My garden design – Tweaks


I have started this post with an image of a sunflower head as I think it fits well with my current activity of bringing all my ideas together in a harmonious way and looking to nature for inspiration.

To approach the ‘Tweak’ stage of my garden design, I revisited OBREDIMET.

Observations – I looked back at my notes for 2014. I walked around the garden and checked what needed immediate attention. I looked back over the monthly photographs I had taken of my garden.  See post here. I used my in-depth knowledge of my garden, its eco-systems and microclimates built up over the seven years I have lived here.  I looked back at my records of what I harvested from the garden and graded each crop and garden feature to access the effectiveness of my design. See more about this on this post

Boundaries– I looked at what did not work last year and needed changing. I looked at my available time, energy, assistance, resources and money to make changes. I considered the changing needs of my family, how they use the garden and what they like to eat.

Resources– I again looked at my blog posts planning the garden and read over my notes from last year. I looked at the flip-side boundaries and focussed on the positives of time, energy, assistance, resources and money I had available to devote to the design. I looked at the seeds I had left over from previous years. I looked at the garden vouchers I was given for Christmas. I looked at what I could propagate from existing plants in my garden.


Evaluation – I brought all of the above together and considered what my priorities were. I set myself aims for my garden in 2015. These are detailed at the bottom of this post.

Design – I looked back at my original design and created an overlay. I used a temporary pen to play around with fitting crops into spaces on the plan, using the tool ‘planning for real’ When I was happy with these I wrote them in with permanent pen. I used the Permaculture principles of ‘Least change for greatest effect’ ‘Creatively use and respond to change’ ‘ Apply self-regulation and accept feedback’ and ‘Observe and interact’

Implement – I will create an implementation plan over the next few weeks

Maintain – I will create a maintenance plan.

Evaluation – I will keep notes on the effectiveness of the design like I did during 2014 in order to evaluate it against my aims at the end of the growing season.

Tweak – I will tweak the garden again next year and continue this cycle year after year.

IMG_5497The original design

IMG_5495 The tweaked overlay

The overlay shows new planting plans for the annual vegetable beds and more focus put onto Forest garden areas. I looked back to my notes about which crops were best for the needs of my family and the environment of my garden. I have excluded lots of crops that don’t do well in my garden and plan to focus on a more limited range of crops this year. I have chosen crops we like to eat a lot of and those that taste better fresh from the garden. I also plan to use varieties that are not easily to purchase in the shops. I also plan to develop the forest garden areas.

IMG_5496This image shows the original design and overlay combined to show how the new and old designs work together.


Aims for my garden design during 2015

1. To develop the forest garden areas. I plan to re-read my books on Forest gardening and plan these areas carefully to be as self-sustaining as possible.

2. To focus more on perennial crops I have a lot of demands on my time this coming year which will take me away from the garden, so one aim for this year is to plant less annuals and focus more on perennials that will need less input from me to do well.

3. To ensure the chickens are safe and well cared for. To develop a new enclosed run area using the space behind the greenhouse that is currently neglected. A fox has moved into the area and took two of my chickens recently, so I am being far more wary about allowing them to free-range.

4. To experiment with new varieties of crops that I know do well in my garden.

5. To grow more edible flowers and salad crops.

6. To maintain and develop the good work I have started in the garden, especially with composting, mulching and water capture.





Random assembly

Yesterday I attended the first session of a Permaculture Design Course (PDC) led by my Diploma tutor, Hannah Thorogood. I was a participant on this course two years ago and found it hugely inspiring. I am planning on going along to most of the sessions this year to help out, revise my skills and observe the tutors, with a view to possibly teaching a PDC myself in years to come. The observing of the course fits in well with my ‘Twelve principles for twelve months’ project as February is ‘Observe and Interact’ month!

We were looking at design tools, so the session was very useful for me as I am heading into this stage of my first diploma design project. I have come away wanting to use a number of design tools to help me with the analysis stage of my planning.

The first tool I have used is called ‘Random assembly’ It is a simple and fun way of beginning to consider the possible links and interactions between elements in your design.


How to use random assembly

* Write all the elements (Annual veg/ chickens/pond/path etc) you have decided upon for your design down on a piece of paper. Place them face down on the table.

* Write six linking words down and number these 1-6 (Under/ on top of/ next to etc)

* Pick two elements at random and roll the dice to pick one linking word to place between them.

* See what you have come up with.

Some of these combinations will be good, some will be bad and some will be downright nonsense, but it is a fun process and throws up some ideas you may not have thought of. I wrote down all the ideas that were generated and used another design tool PNI (positive, negative, interesting) to grade them for future consideration.

Some ideas I will be using…..IMG_7812IMG_7822

And some I won’t ………….IMG_7814IMG_7821

I decided to try taking this one step further and assemble multiple elements together to see if any interesting ideas were thrown up. This provides even more opportunities for nonsense, but I actually quite like the one pictured below. I can visualise this working in an area of my plot. A drain pipe off the shed leading to the pond to keep it full, overflowing to water the perennial vegetables which are planted under fruit trees. IMG_7827

My garden in February 2014


Harvesting The chickens have upped their game. We are getting 3 – 4 eggs each day from our 10 chickens now. The longer days have been making a noticeable difference from shortly after the winter solstice. The herbs on the deck are being put to good use, as are window-ledge herbs, greek basil, mint and flat leaf parsley.

Planting I have ordered and received my seeds and am chomping at the bit waiting to get planting. I hope to plant out the seeds that need a long growing season as soon as possible. Chilis and various types of tomatoes will be sowed into seed trays and put up high in the conservatory out-of-the-way of a certain rampaging toddler. My broad bean plants are getting a bit leggy indoors, so they are in the greenhouse tonight, I just hope they are ok, it’s a chilly night out there now.

Thinking I have been thinking hard about my plans for the edible beds in my garden. I am taking this as my first design for my Permaculture Diploma. This is great as it making my diploma really relevant to my life. The additional time and thought given to layouts, plants and sustainable systems will make the garden far better than if I took my usual haphazard approach to garden planning.

Feeling I have been feeling sorry for the chickens. The storms had ripped a section of the felt off their shed roof. So the break in the weather today saw J and I clambering up the shed and nailing a new roll of felt into place. I am planning on fixing the guttering too this month and making the water run off into a tank for watering, with the overflow going into the pond to keep it topped up. I hope to rig up a soaker hose to this too and direct this around the vegetable bed in front of the chickens run. I am feeling full of ideas and enthusiasm for the garden and my Permaculture Diploma. I am also feeling frustrated not to have more time to devote to both activities. IMG_0626

Midday in my garden, on Thursday 13th Feb 2014. Bright sunshine and blue skies


The same view at 2pm, a freak hailstorm turned the garden white in seconds!



IMG_0625Verbena shooting upIMG_0623

I have just chopped down the old growth to make way for the fresh new shoots of Fennel. This plant has beautiful skeletons I like to leave to stand all winter.


This tree I think is an ornamental cherry. My husband and I have a row every year about whether to chop it down or not. It has dark leaves and casts a big shadow over the upper part of our garden all summer long. But I love it simply for its early spring flowers. You can see the buds appearing here. I like to cut armfuls of branches each February and bring them inside. The warmth of the house fools the plant into flower within days. I currently have a vase full of pink blossoms on the mantlepiece. The tree holds its place in the garden for this alone. It reminds us that spring is not far away now!

IMG_0619Tiny leaves unfurling on the Clematis.

Weather stats

Sunday 16th February 2014

A bright and sunny day with blue skies. The wind dropped leaving a still calm day

Max temp 8 degrees  Min temp 3 degrees

Sunrise 07:20  Sunset 17:18

A garden visit. The botanical gardens

Earlier this week on a rare sunny morning, I paid a quick visit to the local botanical gardens. I love this place, it is just off a busy main road, but feels like a real hideaway. Being winter, there was not that much plant life to see. The herbaceous perennials were just beginning to poke through in the long boarders. The highlights of my visit were the crocuses and the Hamamelis Mollis featured in my previous post. The bleak beauty of winter with an extreme lack of flowers and foliage, automatically focussed my eye on structures in the garden. It was good to look at how the garden was laid out and the clever creation of garden rooms, all with a different feeling about them. The formal box hedges are not usually my cup of tea, but they did look smart against the old brick paths. I enjoyed taking some time just to ‘Observe and Interact’




I like the rough textures and patterning in the weathered brick paths throughout the garden



The carpet of crocus was stunning. The flowers were just starting to open. They looked like a ground covering of snow when seen from a distance, then the lilac colouring caught the eye as you approached. So beautiful. I wonder how many years a show like that took to establish?






On a sunny February morning, you can feel the approach of Spring.






Plant Love – Hamamelis mollis

I love this plant, it is a real late winter gem. It seems to glow from within with the low February sun shining through it. I spotted this beauty on a visit to a local botanical gardens yesterday (more about this in my next post) I also love its name, Hamamelis mollis, try saying that out loud, it is almost as beautiful as the plant itself. Happy Valentines Day xIMG_0597   IMG_0592 IMG_0589 IMG_0580 IMG_0583IMG_0594

Taking stock

This week I was hoping to spend some time thinking about our food choices and looking into how we could improve how we shop and eat. However, I was ill over the weekend with a sickness bug that laid me low for 2 days and put me right off my food. I didn’t want to eat anything and I certainly didn’t fancy reading recipe books or trekking around the local shops, farmers market or supermarket. Yesterday I felt a bit better and reflected on being ill and changing my plans for the week had actually put me onto a more useful path.

There was no food in the house, or so I thought. On Tuesday a comforting bowl of plain pasta with a few fresh herbs helped to ease my stomach back into the wonderful world of food. Today I am almost back to my greedy self and Instead of doing my normal super-sized family weekly shop, I decided to be a bit more mindful. With my monthly Permaculture Principle of ‘Observe and Interact’ in mind, I decided to start by tackling the ‘there is nothing to eat’ feeling by looking at my cupboards and seeing what we actually have.

DSC_8293Citrus fruits to brighter a dull February day

I checked through my cupboards, pantry and freezer and wrote down what I found. I was going to record the entire list here, but it was an embarrassing amount of food. I am ashamed to admit quite how much we had in the house. Here are some of the highlights of what I found when I went shopping in my cupboards;

5 different types of rice, brown/ basmati / risotto /pudding /sushi

9 tins including beans/ tomatoes /chickpeas / kidney beans

5 boxes of cereal

3 loaves of bread

5 bags of different types of flour

Bags of mixed nuts/ seeds/ dried fruit

Frozen blueberries/ black and red currants/ raspberries/ plums

Vegi sausages/ burgers and two types of tofu

I could go on but I am feeling ashamed. So many people don’t have enough to eat and here we are, hording food without even being aware of it. Even as a family of five who can eat a whole bag of pasta at one sitting, I think we could comfortably survive on the rations in the house for about 2-3 weeks. Albeit eating some rather carb-heavy meals!

DSC_8294A fabulous loaf made by my clever Baker brother. He is involved in a new local bakery opening soon. The Tiny Bakery. More details to follow!

I am glad that I took the time to take stock before heading back out to the shops. I will try to make this a regular part of my week from now on. When I did go shopping today the only things I brought were fresh vegetables and fruit. My bags were lighter and my purse heavier!

Yesterday we had stir fry veg with tofu and rice followed by homemade plum crumble (Using lovely plums, red currents and blackberries from our garden that I had frozen and forgotten about) Tonight we will be having butternut squash soup made with heaps of garlic, chili and ginger and finishing up the crumble with ice cream for pudding. Tomorrow will be a busy evening so its quick pizzas and salad on the menu and Friday will probably be a vegetable curry.

Observe and Interact. A photo an hour

IMG_77408am. Spotty mug, spotty table cloth, cuppa tea

IMG_77319am. School run

IMG_772010am. Climbing the rocks at Forest school

IMG_772111am Sunshine and green hills

IMG_772812 midday A quick and chilly outdoor lunch

IMG_77291pm. Loo break and hand wash

IMG_77382pm. Driving home

IMG_77303pm. Sleeping on the school run

IMG_77464pm. Putting the chickens to bed

IMG_77505pm. Teaching my daughter how to make minestrone soup

IMG_77516pm. She did good!

IMG_77567pm. There is always washing to be done

IMG_77558pm Rediscovering an old favourite album

IMG_77629pm Bath and book

Twelve Principles for twelve months – February – Observe and Interact

Continuing on with my challenge for 2014 of looking at one Permaculture Principle each month, for February I have chosen, ‘Observe and Interact’

I plan on looking at this principle in 5 ways;

1. Observing how I spend my time and interacting by taking one photo on the hour each hour on a number of days.

2. Observing how we spend money by tracking our household incoming and outgoing for one week. Interacting by setting budgets so we can begin saving for summer holidays.

3. Observing the meals that we eat for one week and interacting the following week by thinking how I could make our meal times less hectic and our food shopping and diet even better.

4. Observing each room of my house, doing a quick PNI analysis (Positive, Negative, Interesting) and looking where I’d like to interact. Creating an action plan for each room with tasks to do ‘now’, ‘soon’ and ‘eventually’. I will try to tackle all the ‘nows’ this month.

5. Observing some gardens, either with site visits, from books or by browsing the internet. I hope this will inspire me to interact with my own garden and help me get through these dark, wet February days.


Just to finish off, here is a totally unrelated photo, oh I guess it is me being ‘observed’ by my chicken. Her name is Smoky. She is a grey/blue laced Wyandotte. We brought her as a tiny chick last summer. She is quite wary of people but very beautiful.

Foolhardy shoots

IMG_7437 IMG_7438 IMG_7439

It is very mild in the UK for this time of year. While parts of the country are being battered by storms, we have had clear blue skies for much of the past week. Today I found a butterfly fluttering around inside my car. I released it into the wild skies and it was instantly carried off on a blast of cold wind, I don’t like its chances. Likewise these shoots that I spotted today, already reaching up towards the light. Stay underground little ones, it is months and months until springtime yet!

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