Permaculture Gardens Update:
Growing Relationships
Recently, I've been working with wonderfully different groups, introducing them to permaculture and the Adrian Dominican Sisters' Permaculture Gardens. As I strive to provide them with practical knowledge and a sense of place and wonder, I often fear that the message is quickly lost and permaculture has already become a distant memory.  

But without fail, the Permaculture Gardens do change people's perspectives simply by existing. The importance of spending time walking with Earth cannot be overemphasized. By spending time with Earth, we may first get to know Earth. Only then can we begin to love Earth and understand our role as a regenerative solution to climate change.

This is why I'm so excited for the community that is learning about the ADS Permaculture Gardens. This summer, members from the HOPE Community Center ----  which serves and empowers local adults with disabilities ----  have come twice a month to spend some quality time in the gardens and to water raised beds, collect seed, build soil, and engage in other regenerative work.  

Also growing is an exciting permaculture partnership with Siena Heights University's first Honors Program students. Julieanna Frost, PhD, Professor of History and Director of the Honors Program, has integrated permaculture into the honors curriculum to give students the opportunity to deepen their ecological literacy and connection to place. Every Friday during the fall semester, 21 freshmen will be immersed in permaculture service learning on our campus. Julieanna brings to the Honors Program her experience as the faculty adviser for the Environmental Leadership Experience for Siena Heights and Barry University students, held in late spring on the ADS campus.

I'm looking forward to yet another season of growth and life, feeling blessed to share this opportunity to know permaculture, and wishing you all a happy fall!

Left photo: Elaine Johnson, second from left, welcomes HOPE members Debbie Gray, Troy Pratt, Eleonore Griffin, and Cody Herst to the Permaculture Gardens. Right photo: From left, HOPE members Bill Leslie, Jordan Dahms, Jessica Rogers, and Cody Herst  help harvest service berries.

Tending Relationships

Fall is in the air ...

As this season's cycle of gratitude and thanksgiving becomes amplified, might we offer thanks to the relationships that make life possible on Earth? For example, plants, using the natural process of photosynthesis, offer us clean air, water, healthy soil and habitat, fuel, medicine, food, fiber, and so much more. What might we offer in return?  

One suggestion is growing attentiveness to our relationship to such humble yet vital beings and recognizing them as fellow citizens of Earth. During this Season of Creation ----  an optional season celebrated by many Christian communities worldwide from September 1 to October 4, 2018 ----  look around for ways to engage with creation. This is a wonderful way to begin integrating the practice of the permaculture principles, the first of which is observe and interact. Permaculture, with its emphasis on interaction with one's surroundings, helps practitioners to understand that of all nature gardens, that the ability to grow in a way that is regenerative and beneficial to the community, is innate to all of nature. This includes humans, since we are part of nature.  

Nurturing our gardening instinct means to acknowledge and honor the relationships among elements, cycles, energy, individuals, and communities, which together create Earth. Permaculture is a gardening lens that we can use to relate to each other in a way that is truly sustainable, regenerative, just, equitable, and beautiful.

Thank you as always for this connection. If you would like to explore a topic of permaculture, please share with me via email at, telephone at 517-266-3599, or in person at the Adrian Dominican Motherhouse, 1257 E. Siena Heights Drive, Adrian, Michigan, on the fourth floor of Madden Hall.

Elaine Johnson  
Permaculture Specialist

Species Spotlight: Cup Plant
Silphium perfoliatum

The cup plant, listed as a threatened species in Michigan, is a native flowering perennial whose name is easy to remember because of its unique, cup-like attribute. Pictures above show the cup plant "cupping" water at the base of the stem, where the plant's large, fused, and triangular leaves form a water harvesting nook. Even during the four to five weeks of drought on site this summer, the cup plants were observed harvesting morning dew, which lasted all day.  

The cup plant's special design provides water for a variety of beings, such as birds, bees, moths, butterflies, and a host of other insects. In addition to dropping by for a drink, goldfinches also feed on cup plant seeds. Cup plants are also called "compass plants," as they follow the sun with their flowers, much like a sunflower.  

Cup plants grow to be 4 to10 feet tall and prefer soggy conditions, but they can also tolerate drought as well as a wide variety of extreme climatic conditions such as 22 degrees below zero. Next time you drive past Rain Garden 1, located at the curve of Ring Road, wave hello to the colony of cup plants growing there!  

Easy to grow, cup plants readily germinate from seed. If you're interested in providing a space for cup plants in your home, contact me for seeds.   For more information on cup plants, check out

Upcoming Events

  • Partake with Permaculture: Join the Permaculture Department in the Madden Dining Room from 11:30 a.m. to noon on Mondays for an informal permaculture discussion. Bring your permaculture questions!
  • Permaculture Gardens Golf Cart Tours: To celebrate the Season of Creation, golf cart tours through the Permaculture Gardens will be offered from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., departing from the Dominican Life Center (DLC) every Tuesday and from Weber Center every Thursday. Sign up at the DLC or Weber desks to reserve your spot. Tours are offered though Thursday, October 4.
  • Annual Pumpkin Smash: Sunday, November 4, at a time to be announced. Bring your retired jack-o'-lantern to the community garden area of the Permaculture Gardens, where donated gourds will take on new life as compost after being smashed in creative ways. The event, organized in partnership with Siena Heights University's student-led sustainability organization, Green Light, aims to raise awareness about the importance of compost. Doughnuts on a string, cider, and face painting will add to the fun of this kid-friendly event.
  • Monthly Cooking Group: Thursday, October 25, at 1:30 p.m. in the Maria kitchen/craft room. We'll be baking with apples for Daily Bread, a soup kitchen in Adrian, with the help of the Helping Hands group here on campus. You are invited to join us. To sign up, please contact Kristen Livingston at
For more information on these programs, contact Elaine Johnson at or 517-266-3599.

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