02. Design & Construction

This is how it all began! The very beginning of a complete garden makeover. Two 4×4 foot raised garden beds and two 4×8 foot beds were created. Quite small really, but the seed of a whole creative project that would see me working through the whole cold 2008 winter, full time, and mostly on my own.

Over 85 square meters of garden were cleared and levelled, and many existing plants were replanted, what was left was mulched and put back into the garden. From this I created 686 sq. feet (64 sq. metres) of garden beds.

Picture - Before_ Redgum sleeper raised beds installed
Here’s the cat testing out the new redgum sleeper raised garden beds for size! (OK, this bed is closer to 3×8’, and yes, it’s a huge cat!)

That was the easy part! There were at least 75 plants that were in pots that had to be planted into the ground, which were pot bound after two years, so I had to dig holes larger and at least as deep as the height of the pots to plant them, so this necessitated the removal of several cubic metres of soil by hand to plant them all up.

Along with the plants, it took a bit more materials to build the garden. About 260 feet of redgum sleepers, 150 feet of Jarrah edging, one cubic meter of cow manure and two and a half cubic meters of pine bark mulch (for all the 45cm (1’ 6”) wide paths in the garden beds and the 12 square meter flower bed in the front yard) to be more precise about things!

Here is the original garden design which I put together.
(Click to enlarge to view the details).

Project3a
The garden design as a visual

Project3c
The garden design as a schematic  

 
 


Update: Designs do change in time, here what the design looks like two and a half years later

(Click on image to see full-sized design)


 
 
Here is the list of the main fruit trees and berries that were included in the design, with the corresponding numbers to indicate their planting position in the schematic:

  1. Lemon (Lisbon)
  2. Apple (Granny Smith)
  3. Apple (Pink Lady)
  4. Lime (Tahitian) – dwarf
  5. Pear (Williams) – espalier
  6. Pear (Nashi – Nijisseiki) – espalier
  7. Cherry (Starkrimson) – dwarf
  8. Fig
  9. Lemon (Meyer)
  10. Passionfruit (Black)
  11. Plum (Satsuma)
  12. Plum (Mariposa)
  13. Apricot
  14. Babaco
  15. Mandarin
  16. Raspberry
  17. Grape (Sultana)
  18. Peach – dwarf
  19. Nectarine – dwarf
  20. Orange (Navelina) – dwarf
  21. Raspberry
  22. Blueberry
  23. Blackcurrant
  24. Redcurrant
  25. Banana
  26. Goji Berry
  27. Cherry Guava
  28. Pineapple Guava (Feijoa)
  29. Goji Berry
  30. Orange (Valencia) – dwarf
  31. Goji Berry
  32. Grapefruit
  33. Goji Berry
  34. Goji Berry
  35. Pomegranate
  36. Blackberry (thornless)
  37. Mulberry (in pot)
  38. Blackberry (in pot)

The garden design was based primarily on creating a backyard orchard with under-plantings of berries, companion plants, herbs and ornamentals. It all had to be organic, and was designed as a no-dig garden, hence the distinct mulched paths and raised beds. All plants were put into guilds with supportive companion plants and plants that help bring in beneficial insects. The Permaculture principle of stacking (more on this concept in future articles, I promise) was utilised to create multiple levels of planting all the way from trees with a high canopy through to ground covers.

The result is a 150 sq. meter backyard with 686 sq. feet (64 sq. metres) of garden beds, that contains 22 fruit trees (24 if you count the extra two in large pots), 8 types of berries, 2 types of fruiting vines, several dozen culinary and medicinal herbs (over 90 actually), and 10 sq. metres of dedicated vegetable beds, though vegetables may also be found scattered in the rest of the garden too! And there are plenty of ornamentals planted throughout the garden to keep things interesting.

I did have to level and rebuild the old lawn, but I reduced it in size (not sure if anyone noticed!) to 10 square metres. I guess it functions as rain catchment area for the fruit trees planted nearby…

The garden is still fairly young, with many of the fruit trees still growing to size, and being under a meter tall currently. Once they gain some height and form a proper canopy, the garden will begin to function in the way it was designed, and the amount produced by the garden will increase accordingly.

I am currently installing drip irrigation throughout the garden, approximately 150 metres of it all up, and automating the whole system, so it’s easier to tend to and not worry about if you need to travel.

And, in the true spirit of Permaculture, I’m getting ready to move on to the next garden somewhere, to see if I can design a little more life into a garden somewhere!

Here are some pictures of the completed construction, showing various features of the garden:

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This is the grapevine support (trellis) for the sultana grape, made from two 8′ star pickets planted 2′ into the ground, with one 8′ star picket bolted across the top (I used an electric drill to create extra holes for bolts). It is oriented (runs lengthwise) from north to south so that it does not block midday sun to the vegetable beds behind it. I have strung 2.5mm plastic coated steel wire every 1.5′ from the top and tensioned the wires using turnbuckles, as can be seen on the left hand side of the picture.

One of the principles of permaculture is that all things serve more than one purpose.

In this case, the grapevine, when fully grown, will shield the two 8’x4′ vegetable beds behind it from the harsh west evening sun and strong winds. It provides a microclimate for the strawberry bed underneath, which is mulched with Lucerne straw, which keeps the strawberry berries from touching the ground, and conserves moisture for the grapevine. The leaves that fall from the grapevine will also provide mulch for the strawberries in the future. And of course, it produces grapes and vine leaves which are both edible!

At this point there are no other plants in this bed, but there definitely will be. The practice of companion planting is to plant together plants that are “good companions” that help each other out, and to avoid “bad companions”, plants that are detrimental to each other. Companion plants are plants that either assist the health and growth of another plant, repel pests and diseases or benefit other plants in some other way. The relationship is a synergistic one where both plants grow better together than they would on their own.

I must stress, this isa purely scientific practice, and there is no voodoo or mumbo-jumbo here!

Plants can exude substances from their roots or leaves which may:

– repel pests
– combat diseases
– increase the growth and vigour of neighbouring plants
– provide scents that mask the presence of other plants that insects may seek eat
– attract bees and other pollinator insects
– attract beneficial predatory insects that will devour pests

For example, the herb hyssop is beneficial to grapes. It is also extremely attractive to bees as it flowers for long periods and seems to be a favourite of bees.

The benefits of attracting bees into your garden are obvious – pollination. If I were to plant hyssop, which is a small bushy herb that grows around a foot and a half high, I would plant it in the corners so that it doesn’t overshadow the strawberries.

Basil is also beneficial to grapes, and would be planted possibly in the other corner for the same reason.

Beans and peas are another companion plant for grapes, and these, being legumes, contribute nitrogen to the soil because they have nitrogen fixing bacteria in their root nodules. These can climb up the grape trellis when the grape vine loses its leaves in winter. But I could only use winter growing beans, such as broad beans. Regular climbing beans grown during the same time as the grape vine and would shade each other out.

Blackberries are another companion for grapes, but I would not put them here simply because they would overrun this small area, and the thorns will make the area inaccessible.

Geraniums are also another helpful plant for grapes. Chives help repel aphids. So, these are all the good companions for grapes that I can use.

Plants that are bad companions for grapes are radishes and cabbage, so these cannot be planted here.

I also need to determine what are good companions for strawberries – these are Bush Beans, Borage, Chives, French Marigold, Leek, Lettuce, Onion, Pyrethrum Daisy, Sage, Spinach. Bad companions for strawberries are all plants from the cabbage family.

From this we can see that if I choose any of the good companions for grapes, they won’t be harmful to the strawberries. And we can see that chives may be a benefit to both the grapes and strawberries. Also using size as a criterion, I’ll only plant companion plants to the sides of this garden bed to leave the strawberries accessible.

Here are some more pictures of the completed work, these are of the west side of the garden:

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The lawn has been dug up, and reduced in size to make way for even sized garden beds. It will need to be re-sown…
The paths between the garden beds can be seen to either side of the rear-most bed in this picture. They are about 50cm wide (1.5′) and covered with pine bark mulch. The wall is north facing (southern hemisphere) and retains the heat well. The post visible on the left hand side is an 8′ star picket mounted 1′ from the wall with heavy duty steel brackets fastened into the brickwork with masonry anchors. There is one on the far right hand side. Wires run across approximately every 1.5′ from the top, and these are to support the two espalier pears growing in the rear bed. The brackets space the posts and wires away from the wall so the trees do not get burnt from the hot brickwork in the full summer sun.

These pictures are of the left rear side of the garden facing south:

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In the coolest, shadiest corner of the back yard sit my two worm farms. These process all fruit and vegetable kitchen scraps, and produce worm castings and “worm juice”, which is the liquid from the worm castings, both are great plant foods!

 

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U-shaped garden bed under mandarine tree, with comfrey patch above and potato patch below. Comfrey is a great source of green manure, it is very high in nitrogen, and can be used as a compost activator. When the leaves rot down, they produce a very nutrient rich plant food, which helps the mandarine tree produce prolifically.

Here are more of the raised garden beds, mulched with straw:

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Redcurrant, with dwarf orange tree behind it, and raspberries on left hand side along wire supports

 

Picture 059

Blackcurrant, with dwarf nectarine tree behind it, and ground cover Pennywort (Arthritis plant) in front corner.

 

Picture 061

Two smaller 4’x4′ beds filled with rampantly growing broad beans. The bed along the side is a mulched rose bed, with an underplanting of strawberries and chives.

 

Picture 063

Two 4’x8′ beds with the grapevine trellis and strawberry underplanting

 

Picture 064

Tropical Babaco tree heavily laden with long torpedo shaped fruit to the right of the madarine tree. Tall grass plants at the front of this garden bed are a Citronella grass on the left (yes, that’s where Citronella oil, the mosquito repellant comes from) and its close cousin on the right, Lemongrass. Pots on the far right are surplus soil from the graden that will be used to grow potatoes!

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You can just make out the fork shaped young espalier pear trees against the wall, a Nashi pear and a Williams pear.

 

A few more views of the completed garden:

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A border of Allysum and English Daisies to attract beneficial insects, such as pollinators and predators of pest insects.

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Watergarden and aquatic plants, with carnivorous plants behind them!

 

And here are some aerial views of the garden (not easy climbing up to get these shots!):

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I put in a watergarden because the garden wouldn’t be complete without aquatic plants! There are several containers housing the aquatics, as can be seen in these pictures:

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And just in case you’re wondering, those prominent green pegs are holding a piece of fine bird mesh across the top of the main water garden container to prevent “unauthorised fishing” by birds or cats…

Since I mentioned the carnivorous plants, well, they deserve an introduction too:

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Just because the garden beds were put in, doesn’t mean I couldn’t also use the concrete areas to grow more plants. Even though there are plenty of plants in pots. I decided to experiment with a hydroponic system too. This system is the Australian Autopot hydroponic system, I chose it because there is no waste of either water or nutrient, it uses no power (gravity fed), and the plants draw water and nutrient when they need it. It may not be organic, but I’m curious to see how it compares to the organic garden with various plant species.

Picture 138

Hydroponic dual 10″ pots with three 35 litre nutrient tanks in the middle raised up on concrete blocks

 

Picture 139

Radish seedlings starting to emerge from the perlite substrate

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Snow peas growing vigorously

 

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Lettuce filling the pot, almost ready for harvest

 

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Young tomato plant

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Middle pot growing Ashwaghanda, an Indian herb with propeties similar to Ginseng, but from the Tomato family

 

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Aloe Vera growing hydroponically??? We’ll see how it goes. I put in this three spare plants to see how they grow in this system.

 

All systems are in and ready to go now, so we’ll see what the following months bring!

 

Next Page – 03. The Results

 
 
 
 

27 Responses to 02. Design & Construction

  1. Jan says:

    You’ve done a great job! I found this section really interesting and very inspiring. Good Luck and thank you for sharing.
    Keep up the good work
    Cheers Jan

    Like

  2. Wendy Chan says:

    This is absolutely amazing! I am glad I found this site. I am sure I will come back again and again to get information when I need some and to see the results. I live in southern California and have a small backyard. This site is like an encyclopedia for my gardening. Thanks a lot for sharing.

    Like

    • Blackthorn says:

      Hi Wendy,
      You’re welcome! The amazing thing is that you just don’t realise how much you can do with a small space until you try!
      Knowing that people are inspired by this work in turn inspires me to add more and more to this site, so thank to you too and to all my visitors to this site!

      Like

  3. Jason B says:

    I love the detailed site plan and the yard is fantastic. I live in Southern California and have a couple of citrus trees with a bush sized guava in between them. I didn’t see any plants listed planted near you mandarin on your site map and was wondering if you have anything planted under your mandarin. Besides guavas are there any good companion plants for citrus? Any help would be appreciated.

    Like

    • Blackthorn says:

      Hi Jason,

      All my trees are heavily underplanted, including my citrus. In a food forest design, there are actually several layers of underplantings.

      Under the mandarin, there is a huge comfrey underplanting, actually, its the garden’s main comfrey patch, which ‘mines’ the nutrients deep down in the soil and brings them up for the shallow citrus root system. The leaves are very nitrogen rich, and when they die down in winter, it creates a very nutrient rich sheet composting system.

      A few more citrus examples, my dwarf lime tree has underplantings of lavendar, rosemary, chives and yarrow. The onion family helps repel pests, as do these oil rich aromatic herbs. Two other citrus trees in my backyard have sage growing underneath them amongst other plants, and catnip as well. These flower prolifically and bring in lots of pollinator insects, especially bees, into the garden.

      With companion planting, you can select plants based on their properties, and as long as they are not listed as ‘bad companions’ they can be added to your garden around your trees to bring these beneficial properties.

      Regards

      Like

  4. Jason B says:

    I was worried underplanting with citrus may not work because of the shallow competitve root system. Many of these plants would work great in my climate. Thanks again.

    Like

    • Blackthorn says:

      Hi Jason,
      In Permaculture, contrary to how most people approach gardening and feed the plants, we’re taught to feed the soil, and the plants take care of themselves from there!
      Regards

      Like

  5. Rob says:

    Sensational garden. Fascinating to see the development of a permaculture garden. Hope you keep it going so that we can see it in it’s mature state.
    Cheers.
    Rob

    Like

  6. Liz says:

    Love the garden. I have just dug up my front yard in Melbourne and put in raised beds and I am refering to this site often! Have you got the carnivorous plants in to help control pests or just for biodiversity? Cheers Liz

    Like

    • Blackthorn says:

      Thanks Liz! Hoping the garden turns out really wonderful!

      The carnivorous plants sit around the water garden, so they catch mosquitos there and any passing european wasps. Mind you, there’ are fish in the water gardens, so the mosquitos become fish food if they make it that far!

      These plants also add to the biodiversity as you suggest. Since they are bog plants, they create a bog garden that is a transition from the aquatic environment to a dry ground environment, as occurs in nature.
      Besides, they’re quite fascinating too!

      I’m planning to create a portable bog garden in a large container where I can plant them all in, rather than have them in many pots, as they’ll be easier to manage in terms of watering in summer. I’ll publish the article when it’s done!

      Regards

      Like

  7. castadrift says:

    Im relatively new to permaculture, but even so have found that all the online material offering permaculture advice is still heavily biased towards more organic approaches with heavy human intervention rather than simulating natural processes w minimal intervention. So am pleased to have found your site as this is the kind of thing I’m looking into creating in my backyard. Thanks for living by permaculture principles and sharing your knowledge freely. The PDC courses sound great but not everyone can afford to attend them.

    I was wondering what software you used to draw your schematics?

    Like

    • Blackthorn says:

      Thanks for the positive feedback! As far as software for drawing the schematics goes, I use SmartDraw, it’s OK, but it takes time to sketch out a design.

      Like

  8. Daniele says:

    Hi. Just found your site and it has got me chomping at the bit to get going with permaculturing my backyard. I wonder how will I get rid of the grass? Its couch, and can be stubborn. I have found hot composting fairly good in the past – perhaps thats the way to go again? To actually dig it would be detrimental I think as i would lose depth of soil. waht do you think? Any advice??

    Like

  9. Dan says:

    I’m inspired. I quote your statement which got me wondering about my established trees, which up to now I thought are blocking me a bit.

    “The garden is still fairly young, with many of the fruit trees still growing to size, and being under a meter tall currently. Once they gain some height and form a proper canopy, the garden will begin to function in the way it was designed, and the amount produced by the garden will increase accordingly.”

    I have two massive pecan nut trees on my property blocking a lot of the northen sun. I was wondering if one could set up a permaculture garden underneath these?There are 2 citrus trees in their shade that are doing very poorly. I did not even consider veggies close to these trees because there is not a lot of sun for half the year and mostly these require full sun acording to the instructions. These trees must be quite old and did not yield much last year, the nuts are quite hard to get to anyway. But this canopy idea makes me hope there is a way to keep them since they are beautiful and do give lovely shade. Or is the shade you will end up in your garden more partial because of all the pruning and the height restriction? Thanks for putting all this on the web it helps so much.

    Like

    • Day and Night says:

      Never. Ever. Cut. Big. Trees. Depending on how much space you have left, you could plant shadow loving edible shrubs and perennials beneath and plant you sun needing plants further away, or you could cut some lower branches as to get more light underneath the trees and in the canopy. This way you might be able to plant more at soil level, and train some fruiting climbers into the tree.

      Like

  10. lee says:

    Looks great! I am building a raised bed garden as well, was wondering how you plan on renewing the beds each year, such as compost, rock dust, organic material? Any ideas would help me out, thanks.

    Like

    • Blackthorn says:

      Hi Lee, I constantly add organic matter all year round, anything that needs to be cut, pruned, or removed is mulched and added straight back to the garden bed on top of the soil, it’s basically “sheet composting”. I also add the liquid from my worm farms, compost from my compost bins, and anything else that can build the soil that I come across. I’ve managed to get free prunings and clippings which I mulch and compost, used straw from chicken coops, it’s a big recycling system. Since I give produce away, and therefore end up moving nutrients off-site, I do buy a little bit of seaweed extract and animal manure to add each year to replace it. I’ve invested in a bokashi bin recently, so I can now compost all the things that aren’t normally compostable, so nearly all food scraps make garden fertiliser now.

      Like

  11. Michael says:

    Angelo, what software did you use in the design layout of your garden and do you still use that when designing in permaculture or do you have other recommendations?

    Like

    • Blackthorn says:

      Hi Michael, the design was produced using SmartDraw 2010, I only use it when I need to publish a design online or in a printed publication. It’s OK but I find it a bit limited at times and it takes a while to draw up a complete design. When I draw up my permaculture designs I always do it the old fashion way, with a pencil and graph paper! It allows me to draw up the design on location and to scale, and using pencil I can quickly erase and redraw if I make any errors.

      Like

  12. xander cruisin says:

    4 words. You are the man.

    Like

  13. Jian says:

    This is so inspiring! Thank you very much for sharing in so much detail. May you be rewarded not only for your hard work but also for your generosity.

    Like

  14. Emily says:

    Hi there,
    I am so inspired and have a huge backyard now that i’ve recently moved from a unit in Watsonia, VIC, MELBOURNE. I’ve tried to incorporate your principles when planting the following: apricot, nectarine, orange, lime and plan to espalier lemon, passionfruit and a mandarin, plant some strawberries as well as find a place for thronless loganberry. Question, what would you do to support a loganberry? Would a trellis support from bunnings work okay? I plan to put it in front of a NW facing side of a chicken coop. The width is about 1m and 2m high. Is this enough space?
    Thanks for your help and for the great website.
    Emily

    Like

    • Angelo (admin) says:

      You can support a loganberry on any sort of trellis, arch, mesh, etc. A width of 1m is rather short as a loganberry is a trailing berry with canes up to 4m long. You could wind them up and down over two wires in a sinusoidal shape (like a winding serpent for lack of a better description) to maximise the length of the cane in the short space.

      Like

  15. Miss Nirvana says:

    Wow, I just found your blog, and I am in love! I just bought a house this winter. I am working on making yard into a forest garden design, as well. Your blog has provided me with lots of inspiration. I am working with a 1/2 acre, but I have a lot of slopes to deal with, so it will take me some time to dig swales, and I still have not figured out what in my yard yet! The previous two owners were horticulture professors, so I know there are lots of beautiful ornamentals here, but I am really more interested in edibles. I need to wait a year before I start making more plans to figure out a more finalized design. This year I am adding rhubarb, lavender, passion fruit, hardy kiwi to grow on my large trees, cranberries under the high bush blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, an ostrich fern, low bush blueberries under the pine tree, a cherry tree, and an apricot tree. I am working on building stairs in the ravine because a large part of yard is not currently accessible. I have researched native plants and plants that endangered in our area to incorporate those into my design. I am also making sure I have nectar plants for some endangered butterflies. But first I have to wait for the snow to melt! You can follow my journey at http://creatingnirvanatoday.blogspot.com/

    Like

  16. Hilton Meyer says:

    So glad I found this page. Great info here. What did you use to design the garden plan? Also the size of the tree’s. Is this what you plan the size to be or have you got tables that you are using from somewhere to show height and width? I have john Jeavon’s book that is a great resource for intensive vegetable plantings. He also has tree’s there and wondering whether that would be a good guide. 38 tree’s in such a small area!! Show’s what can be done with some planning

    Like

  17. Sheri says:

    I remember my Gypsy pot garden days. When I bought this place the first thing I did was haul in all my potted up perennial plant starts from my last yard. Neighbors thought I was a bit odd to do that but I didn’t spend a penny on my “pretty plant” landscaping. I have a Homeowners Association and all the front yards have to be so-so by the rules. I rarely do anything in the front, just weed, it’s the back yard where the fun is!

    Like

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