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When starting a new garden or growing project it is very tempting to get stuck in, clearing the ground and start planting. However time spent early on considering the design can save a lot of effort later, whether it is simply deciding where to put individual plants or something more substantial like the positioning of a greenhouse. Using plans, sketches or notes we can look at the scheme as a whole, allowing us to assess how well things will work together.

Understanding the basic process can help all of us achieve our goals no matter what our skills or experience.

Plan – This is the stage to develop the design and make decisions about where you are going to place things. It is a good idea to record your thoughts as either notes or drawings. Drawings really help visualise how the design is progressing and can be developed as overlays on a base map of the existing. You could also use cut outs to make moving things around easy and help you consider various options - but remember to record the final layout. Some things to consider :

  • Water - Aim to capture and store rainwater from every available roof. Even so, this may not be sufficient and you may still need a mains supply.
  • Site your compost bins close to hand, reducing the distance that you have to cart material around and making them easy to use
  • Position any greenhouses or polytunnels in a sunny location and, along with any other sheds, make them easily accessible. Watch out for overhanging trees that may drop fruit or nuts onto your glass greenhouse!
  • Orientation- imagine how you would go about various tasks and draw a diagram showing the most efficient routes. This will help you think about where to locate things and plan your paths. For example it is a good idea to locate herbs for cooking close to your kitchen. This is the concept of zoning - a permaculture tool.
  • Planting beds – Make a list of what you want to grow and consider how to grow it. Think about layout and access as well as aspect, for those plants that prefer sun or shade. Formal edged beds or informal shaped beds will reflect your gardening style and the shape of your plot as well as any aesthetic considerations. You may want to focus on annual vegetables and flowers in separate beds or mix things up and include perennials all in the same bed (polyculture).
  • Trees and bushes are important, whether for screening, harvesting of fruit and nuts or to help define boundaries. You may wish to combine them with your other planting beds to create a forest garden or have space for a woodland.
  • Wildlife areas and ponds are an essential consideration in any design and should be located where they are least likely to be disturbed. We explore this in more detail in the Wildlife and biodiversity article.

Once you start to implement your scheme you will inevitably make further observations some of which may lead you to re-evaluate and tweak your original plan and possibly lead to some major changes.

This is a natural part of a resilient and sustainable design process - a continuous cycle of observation, evaluation, planning and implementation. Like the turning of the seasons the growth of a garden never ceases.

For more design tools, inspiration and reference sources visit the Permaculture Association website.