I am an avid gardener, always keen to learn more, either from other people or from my own observations.
Starting a garden can bring about many questions, and to be able to fully enjoy it there is usually a lot to consider, especially if we aim for a sustainable garden. Getting the most out of our garden is easier if we design it well.
In such a sustainable garden design, we ask more why, how, how many, what, where, when… questions and than consider the connections between all of them. Or maybe we just have different reasons to take certain actions.
Many times I have immersed myself in projects without thinking profoundly about what I really wanted to achieve, and of course I ended up not getting what I needed. Planning beforehand is so rewarding though, and will diminish the hard work.
There are many different ways of designing your garden. It is helpful to become familiar with the place around you. We can use all our senses; most people however have a preference for one or a few.
Look around, what do you see? Observe what is already there, before you start a big clean up. What resources can you find and use right on the spot? Listen to the noises and smell the fresh air, the plants and flowers. Touch the plants and the leaves. And then smell everything.
Touch, smell and feel the soil. What does it look like? Sit down, close your eyes and visualise your garden the way you wish for it to be. All these observations can bring us creative ideas and are a great help in the design process.
Now you are ready to go into action. Take pencil and paper and jot down all your needs. Let your imagination flow to the full. Think of food sources, materials for clothing or furniture, privacy needs or the beautiful flowers that will spread their fragrance throughout your backyard and make it a paradise for the butterflies of the area.
After that, write down all the possible ways for these needs to be fulfilled. Make sure that you find more than one way to provide for your need. For example, if you need building materials, you can plant timber, bamboo, dig for earth or grow grain and use the straw in your building. If you eat a lot of fruit, plant different species and varieties, this will spread your harvest. Manure, legumes, mulch, compost and many other sources, can provide fertiliser.
You will now probably see the connections between all the elements that you want to put into your garden. Choose the appropriate place for your vegetables, buildings, orchard, and grain crops. Draw your design on a map if you like. You will find that it becomes clearer how your garden will look, and where to start.
Permaculture delves very deeply into every detail of the design and I really like this approach. I started thinking in a whole new way after doing my permaculture design course.
I have developed a tool that can help to make the designing stage more fun. It is a card game and each time I play it with someone, so many ideas come up. It brings about a lot of discussion, different each time, depending on the personalities and desires of the players. You can find out more about the game here.