Our New Permaculture Garden Room

I always spend the quiet months of winter storms and long dark days to dream up new ideas and plans for the garden.

This past winter I suddenly had the idea to turn a rather dull simple square garden room into a permaculture garden room. This area was actually the very first part of the garden I started working in when we first moved here 9 years ago. I created a stunning flower garden greatly inspired by the then relatively new Danish garden guru, Claus Dalby. But unfortunately it turned out that this area of the garden was completely infested by bindweed (Snerler in Danish) and I eventually had to give it up and just leave it as a lawn we could mow and control.

But what does Permaculture Gardening mean? There are many definitions floating around, but as I see it, it is about planting what suits your climate and unique environment best. It is about disturbing the layers of the soil and its micro inhabitants as little as possible. Plant things once and then leave them permanently in the ground. Where a normal production of vegetables and fruit and berries is grown as monoculture (one type in long rows seperate from others for efficiency's sake) my permaculture garden is all about polyculture: a mix of crops to immitate a diverse natural ecosystem. I also practice what is called chop-and-drop. Which means that instead of constantly removing plant mass from the space, I pull up weeds and just leave them on the ground to dissolve and naturally add to new healthy top soil. Nutrient rich healthy soil can make or break your gardening success. I do the same with the part of my crops that we dont eat, like the very top of my leeks or the main plant of peas and beans.

This is what the area looked like in January:

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What was most important to me was that it had very organic shapes. The overall skeleton of the garden - the main beech hedges - as well as several of the garden rooms are dominated by symmetry, straight lines and balance, so I really wanted this room to feel natural, soft and untamed in its form.

It just so happened that at this particular time my husband was helping our neighbour trim all the willow trees that were lining his driveway and they have the most beautiful naturally curvy branches, so I used them to create the boundaries between the beds and the paths. It was like doing a little puzzle and there was no overall plan beforehead. I just played around with them until I was happy. Because we had already been moving through this part of the garden for a long time I knew roughly where the main passage should go (I hate it when the main "roads" of the garden are blocked or difficult to navigate. All the side paths can be mysterious and winding to make you slow down, but the main paths should be straight forward so you can get from A to B) and that I wanted all the paths wide enough for the vegetation to expand into them from the beds but that I would still be able to come through with a wheelbarrow. I have made the mistake of making too narrow paths far too many times in the past.

It was also important to me that the garden be as wildlife friendly as possible so a small pond was a must.

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Once the frame of the garden was set, I aired the soil in the bed areas by wiggling a garden fork all over it, then covered it with 2-3 layers of thick brown cardboard from boxes I had been collecting for a few months from friends with shops in town and been saving from all the building materials we had ordered over winter. Next I gathered barrow full after barrow full of horse manure at the riding center across the road and finally finished with a thick layer of compost (I get a huge container full delivered every autumn from our local recycling yard).

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I learned this method through English no-dig market gardener Charles Dowding.

When the beds were ready I planted a small Elder tree to eventually become the top layer. Then blueberry and black currant shrubs as a second layer. And finally when the soil warmed up a mix of vegetables (leeks, beetroot, beans, squash), herbs (lavender, thyme, and lemon balm) and perennial and annual flowers. The latter mainly selected to attract bees and bugs. And I chose wild strawberries as the main ground cover. 

Some of the bindweed keeps coming through, but I keep pulling them up and hope they will eventually die back or at least be manageable. The paths I covered with thick black plastic and then a good layer of wood chips. Next spring once all the grass under it is completely dead I will remove the plastic and just keep adding new layers of woodchips as the bottom layer slowly starts to turn to mulch. Beetles and bugs love living in the woodchips.

This is what the garden looked like once we entered the month of May:

And then suddenly the rain stopped, and it didn't really come back until a few days ago. So the garden stopped growing too. All of my attention has been focused on keeping the plants alive, not to make them grow. This first year is about all the growth that goes on in the soil and in the roots. They will grow above the ground next year once their base is strong and settled.

I only managed to fill 2 of the three main beds with plants this year, so come autumn I will plant the third bed and make sure I get some flower bulbs in the ground so the bees have something to find here even early in the spring.

Here are some last few images side by side so you can see the progress it is possible to create in just 4 short months. Gardening is a very grateful task that way. Some parts of it requires infinite patience (such as trees, shrubs and hedges) but much of it especially when working with flowers can be incredibly fulfilling very quickly. 

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In this last photo you can see the non-existent growth from beginning of July to the beginning of August due to weeks and weeks of drought and heatwave.

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If you have an area in your garden you don't quite know what to do with or is looking for a wildlife friendly nature-supporting garden design or style to do your entire garden is, I can highly recommend this no-dig raised bed permaculture style which with very little work or back pain will give you a beautiful result for both your eyes and your stomach :-)

If you would like to know more about permaculture you can read my interview withDutch gardener Vera Greutink. Or go check out some of her wonderful videos on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCidWVAWCXVVNjHXpuFCfxNA/videos

I also love this video from Robyn and Robert Guyton's mature food forrest on the South island of New Zealand:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6GJFL0MD9fc&list=PLhZGl8v6Q6ZHXLLkfk9pIAI4ldULPtnDj

And this from Bealtaine Cottage in Ireland: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h9T4T-LqQJk

Happy gardening!