Most gardens follow a similar design, with a few shrubs around the edges and a large area of cut grass set between them. A permaculture garden makes much more of your outdoor space, allowing you to grow food and provide habitats for wildlife right on your doorstep! You can do this alone or as part of a group, like the Transition Towns that are cropping up around the country.
Planting your Garden
Before you put any plants in the ground, make sure to avoid using any peat. Peat is a highly unsustainable material, and there are lots of great peat alternatives to choose from. When planting a permaculture garden, you’ll want to pick plants that you like the look of but which also have a practical use and are good for the landscape. Permaculture gardens use native plants which cope well with the local climate. Perennial foods such as arrowhead, asparagus, chicory, and sorrel can be grown alongside the vegetable patch staples like carrots and potatoes. The borders of the garden, instead of being planted with flowering shrubs, are ideal for providing plenty of space for raspberries and blackberries to grow. As well as their fruits being good to eat (for people and animals alike!), brambles offer protection to nesting birds and a good habitat for lots of other small animals.
Planting a few fruit trees will provide you with food and create shade for animals. Instead of growing fruits that find the British climate hard to deal with, opt for self-fertile varieties of apricots, as well as figs and pears which are enjoying the gradually warming climate in the UK. Apples have always been a favourite here, and continue to do well. A patch of bamboo can support vines like tomatoes or any one of a range of legumes, but try to stick to native plants adapted to the site and climate. This will mean having to give the plants as little help to flourish as possible. Thankfully, bamboo doesn’t take much encouragement at all.
Organising your Permaculture Garden
As a rule of thumb, copy what you see in nature. Imagine the way a forest grows, with the canopy of taller plants giving way to smaller ones, beside large and small shrubs, with the smallest plants around them. Copying these patterns allows for the greatest diversity of plants. Keep the garden organised into areas based upon the use they will get. Put heavily-used areas such as the herb garden in a place where it can be easily reached without wandering through the rest of the plot. Lastly, look out for the microclimates in your garden and make use of them. Certain leafy plants, such as kale, spinach, or lettuce, do well in the shade. Onions and garlic both do well in sunny, well-drained areas.
For the plants that do need watering, rainwater is always best. Plants prefer it, and using collected rainwater means cutting down on mains water consumption. Use a water butt to collect rainfall from the roof, and then carry it out to the plants that need it with a watering can.
If you’d like any help, or to get in touch with other permaculturalists for advice, have a look at the Permaculture Association. There you can find events around the country where you can meet people who share your goals and who may have some helpful new ideas for you to try out in your garden.