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Douglas Road garden design

Baseline garden!

Baseline garden!

[Criteria 1; OBREDIMET, Holmgren principles, PMI, PASE, Zones/sectors, shade analysis, microclimates, base maps, client interview, soil analysis, incremental design, ethics. Criteria 2; permaculture in my home. Criteria 3; site development]

This is the design for the above space, my back garden at Douglas Road, Surbiton. The designer is me, the implementers are me, Catherine and any friends and family we were able to rope in on occasion to help us dig out concrete paths or dig holes for trees!  The design began in Jan 2012.

The aim of the project is to have a healthy, garden growing a wide variety of fruit and veg that we will eat, supporting as much biodiveristy (insect, plant and animal life) as we can achieve and providing a beautiful place for us to potter in as well as to work in.  We also want to experiment both in designing and in implementing.

The following is the overall grand design for the garden, there are lots of smaller sub designs that have also happened.  Some of these are written up elsewhere.  I have decided to try out using the permaculture design process OBREDIMET for a change!


Site conditions

  1. Sun/shade.  I marked out where the shade fell on the site at different times of day at different times of the year.

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  1. Soil analysis. I dug a couple of trial areas to test the soil.  Outcome: silty/sandy/clay – it had a bit of everything in it.  And seemed to be similar in a couple of different places across the garden.  Soil was quite compacted and there wasn’t much soil life (this observation was particularly noticed in relation to the much bigger abundance of soil life in the no dig beds we installed with lots of organic matter where there is now (one year later) lots of worms/insects/ soil activity coupled with a lot more aeration)

  2. Species on site.

  3. Rose bushes (lots).

  4. Leylandii hedge at the back and on the side. Soil around is very dry.  Very little biodiversity noticed.  No other plants growing nearby.

  5. Grass.

  6. Strawberries.

  7. Big pink flowering bush at the end of the garden – loved by bees and other insects.  Flowers in April/May

  8. Some fungi – in May, I couldn’t identify it from the fungi book from the library – will have to see if it reappears this year

  9. Cats (ours plus a couple of other neighbourhood cats)

  10. Pigeons nest in next door but one’s pear tree

  11. Large pink flowering tree right next to fence line in next door neighbours garden (shade and leaf fall)

  12. A surprising lack of foxes!  None observed – perhaps we are just too far away from the local take aways and shops.

  13. Wind.  I have found really hard to observe.  Above the fence line it blows NE-SW.  Mostly from the NE.  Observed through the direction of drying washing being blown.  I am not yet sure I know what the impact of wind is below the fenceline, occasionally (especially in winter) it swirls and blows around.  Wind tunnel along the alleyway beside the house.

  14. Microclimates.

  15. Very warm sunny spot where the shed is – sheltered by the houses, south facing – sun heats it up.  Brick wall of next door house provides a heat store and slow release of heat.

  16. Dank right beside the south side fence (i.e. north facing), especially on the west side of the garden near the house

  17. Where the run off from the roof gathers there is a boggy patch with very large dandelion like plants growing extremely tall – much taller than anywhere else in the garden.

  18. Structures.

  19. Concrete shed

  20. Small wooden shed

  21. Clothes line ( concreted in pole at one end) – regular use during summer

  22. Concrete path along the length of the site

  23. Bird bath – not used

  24. A couple of gnomes!

  25. Other

  26. Land is flat

  27. No pooling of water observed

  28. Access from house (side and back door) and via side gate.

  29. No existing desire lines (but we created a few once we started walking about on the space)

Our needs of the garden

  1. Fruit and veg growing

  2. Relaxation and fun (space to sit, eat, share)

  3. Storage (for garden equipment, tools and wood (as it panned out over time))

  4. Clothes drying

  5. Explore permaculture design and experiment


Outline of 30 Douglas Road, image oriented north at the top

Outline of 30 Douglas Road, image oriented north at the top

the site in context with neighbouring gardens

the site in context with neighbouring gardens

Site boundaries

Site boundaries

Physical: The edge of the garden defined by the existing fences and neighbours house.  (There is also space inside the house for growing seedlings, and it will be possible to use the front garden as additional growing space but these are not strictly part of this design).  [An interesting aside – and a major lesson learnt.  My skills at plotting a base map were rubbish – I paced the site and drew it up, but somehow made a mistake – which meant when I came to designing the site I couldn’t make things fit on my base map even though I knew that on the ground they did fit!]

Time: Ideally we would have the bulk of the structures/big planting done within two seasons.  But strictly speaking there is no real time boundary.


Consider the resources mandala – natural, physical, social, personal and financial resources available to us for this design

  1. Ourselves (Liz and Catherine) and our energy (N, Ph, Pe, So).  Occasional help from friends and relatives (So)

  2. Seeds (that we have already) (Ph, N)

  3. Pallets/local skips for wood, stone etc available for free (Ph, Fi)

  4. Local stables with well rotted manure available for free (Ph, Fi)

  5. Tree surgery waste – wood chippings for free (Ph, Fi)

  6. Plants moved from previous garden – that were in pots (N, Ph)

  7. Lots of garden tools left in the shed (Ph)

  8. Liz’s attendance on a Permaculture Design Course and teaching intro to permaculture courses (So, Pe, N)

  9. Key books: Gaia’s Garden, Hemenway, Creating a forest garden, Martin Crawford.  Plus lots of others (Ph)

  10. Previous growing experience from allotment and garden since 2006 (Pe)

Overall our financial resources are realised through things we can acquire for free.  We didn’t set a budget, but have kept a record of money spent on the design implementation.  This design seems low on social resources, is this a problem, or simply a reflection of the nature of what we are designing?


Here I used a range of tools to look at ways to interpret the information and to start to consider designing.



Zone 2 – main crop veg (rotation raised beds), fruit trees, water storage, compost, work shed

Zone 3 – wild zone, pond, bee and insect plants, wood store, compost bins, possibly chickens, possibly bees, possibly kayak storage

Zone 4 – forage in local parks, local forest garden at knollmead

Zone 5 – Scotland(!), some of the spaces at knollmead, north downs etc

Plus, Minus, Interesting (PMI):  Plant, Animal, Structure, Event (PASE)

A long train journey allowed us the time to do a bit of analysis and we carried out a PMI and a PASE, shown in the pictures.

PMI analysis

PMI analysis



EthicsEarth CarePeople CareFair SharesImprove biodiveristy of the spaceIncrease our knowledge and skills – growing, building, observingShare our surplus crops with our neighboursGrow local produce!Do fun projects with friends and familyDesign a space that will inspire and encourage my nieces/nephew (and now my own child) to careReuse and recycle building materials, growing mediums wherever possibleHave a space that will allow us to spend time in with ourselves with eachother with friends/familyReuse – don’t create waste for someone else to deal withUse nitrogen fixing plants to improve soil fertilityMake lots of the space low maintenanceLocal leaf litter for soil structureMake our own compost


In the beginning we tried to observe mostly whilst making minimal changes, but there were times when our interactions were a little bigger than our observations!

We got rid of the things we knew had to go:

  1. The leylandi – ugly, nutrient sapping, biodiverse poor, fear that it might be a giant growing species that would take over the entire garden.  We managed to cut down and remove 9 trees and not take a single piece of them off site, every bit has been incorporated into our wood shed (below) or used as a mulch or for pathways. (Produce no waste)

  2. The concrete path – all the way up the south side of the


And added a couple of structure that we knew had to be in, we designed and built slender structures and stuck them on the north side up against the fence – effectively giving us a small fence extension with minimal impact to the garden.

  1. A wood store – so that we could start to gather and season wood to burn in our stove and keep us toasty warm.  We made it out of pallets and old doors that we had to remove from our house, the wood shed gave us the chance to use up all our leylandi obtained from removing

  1. A couple of compost bins – made out of pallets (what else!) (produce no waste)

The actual design evolved over time, through the use of a lot of doodles and sketches and a huge long list of plants that we want, plants that we’ve heard of, like the look of, will do good for x, y or z reason.

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I also tried out Google Sketchup, these are some initial design ideas, final design further down the page.  As you can see through all the sketches there are some elements that were repeatedly part of the design, these have stayed into the final design (e.g. fruit trees, veg patch, pond, compost) and some elements that were important but as the design process evolved and the analysis undertaken fell by the wayside through lack of space, recognition that they required more work (e.g. kayak storage, bee hives, chickens).

Sketch up designs

Sketch up designs


Base map with fruit tree girth to plan layout

Christmas came and we were generously given 6 fruit trees from our families.  We had an outline idea of where we would put these (zone 2), we looked at the sun/shade pattern – identified the area that has most sun and planned our annual veg growing for that


I did some nitrogen requirement calcs for all these fruit trees and all the area we had planned to grow annual veg.  I wanted to see if we could provide enough nitrogen to meet the needs of all this growth on the site.  This is what I worked out:

  1. Each M27 apple tree (we have 3) requires 25.1g nitrogen/year = 5 pees/tree, 7.5m2 nitrogen fixer in full light or 1 goumi tree (for all 3 trees)

  2. 2 no. cherry trees require 56.5g nitrogen/year = 11 pees/tree or 2 no. goumi trees or 1 no. goumi + some herbaceous perennial nitrogen fixers

  3. For the annual veg I calculated 1 goumi/2m2 of veg – for the area we had planned (15m2) this was 7 goumi trees OR have a nitrogen fixer in the rotation.

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We made some raised no dig beds (out of pallets – oh yes!); we laid cardboard onto the existing ground to block out all of the light and then sourced some well rotted manure and any other organic matter we could find and filled the beds.  We laid paths using wood chip delivered from a tree surgeon around the beds. (produce no waste, catch and store energy, small and slow) I planned a crop rotation. (stacking over time, self regulation and feedback over time)


The list of perennial plants we wanted to incorporate remained long.  In truth I became a bit unstuck with too many long lists of plants and a lack of clarity about where/how to fit them all in.  So I broke it down a bit into something more manageable.

  1. Design a guild around the fruit trees:  build soil structure, build fertility (nitrogen and other mineral accumulators), attract beneficial insects, experiment with aromatic plants to ward off disease, minimise inputs from us to keep the trees alive and thriving

This slideshow requires JavaScript.Function – primaryOther fnsPlantsShadeHeightground coverMulchBene insectsNutr accumN2 fixFoodMedicineAromaBee plantsSmall fruit trees guildComfrey0.8221Salad burnett0.6212Minttol0.621valerian1.2 – 2112Oregano0.4Sweet cicelyPartial0.6 – 12212lemon balmtol0.6 – 0.8221332cardoonup to 2122rhubarbtol1-2121chives/garlic chives0.412Licoricetol1.52112parsley0.4angelicatol0.6 – 0.8122daffodils0.41daffodil garlic0.3 – 0.5121

Above is an extract from the perennials list in an easier to read form (although the formatting is lost through the web programme).

  1. Design a hedge guild: shielding from the neighbours for privacy (and possibly wind break), edible perennials, shade tolerant (as north side), not too tall so that it doesn’t cast shade on the rest of the garden, attract beneficial insects to help pollinate the garden and to keep pests and diseases in check.  This is still being worked on.

  2. Design zone 3: possibly as a chicken forage system, or as an insect haven.

  1. Anything to add to our raised bed annual plant system to increase fertility

We identified a little sun space between the fruit trees that will in a few years time probably be shaded out – but for the next 2 or 3 will produce well, so we moved some strawberry plants into the area. (Stacking)

We designed and built a shed, and a pond.

Sort of final design

Sort of final design

This is the sort of final(ish) design.  There will forever be adaptations and with the overall pattern set, details in each area or zone will change and grow over time


Things that have been implemented so far:

  1. wood shed

  1. compost bin

  2. pond and hugel bed

  1. mini orchard

  2. Some of the hedge

  3. Annual raised bed area

  4. pallet salad bed – did not work out – because insufficient organic matter – too much heat and too little water

Things to be implemented:

  1. Zone 1 – seating/cooking etc

  2. More work on the hedge

  3. Fruit tree guilds

Eleagnus hedge plant

Eleagnus hedge plant

  1. Zone 1 – herb and salad area

  2. Greenhouse/ICU

  3. Zone 3 – needs to be designed

Resources used:

FinancialShed£197.26plants£254.71pond£228.5seeds£41.52tool hire£96.00


Shed – 4 person weeks

Raised beds – 2 person days/bed

Pond – 1 person week

Hedge – 1 person day so far

Design – On and off 2 person weeks


The design for the hedge and the fruit tree area for low maintenance.  Time will tell if this works out, once the designs have been implemented.  The annual veg will require regular maintenance to plant and harvest the beds.


I am not sure that the design for this garden will ever be finished, we will continually tweak and adapt our garden to suit our needs.  We hope that in the first year of implementation we haven’t done anything that we will regret.  We have put some reasonably immovable structures in (such as shed, pond etc), but it feels like they have gone into the right places.  Our level of design and communication of design has been adequate for our needs, it would not be possible to do this sort of designing for a client outside of me!

The first year we did not expect big yields but some of the yields we did obtain include:

  1. A lot of joy building and growing things in the garden

  1. 7 months supply of garlic

  2. onions, tomatoes, a few beans, 2 small squash

  3. some great stories of digging up concrete paths shared with friends

  4. the chance to observe and actively make notes of my observations over the course of the year.  I was particularly interested in how the annuals grew – as they are easy plants to observe change because they grow quickly.

  5. teaching my niece how to use power tools!


This design will constantly be tweaked and changed.

There was one big tweak which only came to light after living here for a year and only once the workshop was fully functioning as a workshop. 


Overall lessons learnt and evaluation

  1. I’ve learned a lot about perennial plants, started to understand about different species and groupings and the benefits of plants (this is mostly through my hedge and guild work – not fully presented in this overall design).  I look forward to observing how the plants actually work together in my back garden.

  2. I’ve learnt that shade isn’t something to be feared, but can be extremely valuable, provide the opportunity to plant different species and have different uses!

  3. It’s been interesting to use OBREDIMET, I prefer this framework because of the more explicit early stages allowing the evolution of the design to come together nicely (compared to SADIM).

  4. I feel as though I could actually do a design for someone else now – I didn’t think that before I started to write this up!

  5. I probably used too many different media – notepads, Sketchup, base map.  This was a lot to do with my lack of confidence because I wasn’t quite sure what my final ‘design’ ought to look like.

  6. I tried to present this design at the last intro course we taught and my presentation wasn’t brilliant.  Having written this up in this way I feel a lot more confident about doing it again.

  7. I would like to try this process again with the knowledge I have in a more condensed way to design my front garden.

  8. I am getting better at making observations.  To improve further I need to be more logical and regular about making my observations.  My observations were quite ad hoc.

And finally some pictures from Sept 2014 showing elements of the implemented design

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