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Christopher Shein of Wildheart Gardens

Christopher Shein with his intern
Christopher Shein with his intern
Photo/Jenny Sherman

We all wear multiple hats. Christopher Shein is certainly no exception: he is a landscaper, a horticulturist, an award-winning permaculture designer, a husband and a father. Upon visiting his home and garden on Earth Day, what sticks out most about Shein is that he is a teacher.

The sun shone strong as I dropped my bike on the stone path to Wildheart Gardens, the backyard of Christopher Shein’s home in Berkeley. Wildheart Gardens is “a community garden of sorts” he says, as various interns packed up their tools for the day. His wife purchased the property, which gives Shein a sense of permanence and ownership of the land. This stands in direct opposition to the community gardens that he is accustomed to working, which are the property of people who could choose to take it away at any time. “Private property is the root of many evils,” he laments, defending that land owned by the community bolsters cohesive neighborhoods and allows more people to have access to healthy, whole foods.

Shein’s vision of an edible world comes through his work as a landscaper. “This pays my soul,” he says looking out at his garden, “but not the mortgage.” That’s where his urban landscaping business comes in. When given the chance, he designs urban spaces of any size to be food forests and home gardens that take planning on the onset, but require few inputs later on. “I have a no till philosophy,” he says. His own garden, shaped like a giant daisy with a domed trellis acting as the flower’s stamen, is a prime example of this.

“There are quite a few layers to this garden,” Shein explains as I follow him between the petal-shaped boxes outlined by shiitake mushroom logs and abounding with foliage. He brings me first to a non-native Andean perennial root nasturtium called Mashua, a notable source of pride. He moves on to display a ten-foot, electrically green fava bean plant. “This is a testament to really good inputs,” he says as he picks off a bean and sticks it in his mouth.

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