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I think a useful starting "answer" to the guilds/standard-designs thing
might be the eternally-useful "Both"...
There are, doubtless, some useful basic designs -- very basic, at the
present level of development of this idea -- that can be passed around as
starting points for local elaboration. At the same time, knowledge of
plants in general, and of locally-adapted plants specifically, is very
helpful. Much of that knowledge may need to be gotten by experimentation,
but a lot of valuable time can be saved by a little study, and by sharing
A couple design functions might distinguish a guild from simple companion
planting. The plants used might serve complementary PURPOSES as well as
complementing each other's growth biochemically. The complementary spatial
relationships -- both under- and above-ground -- of guilded plants goes
beyond the traditional companion-planting framework. The idea of guilds as
groupings of mutually-supportive plants for placement into brittle
environments as pioneers for reforrestation also goes beyond
companion-planting. All this is complicated by the fact of succession --
natural environments are rarely static -- and by the unnatural state of the
average garden, wherein stability is usually enforced by violence. And many
permaculural ideas come from the tropics, where perennial starchy plants
abound, and where there is plenty light to grow these under extensive tree
Where do we start? The idea of throwing out as many species as possible --
hopefully locally-adapted -- is perfectly valid, and admits the wisdom of
Nature, and our own beginners' status (side note: in research by the Land
Institute, the greater the number of legume species in an initial prairie
mix, the greater the total number of species -- legume and non-legume -- in
the resulting stabilized community). Any known case of happy association --
as in the companion-planting literature, or with the apple-Rubus mixes Dan
mentioned, etc. -- is another good starting point for further elaboration.
A combination of these two approaches -- basic framework with a handful of
seed thrown in for good measure -- would cover the "both" aspect nicely.
Don't forget some N-fixers.
Few of us have the time, space or financial resources ("space-time-cash"
continuum?) to design numerous combinations and try them out in practice,
which is too bad. Sharing successful ideas (or even hypothetical ones) is
thus very valuable, as is knowing plants well enough to be able to apply
those ideas locally -- though if you don't know plants well, you can try
them anyway, and will learn... perhaps discovering something an expert
would have missed, in the process! As someone -- Lee, Lawrence? --
suggested, unless we monocrop or apply pavement, we'll probably come out
ahead of the game.