Community ProjectsCourses/WorkshopsDemonstration SitesUrban Projects

Fun-tastic Permasphere, L.A. Arboretum PDC

The Los Angeles Arboretum:

is a unique 127 acre botanical garden and historical site jointly operated by the Los Angeles Arboretum Foundation and the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation and located in the city of Arcadia [just outside of Los Angeles]. Home to plant collections from all over the world, including many rare and endangered species… (from the LA Arboretum website)

This respected Los Angeles institution has now broken new ground by being home to a Permaculture “first,” as detailed in the article that follows…

Fun-tastic Permasphere, L.A. Arboretum

by Erin Marteal

The planting methods in the Permaculture Sphere follow two basic Permaculture principles: 1. Make use of the resources you have, and 2. Mimic nature. When you eat a tomato, simply smoodge the seeds out on the ground and let nature take it from there. Look to the fruits of the market to provide your seeds rather than those little expensive packets. The squirrels might make off with some, but they’re bound to leave a few behind to take root in your garden.

Visiting the Permasphere, L.A. Arboretum‘s Permaculture garden was a highlight of the 2010 AHS Children & Youth Garden Symposium in Pasadena. The excursion day offered three options; a public garden tour, a school garden tour and an environmental education tour. The public garden tour included a visit to the Permasphere, which for me was a launch of sorts for my Permaculture travel-research. With so few public gardens in the world that actively engage in Permaculture, and the L.A. Arboretum the only U.S. example I have identified that actively practices Permaculture and calls it that, I was eager to see it for myself. However I managed to get on the wrong bus and about ten blocks after we’d pulled out of the Westin, our tour guide introduced herself and announced the itinerary, which was not the itinerary I had signed up for. I grabbed my bag and asked the bus driver to kindly let me out, then jogged 10 blocks until I found an open business: Bally Total Fitness from whom I borrowed a phone book. About twenty minutes of phone time and two cab companies later, a yellow taxi pulled up and I was off to my true destination: The Los Angeles Arboretum. My cabbie, a lovely Armenian man who spoke of his neurosurgeon nephew and his teenage daughter who excelled in math and science chuckled as I told my wrong bus story, and appreciating my plight, delivered me to the arboretum in what must have been record time. I thanked him and approached the desk positioned out front of the main entrance, which was staffed by what appeared to be day-camp greeters. None of them knew about the Permaculture garden, and directed me to the front desk. I hurried in.

The food forest with banana, figs, and other fruit trees

The woman at the front desk graciously allowed me to the front of the line when she saw the sweat on my brow, conference badge around my neck, and twinge of panic in my eye. A lost duckling, her expression read. She kindly invited me to the front of the line and pulled out a garden map. “Yes, let’s see, I hope we can find it here. Oh, yes, here it is,” she said, as she pointed to the perennial garden. Eager to lose no more time than necessary, I said, “I’m looking for the Permaculture garden.” “Hmmmmm….” she said. “Best to check with Mark – mustache, hat, guy who knows pretty much everything, and you can find him in the gift shop.”

Caitlin explains the art of planting
– sprinkle seeds and let nature decide
when and where they come up

Moments later Mark was lamenting there was no staff to lead the way; it was nearly impossible to find on my own, he said. He paused, reconsidered, then thoughtfully explained how to find it; “follow this path straight ahead until you get to the circle plantings; bear left then right and go through the gate into the back alley, parking area, and you will see it on the right.” I started on my way and soon realized there were multiple paths spurring off in different directions and with no signage or clear landmarks I abandoned my map and asked a visitor (or maybe it was a camp counselor?) who, fortunately, knew just where it was. I arrived at the Permasphere in time to catch the last half of Caitlin’s tour.

If you’ve ever attended a conference that includes excursions, you know what it is to be whisked along on a time-table that belongs to someone else. Large group field trips rarely allow time to soak in a place or experience. The goal is to introduce a place or project, a whetting of the whistle perhaps, not in-depth exploration. I was fortunate that the group had been split into two and I tacked on to the next group for a repeat of the 15 minute tour of the garden. Caitlin explained the state of the site when it came under her purview not even one year ago. Old furniture and trash filled the site. In addition, thousands of gallons of rain water were swept across the adjacent asphalt, down the drains, and out to the ocean during rain events.

Cob oven heats up to 450 degrees F in 20 minutes,
can get up to 800 degrees F

After ridding the site of the debris, a team of volunteers cut the curb and dug swales to invite rain water in to the garden. From there, the site design emerged. The garden has only been ‘finished’ (in as much as a Permaculture garden is ever ‘finished’) in the last few months and now features a hand-crafted cob oven and welcoming keyhole cob shaded seating area. The food forest includes bananas, figs, rosemary, poppies, tomatoes, chard, among many other species of edible and medicinal plants. The space, though only recently planted, is already becoming lush and inviting. And it all exists on a very modest and replicable scale: about 20′ x 40′ (74 square meters).

Caitlin explains the construction of the cob seating area,
a mix of clay, sand and straw

Caitlin was originally hired as a nursery horticulturist and with the support of the arboretum’s CEO, Richard Schulhof, moved into her current role as Permaculture Curator. By all appearances, it seems the Permasphere and the Permaculture principles demonstrated and taught there have been very well received by the public.

A place for butterflies to land when damp

However, Caitlin is moving to San Francisco in just less than a month, and her replacement has not yet been identified. What will become of the Permasphere in her absence? Technically, the garden is not open to the public, and visitors clearly miss it if not on a specific mission to get there. Will another Permaculture curator be hired to continue the work Caitlin started, or will it fall back into the background that it has recently grown forth from?

Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) Course

The Los Angeles Arboretum & Botanic Garden

Building on the great success and enthusiastic response from teaching a Rain and Grey Water Harvesting workshop at the LA Arboretum last Spring, Caitlin Bergman ( and Owen Hablutzel (PRI USA) are organizing (with Kirstie Stramler []) a full 72 hour curriculum PDC, also to be taught at the LA Arboretum this Fall.

Don’t miss this opportunity to learn Permaculture in this unique, historic venue from a wide-diversity of the top teachers and Permaculture organizations in the US! Register today!

Oct. 2 – Nov. 21, 2010 (8 Saturdays and 1 Sunday), 8am – 6pm

For registration info, visit:

Permaculture is sustainable land use design based on ecologically sound principles. Its aim is harmonizing habitats and inhabitants, creating richly productive food systems. Permaculture is an eye-opening set of principles and concepts that make a tremendous impact on communities. This experiential course is a practical, project-oriented, support training. It moves beyond theory to hands-on applications. Participants will become certified permaculture designers upon successful completion.

Much more than a gardening program, this lively course covers:

  • Habitat restoration
  • Rapid soil rebuilding
  • Thriving food production
  • Rain and grey water use
  • Community integration
  • Earthworks
  • Sustainability
  • Urban food forestry
  • Recognizing landscape patterns

Course Dates: 8 Saturdays and 1 Sunday, 8am-6pm:

8 Saturdays (Oct. 2, 9, 16, 23, 30, Nov. 6, 13, 20)

1 Sunday (Nov. 21)

Venue: The Los Angeles Arboretum & Botanic Garden

Why: This course is fun and applicable to real world experience, and includes an emphasis on practical hands-on learning, giving participants a solid foundation in Permaculture design. Our work changes lives as it changes the Earth.

An environment of support and unity between classmates is fostered, which will enable collaboration in design projects and a strong network of fellow designers. The subjects to be covered have the potential to generate green jobs and abundance of all kinds.

Course Fee: $200 non-refundable holds deposit due by September 13th deducted from $1200 tuition. Be sure to sign up early as course is limited to 30 registrants.

Instructors: Warren Brush, Howard Yana-Shapiro, Ph.d, Owen Hablutzel, Kirstie Stramler, Caitlin Bergman, Gavin Raiders, Wes Roe, Lindsay Dailey, Lois Arkin, and other special guests…

For registration info, visit:


  1. “When you eat a tomato, simply smoodge the seeds out on the ground and let nature take it from there.” …not good advice if taste or yield are goals.

  2. Evolution under domestication: ongoing artificial selection and divergence of wild and managed Stenocereus pruinosus (Cactaceae) populations in the Tehuacán Valley, Mexico:

    The same article in Scandinavian language:

    “For forskere er dalen interessant fordi den rommer mange ulike dyrkningsformer i samspill med ville vekster. Den blir dermed et slags laboratorium for hvordan arter utvikler seg under påvirkning av jordbruk.”

    My translation: “For scientists the valley is interesting because it includes many forms of agricultural techniques in cooperation with wild plants. It has this way become a kind of laboratory for how species develop under the influence of agriculture.”

    Could somebody please go to Tehuacán Valley in Mexico, to write an article about this subject for this blog? I should appreciate this very much!

  3. Hey you build a really beaufitul cob oven. Is it possible to just use cob for teh base? How did you do it?

    best regards

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles

Check Also
Back to top button