What is a guild?

In permaculture, a guild refers to a carefully designed and interconnected group of plants, animals, fungi, and other elements that work together synergistically in a sustainable and productive ecosystem. The main principle behind guild design is creating a diverse and resilient system, where each element performs multiple functions and supports the overall productivity of the ecosystem.

A permaculture guild typically consists of several key components:

Central Species: At the core of a guild, there is usually a main plant or tree species that serves as the focal point or primary provider of resources. This central species is often a long-lived perennial (for example a tree) that forms the backbone of the guild.

Companion Plants: Surrounding the central species are a variety of complementary plants, known as companion plants. These plants are carefully selected to fulfill specific functions that support the overall health and productivity of the guild. They may provide additional resources such as nitrogen fixation, pest control, pollination, nutrient accumulation, or shade regulation.

Beneficial insects and animals: Guilds incorporate beneficial insects and animals that play important roles in pest management, pollination, soil aeration, or nutrient cycling. For example, certain plants may attract predatory insects that control pest populations, while flowers can attract pollinators like bees and butterflies.

Soil Enhancers: Guilds often include plants or organisms that contribute to soil fertility and health. Nitrogen-fixing plants, such as legumes, convert atmospheric nitrogen into a form that other plants can utilize. Dynamic accumulators, like comfrey or yarrow, draw nutrients from deeper soil layers and make them available to shallower-rooted plants when their leaves decompose.

Mulch and / or Ground Covers: Ground covers and mulch plants are employed to protect the soil from erosion, conserve moisture, suppress weeds, and provide organic matter as they decompose. These plants, such as low-growing herbs or spreading perennials, also serve as living mulch, creating microclimates and optimizing resource utilization within the guild.

By carefully selecting and arranging plant species and other components based on their functional relationships, we aim to create self-sustaining and low-maintenance systems that mimic the balance and efficiency of natural ecosystems. The exact composition of a guild will depend on the specific goals, climate, and local conditions of a particular site.

Guild around a young olive tree with various perennial herbs and some annual fruit and vegetable plants

When it comes to guilds with olive trees, there are several companion plants that can be beneficial in enhancing the overall health and productivity of the olive tree ecosystem.

Here are the companion plants we chose for our olive tree:

Other good companion plants for an olive tree guild could be: Borage (Borago officinalis), Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), Marigold (Tagetes spp.), Nasturtium (Tropaeolum spp.).


I. Comfrey (Symphytum spp.):

Comfrey is an accumulator plant and known for its deep taproots that can mine nutrients from deep in the soil. It accumulates minerals and makes them available to other plants, making it an excellent choice for almost any type of guild. Its huge leaves create lots of shade and help suppress unwanted weeds.

Note: We have placed the comfrey in the shade of the olive tree (north side) as it still is difficult to grow comfrey in our climate. Comfrey generally prefers half-shade and cooler temperatures. With a thick woodchip mulch layer, which is reducing surface temperature considerably, we hope that the comfrey will thrive here.


II. Lavender (Lavandula spp.):

Lavender attracts pollinators and beneficial insects while repelling pests. Its aromatic foliage can also help deter pests from olive trees.


III. Thyme (Thymus spp.):

Thyme is a low-growing herb that can act as a living mulch around the base of olive trees, suppressing weeds and conserving moisture. It also attracts pollinators and repels certain pests.

IV. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis):

Rosemary is a hardy herb that can thrive in the same conditions as olive trees. It attracts bees and other beneficial insects while providing some shade to the soil around the tree.

V. Ballota (Ballota acetabulosa):

The flowers of this herbaceous plant are attractive for bees and when big enough, the leaves will work as a ground cover.

VI. Incense (Plectranthus madagascariensis):

Incense attracts insects, pollinators and butterflies and therefore also birds to the garden.
The leaves and branches of this¬†species give off a strong scent and are sometimes used to ward off flies. We’re hoping to keep away the nasty flies that puncture the olives!

VII. Sugar melon (Cucumis melo):

This melon is an experiment – we are very curious as to how well annual vegetables can do around an olive tree. So far, the plant looks quite happy, growing a first little melon.

With its beautiful flowers, this melon will attract pollinators and create shade / ground cover with its big leaves


Remember to consider the specific growing conditions, climate, and region when selecting companion plants for your guild. It’s also beneficial to choose plants that have similar water and sunlight requirements to ensure they thrive together.