By Diane C. Kennedy.
Permaculture promotes that landscaping be 99% design and 1% labor, and if you are working too hard your design is wrong. Yet all of us are guilty of buying plants and not having a place for them, allowing them to sit around in their pots until they are nearly dead and then randomly jamming them into the ground to appease our guilt for wasting both money and a life. Usually they are in the wrong place. With a design in mind for your yard you can direct your purchases to what meets the design, and then have a place in which to plant them in a timely manner.
Start your design from the inside of your house. Make a list of everything you could possibly want in your garden, no matter how far-out it may seem. Be sure that everyone who will be using the yard also has a say in it, and there is no editing or criticizing of what is put on the list. Also, make a list of what you absolutely don’t want. Hate hot colors but love koi ponds? Hate avocados but love succulents? It all goes on the list. Don’t worry if many of the things on the list conflict: design may take care of it all.
Once the list is full (it will never be complete, so give yourself a time limit instead) evaluate what you have. It is amazing just what can go into a design that you thought you could never have. Other things that were of importance may fade in view of a grander idea. Now you have what you want to plant and feature, so the next step is to find where to put it.
Look out your windows and what do you see? Do you like it? Are others looking in? Do you have the privacy you want? When you are standing at the sink washing dishes are you staring at trash cans, or a pile of odds and ends that need something done with them? Or the top of the neighbor’s camper? These are all issues that need to be addressed. Maybe the guava tree that you want can be strategically placed to add privacy or block a view. A pond can be the focal point of the window through which you look every day, along with your favorite flowers. Vegetables can be incorporated with a cutting border, or kept close to the house but just out of sight.
Next make your pathways. The flow of traffic outside through looping paths (avoid dead ends) draws you out and around your garden. Once the pathways are determined, then everything else can be planted or made into a feature.
If you remove plants and trees their wood can be buried to nourish the soil and absorb rainwater in a process called hügelkultur. Nothing needs to go to waste. Wood chips can be put on top of cardboard, which goes right on top of weeds for ‘sheet mulching’, which also conserves water and protects tree roots.
A well designed garden that is functional will delight you from inside or out. If it can provide you with both food and beauty it will feel good to be in. It feels and looks right. If design is just too much for you, contact a permaculturalist and they will give you the garden you are looking for. In the meantime, start making your lists!
Diane Kennedy is a permaculture landscape designer who runs Finch Frolic Garden, an educational food forest in Fallbrook. www.vegetariat.com.