Week 6: Design

A good design is the essential foundation of a successful permaculture project. The design is where all of the principles, concepts, and techniques come together to transform an area into a productive and resilient system.

Our design process began at the end of April, and is still not completely finished, nor will it likely ever be completely. From brainstorms to simplified concept maps, to the detailed designs, it has been a long journey to their actual execution!

The first step was the observation of the land and brainstorming ideas. We invited students taking the Permaculture Design Certification with P3 Permaculture to come for an extra curricular design exercise, and together broke into groups to create three rough, preliminary concept maps. These were not in scale, and basically only showed ideas of  elements to include and their possible placement. It was interesting to see what all three had in common and what was different; how each group could come up with unique responses to the same area. Most included the iconic elements like swales and herb spirals, but some emphasized annual gardens, others more food forests. Some included entirely new elements, like a pergola or bird and bat houses.

garden design

One of the first rough design sketches

We then consulted the experts/ our teachers from P3 who combined all of our ideas into one concept design. It was still very generalized but gave us a clearer sense of the space and what should be placed in each area. It outlined distinct sections of food forest, annual vegetable gardens, medicinal plant garden, windbreak, and a teaching/presentation area in the middle. These sections became the basis of all future designs.

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Concept Map by P3 Permaculture

We then took this design and adjusted it slightly to fit our situation. We decided against having three swales in the food forest because of time constraints and the awkwardly curving contour of the land that would have thrown off the design, choosing instead to keep just one further down where the contour lines straightened out. This swale could also then serve as a second entrance from the side. The medicinal garden in the corner was designed as a windbreak, but had to be reimagined without any tall plants since it borders on the Student-Run Ecological Garden’s plots.

Using this design we could begin making lists of plants and designing guilds and companions for each section. This map shows our basic plan with each section listed and ideas of possible plants for each one.

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Once the concept was finalized the next step was to create a more detailed plan that could be actually executed. We realized quickly that there was a discrepancy between the concept maps and the actual shape of the site. This was because of several changes that had occurred since our first observation. MSEG next-door had expanded their mandala garden, and then we were told not to plant on the lawn area around the trees bordering the site, decreasing our area from both sides. The result is a new slightly pinched version of the design, with the three vegetable gardens rearranged, and the medicinal garden much reduced.

This is our working design currently, we have begun marking out the different sections on the field and can start to get a sense of how the garden will look once it’s established. More detailed plans are in the works for how each section will be planted, but it is exciting to be able to commit to a plan after months of designing and re-designing!

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