Micro Eden – A permaculture approach to home garden design

Written by fruit   // 15/09/2011   // 0 Comments

WORDS BY ROBYN FRANCIS

Originally published in the Permaculture International Journal No.43 June – Aug 92

Of all food producing systems, the annual vegetable garden has the greatest potential to supply a high proportion of our daily food needs. It is also the most labour intensive, re-quiring continuous input year round to yield a constant and continuous harvest of fresh wholesome food. The aim of design for a home garden, or Zone I, is to maximise food production where it is convenient and easy to maintain and balance this with the other uses of the backyard or area immediately around the house. The objective is to grow an abundance of fresh herbs and vegetables all year round with the least amount of work. Thus it will concentrate on ways to eliminate unnecessary work through the design and placement of the garden itself, the plants that grow in it and the methods and techniques employed for garden construction and on-going maintenance.

It makes sense to plan such a garden close to your main centre of outdoor activities where it is readily accessible, and develop it along routine paths traveled daily or frequently for other chores and activities, i.e. en route to the clothes line, compost heap, nursery, chicken pen, etc.

Before designing the garden we first need to carefully examine our whole outdoor area, measure it and draw a rough plan to scale. Then mark the north point and plot in house and existing garden features (e.g. sheds, clothes line, BBQ, trees, permanent pathways etc). Wind exposure and turbulence, sun access and aspect in winter and summer, un-pleasant views requiring screening, the visual exposure of your space from the outside world; all need to be integrated with the needs, tolerances and growing habits of the individuals plants, along with your aesthetic requirements and the functions the garden must perform as a part of your living environment. Next make a list of all outdoor activities; all the things we want to have or do in that area – the list may include some or most of the following:

  • Gardens – herbs, vegetables, flowers;
  • Outdoor kitchen – BBQ, sitting/eating area;
  • Recreation – exercise, sunbaking, play area for children (also consider age and changing needs as they grow up);
  • Work area – for hobbies, carpentry, bicycle repair, etc. this space can double as a recreation area;
  • Compost heap/bins; Storage shed/area – for tools, garden materials, recycling bins, firewood;
  • Poultry and other pets;
  • Clothes line;
  • Shade house – glass house, cold frames, nursery;
  • Pond or water garden;
  • Fruit trees;
  • Pergolas, trellises, arbors.

How can they all fit into one back¬yard? If you have trouble a skillful designer can help you to work out what goes where to its functional and aesthetic best. Sometimes it is necessary to make compromises due to the size and constraints of the site, and your own priorities and capabilities. However it is important to consider these factors right from the start to avoid costly mistakes, cost in terms of time and labour as well as money.

A few important points to consider:

• Eliminate unnecessary lawn – keep only what you need for active recreation, perhaps under fruit trees and clothes line.

• In small yards avoid any small areas of lawn, they can be more trouble than they’re worth. Small recreation and sitting areas can be paved with stone, brick or recycled pieces of cement slab with low succulent/hardy ground covers and creeping herbs growing in between and over them.

• Have permanent paths in gardens, either paved or an easy and cheap alternative is to lay down cardboard as a weed barrier and cover with a 10cm layer of sawdust. The saw-dust will soak up runoff water and nutrients from the garden and once a year can be raked up onto the beds as mulch or put into the compost heap, a new layer of fresh sawdust will replace it which also helps to deter snails and slugs.

• If you’re busy or haven’t gardened before, begin with a small area of garden (1-2 square metres) and once it is under control, thriving and working well, slowly expand it bit by bit according to your master plan.

• Keep things together that relate to each other; tools and compost near the garden; pergola over eating area; have one large garden area with good paths and a weed barrier rather than lots of little gardens.

• Use your vertical space – the sky is the limit! Climbing plants can adorn fences, trellises, walls, verandahs and pergolas bearing fresh harvests of grapes, kiwifruit, climbing peas and beans, cucumber, loofas, passionfruit, cane berries, chokos, pumpkin etc

• Utilise pleasant microclimates to maximum effect and create new ones in your design – cool shady spots for summer, wind sheltered sun traps for winter.

Robyn Francis has a getting-started booklet available by mail order “Micro-Eden, Permaculture for Small Space & Urban Gardens” PO Box 379, Nimbin, NSW 2480, Ph/Fax (02) 6689 1755; Email: erda@nor.com.au


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backyard

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frances

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robyn


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