Funshine Facelift

If you have visited our children’s garden recently, you may have noticed that it looks more like a construction zone than a cute play space. That’s because (with permission from staff) Chesapeake Conservation Corps fellow Emily Castle is in the process of implementing a new design plan for her Chesapeake Bay Trust-funded capstone project. Aligning with the mission of cultivating an educational and interactive nature play space, Emily’s plans have a permaculture twist.

The Funshine Garden prior to its permaculture revamp.

Permaculture is a systems-thinking approach to landscape design that emphasizes working with nature’s patterns to address human needs. Rather than focusing on the inclusion of particular plants and objects in a garden, a permaculture designer looks at how features will relate to one another to create a healthy, sustainable, and interconnected whole. A familiar iteration of permaculture design is a food forest; however, a distinctive plan reveals itself for every landscape.

Plans for the Funshine Garden include a central mandala garden composed of hugelkultur-style raised beds. Hugelkultur (pronounced ‘hOOgull-culture’ if you’re American) is a German word that describes the practice of burying logs beneath planting beds for a source of nutrients and water. Surrounding the mandala will be sheet-mulched beds growing native plant guilds (i.e., mutualistic combinations of species). These guilds will comprise plants chosen for their edible, wildlife-supporting, and sensory value to children. 

Designated play areas both within and outside the garden will be devoted to such built structures as a labyrinth, a small water feature, a mud kitchen, balancing logs, and a willow den. In this way, different types of play, such as loose parts, imaginative, reflective, social, and explorative, will be encouraged. The end result: a permaculture playground.

So far, three workdays have been held with a team of volunteers. The bulk of the work will happen throughout the spring and summer before Emily departs in August. If you are interested in becoming involved, contact Volunteer Coordinator Martha Sullivan at or Emily Castle at or 410-634-2847, ext 21.

Beginning February 27, Earth Wisdom is a new homeschool educational program offered to 13- to 16-year-olds who wish to delve more deeply into permaculture concepts. Students will practice creating their own ecological design concepts and will engage in hands-on activities in the children’s garden. This program is limited to 15 students; click here for more information and to register.


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