Moretonhampstead garden design - 3 years on review (April 2007)

Client interview and base map.

The original interview was unprepared, and as a consequence it didn't cover much. This was partly because i had not been clear about what she wanted from me. It meant i had to later ask more questions again.

I was also very quick to jump into the design phase, throwing out ideas and placements onto the original base map, thereby narrowing the apparent possibiities for myself - designing before i had all the information i needed, and before i had had time to marinate the possibilites, and I also didn't use any design tools at this stage. And the first 'client interview' had been very short, so i was also working on an fairly uninformed basis.

The map itself was not measured out at all - it was originally scribbled more as an aide memoir, but i then used it to design with anyway all through the process. Having an inaccurate map dissuaded me from measuring out a proper base map - a task i readily delegate or ignore given half a chance, and having a rough map was that half a chance.



This was a bit early to start analysing and judging things. I suspect i did it during a night of insomnia in bed as well, and it would have been better to do it on site rather than from memory, to avoid my mind's bias. I like that i saw pond mould as a resource.



I do this in my designs these days too - i note my wild ideas right from the start and treat them as a resource, keeping them for future reference without taking them too far in terms of placement and analysis. I suspect in this case it was actual design work rather than idea harvesting, which is too early in this design process. I was letting my excitement at being a professional Permaculture designer get the better of me, and forgetting the design process tools...


Neat map and zones

Here again, design work is coming in too early, but at least i put the design ideas on the map in pencil and the existinng features and base map in pen. The zones do not correspond to traditional Permaculture broadscale zones, but are more of a measure of how far and difficult each area is to reach from the kitchen, a scaled down version of the same tool used for broadscale designs. This garden is all zone 1 and bits of 2 in broadscale terms.



Around this time i noticed my lack of design process, and revisited some of the earlier bits of OBREDIM that i had missed out or skimped on - although i can't find any evidence of boundaries being researched...


The Client interview revisited

On my second attempt i rolled out the questions from a list i got from the 2003 Steward Wood Permaculture course, and asked all the ones i hadn't asked before. Some of them could have been omitted, like property size and ages of clients, but i suppose i was erring on the side of safety, and certainly the more information that is gathered and indexed, the more relevant and useful the design is likely to be.

I like that i added some customised questions as well, although some of them sound like i have design ideas ready in my head, which isn't the best way to do the survey part of the design. Design is supposed to come after observaion, boundaries, resources and evaluation in the OBREDIM process. But after this interview i had lots of information from Olivia with which to carry on the design. I missed out getting any information on sunlight patterns, but the garden was fairly south facing, and had no big trees ahding it, so i suppose the pattern wasn't too complex to work out. There was no information gathered on what the soil was like, or how it differed throughout the different areas of the garden, which would have been useful,although soil can be built or imported. Some recording of observed microclimates would have been useful too. I think i misunderstood the site security question, which could have been where i might have winkled out of Olivia that there was a chance they would turn part of this land into a house extension. I think i mistook it as security from theft rather than security from future changes in land use.


Digging and synergy

By the nature of being hired as a digger rather than a designer, i was expected to be getting on with the garden physically as well as mentally, and i was preparing beds from the original design during this time as well, and this meant my design options were narrowing all the time as the beds had to be where i had dug them.

The synergy between the two gardens i was designing and implementing was great, as i could share the research and some of the plant materials. My garden was more perennials and strange leaves than hers, but there was good overlap. I think i remember not having enough time to work my own garden much, but then that is a familiar situation for most projects i am involved in, whether or not i am working on someone else's garden, and the fact that i was being paid for working in her garden probably saved me time somehow too.


Design mindmap

I like this. It generated lots of synergies and guilds, as well as highlighting some of the design challenges (rats and slugs). Doing it on a computer would enable me to change things around easily as well, and keep it easy to comprehend, but i didnt know such programs existed then. It is a lot quicker and easier to do it on a piece of paper, although a digital format also has more possible yields.

While the mindmap was effective and useful, there seems to be a lack of any other design tools being used. I did use zoning early on, but i think a lot of the design got informally laid down in my head in the first few days, and i didn't really overhaul it very seriously at any point after that..


costings and labour

There weren't any really. I didn't really have much idea of how long anything was going to take, how much time i was prepared to devote to it, how much it would cost in terms of labour or materialsor how long Olivia was prepared to employ me for! Which is part of the reason why the design didnt get fully implemented i suppose.


Design map

The colours and icons made this map clear and attractive, and Olivia seemed impressed. A computer generated picture would be easier to update, or if i had photocopies of the basemap i could redraw onto, that would have made redrafting it easier. As it was i just drew in alterations onto the photocopied design map, which was okay as i didnt add too many. It meant the map became dated and scrappy, and i stopped referring to it after a while, which may have led to a bit of mission/design creep, and a forgetting of a few of the elements. Looking at it now, the drawing seems fairly amateur and scrappy, but maybe some of the colours didn't photocopy as well as they looked on the original.


The design itself

Concrete walkway - The plans for this section are good, although it is let down by not having the window in the base map, or a measurement of how wide the south-facing part was. There was also a boat mast stored here, (i can't remember if Olivia ever said she was going to move this or not). The path in practice was too narrow for the cold frames, but the herbs in pots would have been fine, and maybe could have co-existed with the mast. The compost heap next to the walkway is a neat idea, if it can be made smell and flyproof. Maybe Olivia was right to put it further away...

Raised bed -This is the centrepiece of the design really, and a beautiful, striking design it was. It used locally sourced, untreated, long lasting wood that was processed and transported without using fossil fuels. It incorporated a way of cycling waste cardboard back to the earth, and didnt require any digging over of the soil - a process which damages soil micro-organisms.The design meant the soil would never be compacted, just built up every year to produce great food.

It also took a long time to build, a very long time, time which could have been spent on more quickly productive areas, like the pot herbs and tyre potatoes. The bed ended up being too high, and needed a lot of compost to fill it even a little way up, which again took a lot of time to procure and barrow in... It was very tempting to walk across the bed when you wanted to get to the other side, so maybe a way of getting across would have good too. I think that was what the 3 stumps in the middle were for, but they never happened. The Leylandii step was a nice touch. The beds were quite small in the end. Other designs might have created more growing space and less paths, eg. a dendritic leaf shape pattern.

I think i got carried away in my focus on this part of the design, it appealed to my architectural instincts, but did not really represent value for time or money. A lot more time and effort was spent creating it than was spent actually preparing stuff to grow in it. I suppose i felt more confident making the bed than i did sowing seeds... - a pattern i still see in myself this year...

Beds below the shed -These were dug over but never planted up. They remained as a home to sailing equipment, perennial weeds and buildings materials. I think the fennel is probably still flourishing though... I focussed too much on the raised bed and neglected these ones. The water butt wasn't needed, as Olivia had a hose and outside tap, so it never got set up. The garden is used as a storage space for various things, and i put no space for that in my design. I should have gathered this usage from the client interview and site survey, and left space for it somewhere. There was a lack of clarity between me and Olivia and her partner over this.

The hedgeline plots - The compost bin was probably the most successful part of the design, and it was one of Olivia's main objectives, so that is reassuring. The second bay was too big and the wire snapped first time, but that could be tweaked with larger wire. It was immediately and easily usable, and probably acted as an engine to bring people into the garden as well, which may have led to more gardening and harvesting. It was good to go back in November and help her turn the heap too, as i got feedback on the set up from that, it got the heap turned and it reminded/showed her how to turn it.

The tree onions and strawberries did well, although i think the birds ate most of the berries. The lettuce interplanted in it did well. Perennials like the onion and strawberries are hardier, and well suited to this low maintenance situation. I don't know how much the lettuce got harvested. The potatoes never got planted, which is a shame as i want to grow potaoes in tyres, but have no reason to as we have so much space in the woods...

The rest of this bed was not so good. The runner beans all failed to appear, and i never planted out any fruit bushes. I didn't have so many resources available then, as i was only starting gardening myself. Now i have an abundance of useful permaculture plants to take cuttings from and give away, but then i didnt, and i didnt make enough effort to find them. I only thought about the garden while i was working there, after the initial enthusiasm and middle of the night designing wore off. More attention needs to be paid to materials gathering.

The periferal beds never got done either. Again, we ran out of season and labour time, probably because we prioritised the raised bed, and that took so much work and time to create. I suppose the wildlife area thrived, in its self maintaining way.


Implementation plan

The plan did not include where to get everything, which is perhaps why some elements of the design did not happen - i never researched enough to source things like the fruit trees or cold frames. The plan seems to be thematic, and this is not sensitive enough for the timing of things - for example the potatoes should be chitted asap, rather than waiting for the compost bins and cold frames to be made.

The last stage of the plan is a bit vague, it seems i lost focus thinking that far into the future. Thinking that i would be doing most of the implementation meant that i could probably get away with working out the details later on, but did it also mean that i wasn't working towards those actions? which is perhaps partly why the implementation trailed off and lacked materials later on? I never sorted out the pot herbs for example, and they aren't specifically mentioned in the plan.


On-the-job debrief (June 2004)

Great - I did a debrief during the implementation phase. And to split it into observations and evaluations shows a clarity of thinking and a use of the design process flows.

The observations are mostly limited to which plants have thrived and which have died. Maybe all the other systems like water and compost and paths were all working so well that i didn't notice them, but maybe i was being a little blinkered. Its good to appreciate systems that are working well, though my brain seems less likely to notice them and think about them. Gratitude and self-appreciation are important sources of enthusiasm and energy.

Its good that i recognised the annuals/perennials issues, and the ideas phase includes some perennial plantings to balance up the ratio.

The review is useful, and i think it guided me into doing some useful things, but it could have been more comprehensive. It would have been useful, for example, to go into the labour/implementation/sourcing issues which meant i hadn't implemented various parts of the design. I guess i basically stood in the garden, looked round and saw how each of the plants i had planted had done, without noticing the ones i hadn't planted, or looking at the design or considering the other invisible issues.


November 2004 end of year review

The power of deadlines in my life... I am now only reviewing this review because the deadline for my diploma website write up is looming, and i only got round to the November review because i was going away for the winter and wanted to get it done before left. Why do i leave things to the last minute, why am i not proactive in doing things when it is convenient for me, rather than urgent for me... I guess i take on too much, and i am not strategic/realistic and self disciplined enough to get round to things until they are pressing. On some level i guess i dont want to do them as well - avoiding difficult reviews or commiting things to paper/computer.

So i did the review, and then lost one of the two pieces of paper because i was in a chaotic travelling space and took it with me... Because i had not made enough time to sort it out before i left. Another victim to my leaving things til the last minute habit.

I have learnt a few more debriefing tools since then - listing done differentlies is one, but i could still do with some more. The PMI exercise was useful and broader in its scope than the first review in April, going beyond plant survival rate to other systems analysis, and some of the reasons behind the successes and failures.

The analysis of the raised bed is good, as is the herb thoughts. I doubt that my suggestions about slugs were that useful to Olivia though. Overall the review was good, if a little rushed. Its a shame i lost one of the sheets of paper. I have nice memories of sitting on that balcony in Tuscany watching the mist rise up from the volcanic plains as i sat there and thought about my labour and learnings in a garden in Moretonhampstead the year before.


Lessons learned and Done differentlies

Use a design process flow right from the start - ie. SADIM or OBREDIM.

Do not bodge base maps - measure out things properly first time round so the design is accurately plotted.

Have a better, clearer client interview and survey checklist, so i include things like sunlight patterns and microclimates, and whether a house extension will obliterate most of the garden in a few years time!

Work out where i am going to source materials from, and get them before i need them if possible.

Have a more detailed implementation plan, and be clear on what i am doing and what the client is taking on doing.

Learn even more debriefing tools.