How to set up a permaculture garden?

Guide written by:
John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge

John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge

38 guides
There's no right way to create a permaculture garden - there are various schools of thought. So rather than a specific method, we give you some basic principles to keep in mind when starting up.

Important features

  • Surveying the ground
  • Assessing supply needs
  • Successful design

Surveying the ground - 6 key points:

When setting up a permaculture garden, the first priority is observation, forming perhaps the most important stage in the design and execution of your garden.

This will let you work out where the strengths lie in your plot of ground and make the most of them.

Bear in mind that it's always helpful to keep your options open, so you can change or improve your garden depending on future conditions.

1. Topography and microclimates

If your garden has a slope to it, think about its exposure to wind (direction, regularity and speed) as well as any areas vulnerable to frost.

2. Sunlight

Make a note of areas receiving direct sunlight for much of the day, shady areas behind trees, walls etc... Important for deciding where to put beds of plants, chill-out corner, etc...

3. Presence of surface water

Streams, ditches and ponds make for easy watering either with a traditional watering can or with a pump system - simple hand pump, surface pump or submersible.

4. Vegetation

The self-set plants growing on your land give you an idea of the nature of the soil, given a bit of background knowledge. Think about the location of any existing trees and what they have to offer, or if it may be better to cut them down.

5. Soil

The composition of the soil in terms of clay, sand, lime and humus will help you to choose which plants to cultivate and which to avoid. With a little experience, you can determine soil type by simple observation. If you're not sure, ask your neighbours or carry out a soil analysis.

6. Fauna

A healthy garden environment will be teeming with animals: birds, insects and small mammals.

External input in a permaculture garden

Consider the external resources you might need to obtain. These can be recycled materials such as landfill products, waste vegetation, stones, or manure from an equestrian centre or farm.
Make a list of your essential and desirable criteria: creating a play space for your kids, a chill-out area bordered by flowers, a small orchard, planting new trees of your favourite species, encouraging certain animal species…
Work out how much time you have to complete the project and how many pairs of hands you'll have. If it's achievable, get straight down to drawing up a plan.

3 steps to creating a successful garden

This is where the design element comes in. We're not talking primarily about aesthetic or decorative considerations here, but rather the layout, resource allocation, planning and organization.

1. Making a plan of your garden

Now's the time to make a plan of the garden, marking all the existing features. It's also a good idea to incorporate the path of the sun, where significant shadows fall, areas exposed to wind, trees, water sources, relief...

2. Dividing the space into zones

Divide your garden into several zones to cater to various activities, following the rule of thumb that the more heavily used an area is, the closer it should be to the house.
For instance, the herb garden should be nearest to the house. Features like a hen house or sheds for other animals should also be kept within easy access for daily feeding and maintaining sanitary conditions.
Vegetables harvested infrequently (leeks, carrots, cabbage...) can afford to be a bit further away. Vegetables that are only harvested once a year (peppers, late potatoes...) should be relegated to the edges of the growing area, same as fruit trees.
The farthest areas of the garden can be left wild, allowing wild flowering plants to thrive, and use to keep wood and other supplies, bordered by a hedge.
In this way, your garden can be divided into 4 or 5 distinct zones provided you have enough space.

3. Fitting in with the surroundings

Exposure to wind, sunlight, visual pollution, etc. should be included in your design in order to make the most of the environment around your garden.
These can be important when installing outbuildings and certain garden features. It's not just a question of making a plan showing the locations of buildings, paths, plants, etc., but actually positioning them to create an efficient, productive system.
Plants requiring plenty of sunlight should be left exposed or trained against a south-facing wall; large trees should be kept on the northern edge if you don't want them to overshadow your garden; hedges can be used to conceal unappealing buildings; and a greenhouse against the back of the house can help to heat your rooms...

Sow today, reap tomorrow

Permaculture and biodynamic cultivation are two complementary gardening methods where the natural advantages of the environment are optimized in the interests of sustainable development, ecological responsibility and economical efficiency.

Gardening with the moon promotes abundant harvests, optimizes plant growth, improves seed quality, and all this simply by following a lunar calendar based on precise observation of the the phases of the moon and the constellations.

Permaculture is an entire way of life which aims, beyond its application in organic gardening, to protect the planet today and for generations to come. With its use of natural inputs, complementary plant cultivation, recycling and common sense principles, permaculture is a radical ecological programme with a lot to offer.

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Guide written by:

John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge 38 guides écrits

John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge
When I was young, I was already working in the family garden. Perhaps that is where my interest in plants and gardening came from. So, it was logical for me to study both plant biology and agronomy.
At the request of various publishers I have, over twenty-five years, written many books on the subject of plants and mushrooms (a subject that is close to my heart).They were mostly identification guides at first, but shortly after they were about gardening, thus renewing the first passion of my childhood.
I have also regularly collaborated with several magazines specializing in the field of gardening or more generally in nature. There is no gardener without a garden, I have cultivated mine in a small corner of Cambridge for the last thirty years and this is where I put into practice the methods of cultivation that will I advise you in as well.

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