Diploma design for “Muddy Boots’ – Principles

Look through the lens of each Principle… What do I see? What does it tell me about my current situation? What ideas does it give me about the direction I want to go in and how to get there?                                        L. Macnamara People and Permaculture 2012

IMG_5795I looked briefly at all twelve principles and I have chosen four of the twelve principles to look at in more detail in relation to this design. I chose these four because they just seemed right, they somehow spoke to me and felt relevant to what I wanted to achieve with Muddy Boots outdoor playgroup. Below I will attempt to explain how each of the four principles has influenced my planning so far and how I intend to use wisdom from it in my future planning.

OBTAIN A YIELDIMG_42851. I want to make sure that I am ‘Obtaining a yield’ or getting something in return for all my hard work. Muddy Boots takes a lot of my time in the planning and carrying out of sessions. In return I am getting; a diploma design, useful experience leading outdoor education workshops that I can use in the future, continued access to the community allotment and a share of produce grown there.

2.  To find and develop a new network of like-minded people to connect with. This network could lead to unexpected positive outcomes. 

3. I also want to ensure the participants are obtaining a yield. I hope they feel they are getting good value for money and are enjoying a positive experience with their children, taking home ideas and inspiration for outdoor play.

4. We also create and gather in an actual yield of local, seasonal organically grown crops to be eaten as a group and excess taken home. I hope this will encourage others to begin growing food with their children and encourage kids to try fruit and vegetables they perhaps would otherwise of refused to eat.

DESIGN FROM PATTERN TO DETAILIMG_1378This is one of my favourite Principles and I have used it where-ever possible.

1. In planning the structure of the timetable. Dates of sessions first, details of session themes and leaders filled in as the weeks progress. I used post-it notes to record sessions and leader info to allow flexibility and this was definitely needed!

2. I thought about the structure of the group, how the leadership would work and related this to other patterns found in nature. I decided that my flock of chickens was a good group structure to replicate. The cockerel works hard to lead the way and protect the flock, but also all the chickens know what their roles are and they fulfill them on a regular basis. I am not sure I am particularly comfortable being the cockerel though!

3. I used this Principle when looking to design the planting plans and related activities throughout the year. I looked first at the needs and wants and a general overview of the areas we could use and my planned usage of them. I then filled in the details as the weeks rolled on.

4. Finally this Principle guided my weekly session planning. I always started with a broad theme, ‘butterflies’, ‘bug hunt’ or ‘jam making’ I then added a story book related to the theme, an art or gardening activity and sometimes a relevent snack or song too.

INTEGRATE RATHER THAN SEGREGATEIMG_17181. I aimed to integrate every participant into Muddy Boots by making them feel welcomed and valued. I made a real effort to welcome people each week and chat to the new people, especially if they had come on their own.

2. Following on from this, I tried to introduce people to each other, creating stronger networks and linking together friends from different areas of my life.

3. I wanted everyone to feel a sense of ownership over the group and able to contribute their individual skills and ideas. I found that some people were more willing to get involved in the overall running of the group than others. Some people just wanted to turn up, enjoy and leave, but others were more pro-active in helping me set up, making tea and running activities. Both approaches were OK and I tried hard to be accepting of however much or little people felt able to involve themselves and to really show my appreciation for people willing to help out in any way they could.

4. I thought about how to integrate Muddy Boots into my life. I encouraged my friends, family and neighbours to attend the group. I used the produce from the allotment in my home cooking. I talked about the group at the Guilding and PDC sessions. I set up a Facebook page and shared it with all my FB friends and the relevant FB groups I am a member of. I took my own children along to sessions and asked their opinions and those of my husband to help me with planning and reflection.

USE SMALL AND SLOW SOLUTIONSIMG_13121. Don’t rush and try to do everything at once! This is a lesson I need to learn in many aspects of my life. I have lots of ideas and get very impatient to develop them. I am learning to pace myself.

2. Following on from the point above, try to avoid burn-out. Don’t allow myself or members to over-commit. The season runs for 15 sessions, so it is important to maintain the quality of the sessions throughout the whole season.

3. Get group members involved in garden design implementation and maintainance as part of the sessions. Many hands make light work!

4. I decided not to advertise the group initially other than through a small mail-out to existing members and through work of mouth. I later change my mind and after much deliberation, posted about the group on a FB group I am involved in “Leicester natural mummies’ this was well received and a large proportion of members found out about us from that group. This was a relatively ‘small solution’ but it had a large effect. A good example of ‘mamimum benefit from minimal effort’!

I also looked at the ethics of earth care, people care and fair shares as shown in the diagram below.




Diploma design for Muddy Boots – Patterns

“What are the current patterns of thinking, behaving and interacting? What spirals of erosion can I identify? What would a spiral of abundance look like? What patterns from nature, other people or different activities could help with my design? What patterns of success from other areas of my life could I translate into my design? ” L. Macnamara People and Permaculture 2012


Looby says that the Patterns phase represents the edge between what was and what we would like to be. It is where we reflect on the good and the bad from previous learning and begin looking to the future. So I shall start by briefly outlining how the group worked in previous years and the patterns of workload, attendance and session structure that I have noticed.

* Vicky had around one paid day every two weeks to dedicate to the planning and running of Muddy Boots. I helped out as a volunteer, running some of the sessions and helping advertise but I left the paperwork, budgeting and most of the site maintenance to Vicky. Lots of planning happened in April and May, prior to the group starting to meet. Week by week session planned tended to take around half a day for each session.

* For the first year we ran all the sessions, the second year we asked participants to get involved in running sessions but people did not seem keen to do this and only two sessions were run by people other than ourselves. I don’t think people had the confidence to volunteer to run sessions and it was a hassle for people so they found it easier to leave it up to Vicky and myself, we didn’t really push this but did feel rather disappointed.

* We advertised mainly through word of mouth, friends and friends of friends came along. This meant some sessions were rather quiet but we did have a core group of participants who attended regularly. Our largest ever group was 37 people, 20 was about average.

* The sessions generally ran along these lines. Arrive, introductions, story, activity, snack, songs, tidy up, go home.

I looked back to the 4 G’s group brainstorms to see what participants want to see kept/changes/improved for the group. https://nurturegreen.wordpress.com/2014/05/26/diploma-design-for-muddy-boots-helps/

I have thought hard about patterns in nature and decided that Muddy Boots should follow the patterns of the changing seasons. I intend to reflect this in two ways. Firstly in the session structure as shown in the photo below. With a few tweaks the structure of the sessions can reflect the ebbs and flows of the seasons and give a pleasing natural flow to our activity.


So our new session structure will run as follows; (SPRING) arrivals, exploring materials in free play, coming together, welcome, introduction to the theme and activity, (SUMMER) story, songs, activities, (AUTUMN) snack, chat (WINTER) forward planning and tidy up.

Secondly, what we focus on during the sessions should be related to the current season, spring, summer and autumn (no meetings during winter)


I am pondering the idea of keeping on meeting up over the winter too, maybe in other locations as well as at the allotment? That would solve the problems of having to draw together a new group every spring, but it would cause other issue too – more thought needed on this one!

Another pattern that I have implemented is the use of a theme to each session. The story, songs, activity and sometimes even food will reflect a theme. A welcome board showing the theme will be placed in a flowerbed to be seen by all participants as they enter the site.



My garden design – Design process part three.

The write up for my garden design now enters the ‘Design’ stage. This post will cover; Ethics and Principles, web of connections, placements and pattern, companion planting and guilds.

Ethics IMG_0903I have considered where my design fulfilled Permaculture ethics. I drew this out in the form of the three ethics circles. I also considered where garden elements touched on two of the ethics simultaneously and included this in the overlap areas.


The diagram above shows how my design fulfils Permaculture principles. Some principles were focussed on more than others, but I have considered each principle at least briefly during the design process.

Web of connections


All of the garden elements are linked with at least a few of the others. The web of connections represents this visually. I can instantly see that water capture, perennial vegetables, chickens and the greenhouse have many connections. So this was considered during the placement stage.

Placements and pattern.  I talked about placement of man-made elements such as paths, chicken run, water catchment and table and chairs in my previous post. I  used Random assembly to consider placements and connections. This is also detailed in a previous post. For natural elements, in particular the planting, I looked at the Permaculture Principle ‘Design from pattern to detail’ to help me consider how to place the elements required in my garden. I drew out the current planting and marked where the spaces were for new or additional planting.


I then chose to focus on the mid section of the garden as this was the most intensive food production zone. This includes the 7 raised beds, 2 key hole beds, greenhouse and chickens. I drew out this section of the garden at a larger scale.

IMG_0908IMG_0906The overlay shows this section of the garden and the pattern of the beds labelled in their most simple terms, ie, the pattern,  annual veg, kids bed, chickens etc.

IMG_0907This overlay adds detail, with existing planting marked in and details of mulching done over the winter.

IMG_0905Even more detail can be seen when the two overlays are viewed together. Gaps for planting are easily seen alongside the broad plan for what type of planting I have in mind.

Placement of plants. I used the design tool, Planning for real to decide where to plant my crops. This is a great way of trying out various combinations and moving them around until you find a layout you are happy with. The plants were written onto post-it notes and shuffled around on the maps and overlays. The photo below shows the process


Companion planting and Guilds. I created a Web of connections to help me to think about companion planting. I wrote crops that I wanted to grow around the edge of a sheet of paper, then drew lines to connect plants that grow well together. I found this a very useful tool to depict visually a lot of information in a simple way. I’d like to do this again for a future project, adding more plants and connections. I could also include information on plants to keep apart (maybe by colour-coding the connection lines?) IMG_0913

IMG_0915 I noted ideas for good companion planting schemes for crops I wanted to grow.

IMG_0914I thought about guilds, specifically for around the young fruit trees. I intend to replicate elements of this guild around each young fruit tree in my garden. The left hand page of my sketch book above shows the guild plants and their purposes. The right hand page shows some initial ideas for the new keyhole beds.

My next post will share my design proposal.


To celebrate my birthday we spent a relaxing weekend with friends by the seaside. The weather was glorious, blue skies and sunshine but freezing cold winds. We spend much of the time snuggled up in the cottage in front of the log fire, chatting, playing and eating. When we did venture out we went to see the wild winter beaches. Norfolk has a special bleak beauty in winter. No crowds, just big skies, seagulls overhead and the peaceful sound of flowing water. Exceptionally high tides were forecast but we didn’t see much evidence of this apart from the odd sandbag outside a fisherman’s cottage, just-in-case.





These photos were taken at midday on February 2nd. Check out the length of shadows!

IMG_0416  IMG_0417

I found that I was very drawn to the patterns left in the sand by the receding tides. I have been noticing patterns in nature more and more. Branching, spirals, ripples and curving lines are everywhere once you begin looking for them.





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!


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.

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!

Twelve principles for twelve months – January- Design from pattern to detail.


One of the most important elements of Permaculture are the twelve principles. https://nurturegreen.wordpress.com/2013/09/11/permaculture-principles/ The fact that there are twelve of them really appeals to me. Twelve hours on the clock, twelve years of childhood, twelve months of the year. When I did my Permaculture introduction course and learnt about the principles, I quickly related to a number of them, but others I still struggle to remember now even after being interested in Permaculture for a number of years.

I have decided to take one principle each month throughout 2014, and spend some time thinking about it and seeing how I am/ how I could apply it to my own life. I am hoping that this approach will not only help me to learn all the principles but also provoke interesting learning about my own life and how I apply Permaculture within it.

For January I have decided to start with DESIGN FROM PATTERN TO DETAIL. I want to use this principle in three ways, more may well occur to me as the month rolls on.

1. I intend to look at my plans for 2014, my diploma journey and personal objectives. I will consider what I want to achieve, learn, make, read, visit and produce. I will start with the pattern, a rough sketch of the year as a whole. Then I will begin to draw in the details. Plans for each month, each week and sometimes each day.

2. I will look at patterns and details in nature. My background is in Fine Art so I will start by looking from a purely visual point of view, finding aesthetically pleasing patterns and drawing or photographing them. Then I will consider how I could use these in my designing. I can see this being a project that will roll on well beyond the limits of January!

3. I will work on the design for my own garden. I will redesign the food production areas and develop a planting plan. I will be starting from a broad pattern of what I want to grow then narrowing down details to include locations of crops and good companions. It feels like the best time of the year to be doing this type of work, getting ready for springtime. I am looking forward to pouring over seed catalogues and images of gardens for inspiration and to brighten up these cold, dark January nights.

The four questions

During the study of Permaculture, we are encouraged to reflect on our actions, aspirations, thoughts and considerations in a structured way. Working in a group of three people, we take it in turns to ask, answer and record responses to four questions. This is normally done within a time limit for addressing each question.

1. What is going well?

2. What is challenging?

3. What are your long-term goals?

4 What are your next achievable steps?

I thought I would use a variation of this technique to look back over 2013 and forward to 2014. I am thinking of this as a Permaculture version of the new years resolution! I know it is rather boring to hear about other people’s resolutions, so below is the very much shortened version. I can now use this info to start making plans for 2014. I love the way Permaculture can so tightly intertwined with your life. It doesn’t feel like an extra bit of ‘work’. Many things that I do for my Permaculture diploma improves my clarity of thought and quality of life.

1. What is going well? New baby in February, great birth, lovely child. Garden productive and enjoyable. Started Permaculture diploma. Had a fab camping holiday. Fun times with friends. Family and friends happy and good things happening in their lives. I am enjoying being a SAHM but also few hours photography teaching in Dec was great.

2. What is challenging? Getting the balance right. Finding time for myself, importance of this to make myself happy! The parent guilt. Money. Quality time with J. Lack of sleep. Too much housework. Lack of energy, feeling unhealthy, need to find time for exercise.

3. What are your long-term goals? Moving to the country side, small holding. Unachievable? P dip helps make this seem more achievable. Work hard on diploma aim to complete in 2017. Get a part-time job after that, Permaculture related or environmental education? Make garden even more productive. Improve health. Live more lightly, scale down possessions.

4 What are your next achievable steps? Health- lose weights, exercise more, dance/zumba/yoga/swim/cycle/walk as much as poss. Try to incorporate this into my everyday life. Keep growing lots of fruit and veg. Eat more vegan, maybe do 2 or 3 completely vegan days per week? Work, regular photography teaching? Maybe I can do a photography course online for digital or do a darkroom evening class to get in some practice or brush up my skills? Diploma -Try to do 6 hours per week minimum on my P diploma. Keep working on my blog. Plan the 2014 garden. Make contact with local permies and set up a guild date. Family life -Get more organised, ask for more help, keep de-cluttering.

It will be interesting to review this post in a year’s time and see how much has changed and what I have achieved during 2014. Happy new year everyone. xx