Back in 1990, Tim and I were keen on the idea of wildlife gardening but we only had a tiny handkerchief-sized back garden. Then two defining events happened: first, we saw the TV programme ‘In Grave Danger of Falling Food’ all about permaculture, Bill Mollison its co-originator, and the consequences of collapsing ecosystems (one being that our food supply will inevitably be compromised). Second, in 1991, we managed, after many letters to persuade the landowner (absentee of course) of the field behind our house to sell us a 1/3 acre (0.13 hectare) of it as a ‘garden extension’.
Above: Chickens were useful occupants in the early years.
Above right: Tim’s hands-on scale design for the garden.
Above: Poppies and ox-eye daises in the wildflower meadow’s first year.
Left: The Harland’s house converted from two mid-19th C farm labourers’ cottages.
From Monoculture to Polyculture We had observed and coveted this field over our back fence for 31/2 years, watching it being ploughed vertically on the slope so all the topsoil washed to the bottom near the house, being drenched in white pellets (we assume NPK) that rained over our fence and up against our kitchen door, and then sown with barley and rape, etc. The soil was in a sorry state, lacking structure, white with chalk and full of flint.
This time had been useful though. Observation is at the core of permaculture design and it had taught us much about the natural forces at play and how they interacted year in and year out. From this vantage, we set about designing what we wanted to do with the land and the process of evolution from monoculture to polyculture began.
Our first job after fencing the boundary of our new plot was to sow the whole area with an annual and perennial wildflower mix and plant the fence lines with a native mixed hedgerow of plants mainly provenanced from seed collected in Hampshire. The first season of corncockles, poppies and cornflowers was sensational and the local insect population loved it. The hedgerow took well too. We also dug a rudimentary veg patch and grew crops like purple sprouting broccoli and onions.
Growing Knowledge & Designing The Garden We knew we wanted a forest garden, so Tim went on a forest gardening course taught by Patrick Whitefield. I went off and
Permaculture Magazine No. 63
www.permaculture.co.uk Above: Salad beds in disguise.
Right: Merton Pride pear, a family favourite producing firm and juicy fist-sized fruit.
Below: Constructing an access ramp to the garden.
did a two week Permaculture Design Course with Lea Harrison, one of the original Australian permaculture teachers. What was apparent, was that there was little information about cool temperate permaculture design; no books, no magazine. We pored through nursery catalogues, read Australian permaculture books, Robert Hart’s Forest Gardening book, Agroforestry News and Graham Bell’s Permaculture News (the Permaculture Association’s newsletter) and tried to piece it all together. Tim proceeded to plot the garden, measuring it up and drawing it onto a large board and planning what it would look like with mature fruit trees represented by cut-outs of round coloured paper stuck on to the board with blu-tack – all to scale.
Planting The Fruit Trees In our second year we planted 60 fruit and nut trees, many of which constituting our designated forest garden area along the northern side where. We planted the tallest trees at the back with smaller ones in front, allowing the greatest penetration of light to the lower layers where we planted smaller bush fruit and ground cover. We planted 23 apple trees – earlies, mids and lates – to crop through the longest period possible: a fig, pears, gages, plums, damsons, cob nuts, medlars, a mulberry and a walnut. We also experimented, thinking that our weather would no doubt warm over the years, and planted almonds, a peach and a nectarine as well as the freestanding fig. Only the fig remains (and fruits most years). The others were beset with peach leaf curl and never thrived.Adding DiversityTo the hedgerow we added fruiting varieties – and so it became a ‘fedgerow’ – some of which we have allowed to grow as standards which crown above the main body of the hedge, such as: Prunus mirabella, Godshill Elderberry, wild service tree (Sorbus torminalis), Rosa rugosa and Elaeagnus x ebbingei, a favourite of Ken Fern’s from Plants For A Future.
No. 63 Permaculture Magazine