dirt mound.

Leigh Adams

Maestretti and Adams emphasized the importance of plants in a city. “There is up to a 50-degree difference in temperature between hardscape (such as asphalt) and plantings.”

They showed photos of hügelkultur projects that they have done in various areas of Southern California. Pointing out one that is established, they said “This hugel has not been watered in five years.”

If you’re interested in learning more, a hügelkultur clinic will be held in Topanga on Saturday, February 20. There is a cost and limited spaces. (Visit: Studio-petrichor.com/events/)

The two speakers will work with private clients, and ask people to consider: “Do you want a produce garden or a process garden?”

One example of the start of a hügelkultur is at the Native/Environmental/Xeriscape/Temescal Garden in Temescal Canyon, just below Antioch. People walking the canyon have watched Palisades Beautiful member Michael Terry layer the earth over the past two years, and now there are mounds. (Visit: Palisadesbeautiful.org)

Landscaping plans include rainwater capture.

(Editor’s note: It would be nice if this kind of regenerative landscaping could be done in the parkway of Fire Station 69 or in Potrero Canyon.) 

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