Choosing seed seems to have taken on a new significance for me this year. With the threat of the monsters of Monsanto looming over us, it feels more important than ever before to make carefully considered decisions about buying, nurturing, swopping and saving seeds.

I am realising that seed saving is not only about thrifty gardening, but also about saving species of plants from extinction and retaining some small element of control over the seeds available and therefor the foods available for future generations.



I have been thinking long and hard about what I want to grow this year. My list of ‘wants’ and ‘needs’ increases year upon year. I often decide not to bother with certain crops, namely the cheap and cheerful space-stealers like potatoes and carrots. But then I spot an unusual variety and am tempted to give it a try. As usual I expect I shall try to squeeze everything in somewhere even is its carrots in a rusty bucket or a few spuds planted under the broad beans.



I am hoping to get a few new perennial vegetables this year. In the Permaculture garden perennials are key, as they offer maximum output for minimal input. I already grow rhubarb, jerusalem artichokes, sorrel and comfrey but this year  I want to increase my knowledge and range of perennial veg. I have my eye on some perennial ‘walking’ onions and the Babbington’s leek.  Both these plants seem to offer lots of different ways of eating them as well as having all the advantages of being perennial.  I also want to increase my stock of perennial herbs and find a good book or a course to learn more about how to use them in the kitchen and medicinally.

I love self seeding annual flowers in the vegetable beds and sow more of my favourites each year including, Nigella, Calendula, Nasturtiums, Ammi and Cosmos. No garden of mine would be complete without Sweetpeas. We had an amazing show of these last year and saved a lot of seed. I also grow a variety of purple podded pea and have saved these seeds for the last three or four years. They have a lovely purple flower followed by a mange tout type pea. they look great mixed in with sweetpeas or are a good alternative If you want to concentrate purely on edibles.


Lots of seed catalogues have been dropping through our post box over the last few weeks. It would be easy to spend a fortune. I have a long list, I just need to narrow it down significantly. Whichever seeds I do eventually choose, I shall try to support ethical producers and I will be saving, swapping and enjoying these seeds for many years to come. How could anyone ever dream of stopping us from doing that?



Ten designs – Planning my Diploma Pathway


I have been thinking about my diploma pathway and the ten designs that I need to  produce. Recently, while looking at the principle of ‘Design from pattern to detail’ I have looked at the whole of 2014 and tried to map out what I would like to achieve each month. I decided to see where I could apply one Permaculture principle each month in my learning, thinking, reading and activity. The wheel of the year diagram below shows the principle and the planned activities for each month. I have planned quite thoroughly for January to June and more vaguely for the second half of the year. I will keep adding to this sheet as new ideas occur to me.


I have considered what type of designs I would like to be involved in. I have had a rough plan in my head for a while now and have done a lot of brainstorming on this subject. I have designed the image below to resemble a bee hive cell. Bees are amazingly productive creatures who work together to secure a future for the whole of their community. So I thought this shape was rather apt for Permaculture planning!  As a result of using this shape, I have ended up with 12 planned designs rather than 10. This is fine for now, as I will either have a few designs in reserve that I work on but don’t use towards my diploma, or as is more likely, my ideas will change dramatically before the end of the diploma and this design will be superceded by another.


I have divided the diploma into 6 sections, these are general areas that I am interested in working within. They are; personal development, growing food, designing for a client, building skills, community projects and career possibilities. I have planned a two stage approach, one small design and one larger design within each of the 6 areas.

For example, ‘Building skills’ Stage one – The cabin. I will create a design that improves the space within and immediately outside the cabin. This will probably involve some basic DIY that I will have lots of help with from experienced home DIYers. Stage two – Garden building. I will design and (hopefully) make a small studio that serves a multitude of uses from a spare bedroom for guests to a space to run a home business from.

I am aiming for my stage one projects to start small and equip me with skills that I can then take forward to bigger more ambitious projects and designs in stage two. I feel that this is a good diploma design for me for the time being. It feels like it has structure but has also evolved naturally around my ambitions and interests. I am open to this completely changing as I progress through the diploma, we will see where life takes me!


A night in the woods

We decided yesterday afternoon to go to the cabin for the night. I grabbed a bag of clothes, packed some food and collected the girls from school. Rushing to beat the traffic, we dashed out of the city to spend a few precious hours amongst the trees. The sun was setting as we arrived. I had a brief, peaceful walk to take some photos. Then we lit candles, played scrabble and cards, ate a simple dinner and had an early night. Bliss.

IMG_7563 IMG_7568 IMG_7572 IMG_7569 IMG_7564


I have reached my 50th post. Wow, that came around quickly!IMG_7514

I thought this would be a good time to say thank you to all you lovely people who have visited and commented on my blog. There is not that many of you but the number is growing all the time, which is reassuring! I am quite a private person so I have found it weird to put my ideas and thoughts out into the wide world. I have however loved the challenge of blogging regularly and I have especially enjoyed the push blogging gives me to keep on moving forward with my Permaculture diploma. It is also great to have a forum in which to show my photographs.

The aim of this blog is to record progress for my Permaculture Diploma and show how the things that I am learning about Permaculture relate to my life. I will be producing ten designs over the next few years and will track my progress here. I also intend to keep on doing a garden update each month and regularly share my photographs.

Finally I wanted to mention a few blogs that have inspired me with their wonderful sustainable lifestyles, beautiful photographs, insite into organic gardening or Permaculture and great writing styles. Many thanks Em xx

Our ash grove



Chris Condello


Beltaine cottage

Winter interest in the garden

My garden is looking very brown and boring this month. Not a lot is happening in January. I walk through the garden twice a day to take care of the chickens. The kids run around in the mud and I often drift out there with a cup of tea to get some fresh air and a moment of peace and quiet. So I would like it if there was more to look at. I have been considering ways to add interest to the garden during the winter months. The photos show some of my ideas. They were taken on a visit to a local park.


Use plants with architectural stems that look stark and beautiful against the winter sky


Include plants that flower in the winter


Variegated leaves add colour


Think about contrasting forms and textures


Add splashes of bright colour


Leave seed heads standing


Use plants with coloured stems


Use plants with berries, these are good for wildlife and great to look at


Look for plants with interesting branch forms


Plant winter flowering trees


Get up close and enjoy the tiny details

Patterns I have noticed

My principle for this month is Design from pattern to detail. I have been trying to keep this in mind while I go about my daily business and I have been looking for patterns in nature when I am out and about. Here are some of the things that I noticed when I was walking yesterday.


The branching pattern is everywhere. Tree trunks and branches, the ribs of leaves, streams and rivers, paths through the woods. It is even inside our own bodies. We can use this pattern to design paths through gardens that are functional and minimise space wastage.

We could also use this principle to plot our journeys through time or plan our projects. Start big and gradually fill in the details. For example if you were designing a new border in your garden you could use the branching pattern to structure your thinking.

1. Start with thinking why you wanted this new border and consider an overall picture of what you wanted to achieve (the base and trunk)                                                                2. Draw a base map of the space/study soil type/ consider orientation (the primary branches)                                                                                                                           3. Add some ideas for plant types/size/purpose/colour (The secondary branches)              4. Consider the actual plants you want (the smaller branches)                                             5. Finally think about placements of plants and companion planting. (the twigs)


Nature always provides something interesting and beautiful to look at. Even in the depths of winter when the woods initially seem very brown and dull, if you look closely you can find something wonderful. I need to improve the winter interest in my garden and intend to do a post about this very soon.


People and animals will often take the most direct route. In the woods near my house there are hard paths that create a triangle around a clearing. Most people cut straight across the clearing as it is the quickest route, even though it means having to veer off the path and get muddy. I need to remember this when designing paths. I read something about this too recently. In a building development, the designer didn’t make paths until the housing complex had been lived in for a while. He then went back and noted where people had walked by seeing the muddy paths their footfall had created. He then created paths that followed these lines. A great and simple solution I thought. In my garden I can definitely see a few places where there is a muddy trail through the grass, that is telling me we need a path putting in!


There is no such thing as waste in nature. Everything is recycled into food or habitat for something else. A fallen tree becomes a home for insects and a host for moss and fungi. Ivy grows up it and a thousand tiny organisms work on it, slowly decomposing it and returning it to the soil.  I need to consider how I can use these patterns of cycling in my garden and make it more self-sufficient.


In the woods there was practically no bare soil. The surface was covered with plant life or leaf litter. Mulching, ground cover and no-dig methods are following nature much more closely than the traditional autumn tidy-up and dig over. I have been mulching my vegetable beds for the last year or so and have abandoned digging. It is easier on the gardener’s back as well as being more effective. Mulching increases fertility, retains moisture and reduces weeds. By taking our lead from natures patterns we can make our gardens more fruitful and more beautiful.

My garden in January 2014


Harvesting I have moved the pots of herbs onto the covered deck now where they can get the best of the limited sunlight and are a little protected from the cold. We are using lots of rosemary and bay in our winter cooking. We are using the stored wood in our log burner most days. It heats the house well and makes the living room a very cosy place to spend time in.

Planting I planted the Christmas tree out in the garden. One of our chickens had died in the night for no obvious reason. She was only a young bird, very friendly and a good layer, so it was sad to see her go. I buried her under the Christmas tree so that I only had to dig one hole and the goodness from her would help the tree to thrive.

Thinking I am thinking a lot about my Permaculture diploma. I have rediscovered my evenings now that baby S is sleeping better. This gives me time to work and make plans for the year. I am currently thinking lots about the small changes I want to make to the layout of the garden and what I want to grow this year. I have started looking over the seeds that I have saved, writing lists and trying not to be too seduced by the seed catalogues that are dropping through my letterbox.

Feeling I am feeling OK about January! I know it can be a difficult month for lots of people, what with feeling the pinch after xmas over-spending and over-indulgence! I am trying to combat these by eating a vegan diet for at least two days per week and upping my exercise levels. I quite like the challenge and the mindfulness that January brings. Plus it is my birthday at the end of the month so that is something to look forward too. The weather is still unseasonably mild on the whole, no snow yet and only a handful of frosts. We have been spared too much damage in the storms that have caused havoc around the country. We lost two fence panels but that is nothing compared to what others had to deal with.









Weather stats

Sunday 12th January 2014

Frosty morning. Dry and bright all day. Feeling cold.

Max temp 5,  Min temp 3 degrees C

Sunrise 08.11 Sunset 16.15

Spirals of erosion/ abundance

Over the new year period I have been reading a book by Permaculture teacher, Looby Macnamara; People and Permaculture. One of the things she talks about that struck me as being particularly relevant to my life at the moment is ‘Spirals of erosion and spirals of abundance. This is particularly timely as I am looking at ‘Design from pattern to detail’ as my Permaculture principle this month. Looby talks about identifying problems in our lives or projects in terms of erosion. What is happening to make our situation less useful, unfulfilling or ineffective? Once we have done this initial observation, we can then find the right place to intervene in the spiral and change it for the better.

I did a big spiralling diagram that explored an issue I am having at the moment with a lack of time and energy. This showed me that a lot of the elements were inter-related. The photo shows the simplified version.


I decided that the root cause was that I need two things to change, I need more productive time to myself (without children) and I need more sleep. Taking this a further step back I saw the place to intervene was in my son’s sleep patterns. Baby S is 10 months old now and has slightly wrapped us around his beautiful podgy little finger.

S was staying up late until we went to bed then sleeping/ feeding/messing about in our bed all night. Please don’t get me wrong, I love spending time with him, I enjoy our lazy evenings of movies and breast-feeding on the sofa, I also love co-sleeping. However the combination of staying up late with S, not getting a great night’s sleep and then getting up early with the girls was taking its toll.

We devised an experiment. If we could get S to nap at a regular time in the early afternoon, then maybe at 7pm bedtime he would be tired. The first day he napped as planned, had a bath, a story, a feed, then went into his cot. He cried, I comforted him, I put him down, he cried, repeat repeat repeat. it was tough. It feels terrible to let your baby cry even for a minute or two when you are programmed to comfort and protect them. He was never left for longer than 5 minutes and he was always safe and warm. So yes the first night was hell for us all. Tears all round. But he did settle in his own bed eventually. By last night, night 5 of the experiment, I only had to go in to him once and he was asleep within ten minutes. This is a revelation for us. It means we have a few hours of grown up time in the evening to talk, read, work, tidy up or watch a movie. I feel calmer, more rested and more able to see how I will achieve my Permaculture diploma work.

It sounds so simple, but when you are sleep-deprived and have wrapped yourself up in a spiral of erosion for so many months, it can be hard to see the wood for the trees. Baby S still wakes up at midnight and spends the rest of the night in our bed, but I am fine with that for now at least!