Eugene Weekly : Coverstory : 3.11.2010


Nesting Green Home & Garden Special Issue

Permaculturing South Lane Fern Hill Nursery offers large collection

How Do I Get Myself Some Birds? Birders, in their own backyards

Downsize to a Greener Lifestyle Kurt Jensen’s little houses for better living

Seed, Save, Share A revolutionary act against commercial seed industry

Green and Cheap BRING offers remodel options that go easy on the budget

2009 Spring Planting Guide


Permaculturing South Lane
Fern Hill Nursery offers large collection
by Rachel Foster 

Nestled on a verdant hillside a few minutes out of Cottage Grove, Fern Hill Nursery provides one-stop shopping for a permaculture gardener. Ever since I saw her catalog a few years ago, I have been intrigued by Devon Bonady’s eclectic and perhaps unique collection of offerings: tree, vine and bush fruit; medicinal and cooking herbs; native shrubs, perennials and bulbs; and a select group of sturdy ornamentals. 

Devon Bonady in front of a shiro plum tree about to bloom

Raised in Wisconsin, Bonady moved to Oregon in the fall of 2000 to intern at Aprovecho, a research and education center, after travelling and studying in Asia. “In the Tibetan refugee communities of northern India, I observed environmental degradation, and displaced people moving away from self-sufficiency toward dependence on global assistance,” she says. “This desperate diversion, paired with the desire for a non-agrarian lifestyle, left people without a connection to their current home and landscape. I began to better understand my desire to reconnect with the agricultural and ecological history of my own community.” That December, Bonady took her first permaculture design course at Lost Valley Nature Center, and has been learning, practicing and teaching permaculture ever since. In 2005, she acquired the 52 acres of  land, and started the nursery a year later. 

This month, at last, I made it out there, and found Bonady hard at work repotting one-year-old inside-out flower and tall meadow rue. As we toured the small nursery area, she showed me some of her favorites, many of which are also growing in a garden at the perimeter so that customers can get some idea how they will develop. We stopped by an aronia bush, a relatively little known plant that is gaining in popularity. “This is one of my favorites,” Bonady said. “The fruit is a bit astringent on its own, but it’s great in apple sauce. And it turns the sauce purple!” 

Bonady grows several species and varieties of currants and gooseberries (genus: ribes). “The ribes are perfect for our climate; they do so well here,” she said. Most also tolerate some shade, making them ideal plants for forest gardens. She pointed an unusual native with handsome foliage named stream currant (trailing black currant, or Ribes laxiflorum) and non-native Ribes uva-crispa Turkmenistan, a gooseberry that sports large, yellow flowers. Other fruiting plants I saw here include goumi (Eleagnus multiflora), which likes light shade and ripens fruit in July, Jostaberry (a cross between gooseberry and black currant) and highbush cranberry (Viburnum trilobum).

Other shrubby Northwest natives represented here include Menzies gooseberry, Viburnum edule, blue elderberry and Baccharis pilularis, as well as a long list of stand-bys such as mock orange, red flowering currant, Pacific ninebark, thimbleberry and tall Oregon grape. Bonady also propagates a strain of red osier dogwood that she says is considerably smaller than usual, growing to about 10 feet. The nursery features smaller natives, too. Bonady propagates a handful of bulbs, including camas, nodding onion, brodeia and fritillary, and carries a respectable inventory of native forbes, some of which are not easy to find elsewhere, such as gumweed, Lomatium nudicaule, mountain mint and Penstemon serrulatus.

Like others in the permaculture community, Bonady is interested in perennial edibles other than fruiting shrubs. Here you’ll find asparagus, rhubarb, a bunching onion, French sorrel and daylily (you eat the buds, mostly) and also some more unusual items: Chinese mountain yam, prickly pear, ramps (the wild onion of eastern North America), musk mallow and saltbush (Atriplex halimus), one of very few shrubs with edible leaves that are hardy in our climate. I asked Bonady if she had actually tasted saltbush. “Yes, I  like it,” she replied. ”It has a mild, salty, spinach flavor. It’s great mixed in salads raw or added to cooked vegetables.”

Bonady explained to me that she is now “shrinking” the nursery, due to her increased commitment to education. She currently holds the post of Learning Garden Specialist at Lane Community College, coordinating and managing a garden started by students four years ago. That project has now obtained funding that covers her salary as well as construction of a greenhouse and other things. Bonady also teaches evening classes at LCC and offers numerous workshops in such topics as grafting fruit trees, growing and using native edible and medicinal plants, forest gardening and permaculture. The land on which Fern Hill Nursery sits consists mostly of forest plus some meadow and oak savannah, is also a botanical sanctuary. Bonady and her partner Brian Basor are members of United Plant Savers, a nation-wide network that was started with the goal of cultivating rare medicinals to reduce the effects of wild-crafting. 

Stands of native medicinals (Oregon grape, cascara, trillium and yerba buena) have grown wild on the land for many generations, and Bonady and Basor have introduced more. Bonady is beginning to develop “nurse beds” to fit the needs of various natives. She hopes to propagate plants by seed and division right from these beds, with the goal of spreading them through the sanctuary and having enough to share. “We propagate plants like Oregon grape into patchy forests, yampah under oak groves, balsam root onto exposed slopes, large camas and mule’s ear into wet meadows,” Bonady says. “Last year we started experimental burning with the hope that we can suppress exotics so the natives thrive again.”

Bonady and Basor also work at increasing the biodiversity on the land by managing it without toxics or machines. The nursery itself is certified organic. Although she has begun phasing out fruit trees and other things to ultimately specialize in multifunctional natives, Bonady still has a large variety of plants for sale. 

You may order plants by phone or by mail, or visit Fern Hill Nursery by appointment (541-948-3118). Bonady will also be selling at the Lane County Farmers Market on Saturdays through April and May.
Coming up fast at Fern Hill is the Spring Equinox Open House and Plant Sale, Sunday March 28, 11 am to 3 pm.
Visit the Web site for directions and a plant list: