When I did the Permaculture Design Course in 2016, I learned of a design process with the acronym SADIMET. This stands for: survey, analyse, design, implement, maintain, evaluate, tweak.
Now, as you may have picked up, if you look around my site, I first heard the term permaculture a few years after I had bought my house with its garden. I therefore didn’t follow a specific design process when setting up my forest garden.
I did, however, have a vision. Or to put it in a more down-to-earth way, there were aims and objectives. I simply didn’t know anything about gardening. Thus, my use of SADIMET, as described below, is in places a retrospective action. Or you could say it is a belated analysis of my plans.
I have never measured the area of my back garden, which is being developed as a forest garden. At a pinch, I would say it is 3 metres by ten metres. So, it is big in view of my house being a modern terrace but in comparison with the amount of land I read of others having it is definitely small.
The garden is south-west facing, which means (at least in theory) that:
1) It gets lots of sun; and
2) It gets battered by the prevailing winds.
Both are in fact true for ten months of the year, but in winter (December to January) much of the sunlight is blocked by very tall leylandii in a neighbouring garden to the east.
The soil is sandy loam as well as shallow. Really little more than a spade’s depth till you hit the sub-soil. It does, on the other hand, have the advantage of being neutral pH.
At the back of the garden is a path my neighbour to the east needs to use in order to get her bins out for collection. I haven’t counted this in the garden area. It is a consideration in as far I do not want to obstruct her right of way.
Equally, the path in her own garden runs right up against the fence which separates our two properties. This fence has seen far better days and my neighbour has voiced her wish for it to be replaced. I don’t currently have the money for a new barrier between us but in an ideal world I would like something living, though this would likely encroach too much on my land and get in the way of plantings I have already established.
The soil is not the best for fruit trees but there are a number of reasons why I wanted them.
Firstly, it was a sense of achievement after years of living out of a suitcase and being constrained by landlords’ rules that I could plan for the long term. I was also fed up with food coming, out of season, from afar, and since apples are a quintessentially English crop, I didn’t even question my desire on this level.
Then, as I read and learned more, I became aware of the importance of trees in the struggle against climate change and other environmental disasters. They are a natural carbon sink and help preserve soil, which is being eroded at an alarming rate.
Thus, trees on my property were a necessity for both personal and environmental reasons.
One of my original aims had been to provide organic food for my daughter and I. Since I had never heard of perennial vegetables, I did my best to cultivate crops such as potatoes and carrots but with limited success – at best. I therefore needed to work out either how to do it better or to do something more worthwhile.
It was then that I came across John Jeavons How to grow more vegetables and my understanding of growing evolved to consider perennials. I can’t remember if the book even mentions ‘permaculture’ but it certainly opened my mind to a world of possibilities I hadn’t previously been aware of.
Clearly, something had to be done about the soil. Perhaps creating depth would be a challenge (how many plastic bags of topsoil would I need, and at what cost to the environment?) but adding organic matter was doable. I already had a compost heap and later bought a bokashi system to make use of all food waste from the house. In addition, I learned about hugelculture at about the same time.
By complete chance, I had already decided to plant my first apple tree at the back of the garden (the south end) along with fruit bushes and flowers for pollinators. I had no idea at this time (c. 2010) that I was developing a forest garden.
The part of the garden nearest the house (the north end) was to be for herbs and annual vegetables. Since the latter have proven to be largely unsuccessful, I have recently decided to develop the whole of the back garden into forest garden.
Much of the ‘vegetable’ area is now full of hugel beds, built in an attempt to improve the soil for annuals. They may not be suitable for trees but there is space between the beds to plant them.
The strawberries in the original forest garden are starting to move northwards, so I won’t plant any in the prior annual patch. Instead, I will let nature take its course. This includes allowing self-seeders such as lupin (good for nitrogen-fixing, though it is not the edible kind) and hairy bittercress (which is actually delicious).
The herb garden will no doubt evolve in time. The soil here was very badly compacted and uncultivated (i.e. bare soil) until a couple of years ago. It therefore does not sustain life very well, although I am working on building the soil with hugel beds and mulches/biomass with penetrating roots, such as Honesty at present.
I’ve already done much of the implementation – see above. I can definitely fit one more tree into my garden, and perhaps another, if I move the rhubarb. This could probably do with being moved, anyway, as it is in quite a shady patch at the moment.
I don’t think I’m fully at this stage yet, as I have only planted half the garden so far.
My neighbour has taken the plunge and the new, higher and solid fence will be going up sometime in June (2019). As it is summer with the sun high in the sky, I doubt the extra shade will significantly affect the crops I have growing along the eastern edge of the garden. At the same time, I am all the more glad that the plan for all the garden to be perennial had already been conceived.
Furthermore, I’ve embellished my plans over the last few months. So, in addition to a fourth apple tree, there is going to be a yew (basically because I love them but hopefully also for wildlife) and hazels.
I’d like a pond to go in along the eastern fence, since a shady area is a good place for one. It would be great is a few amphibians make it their home – again for biodiversity and supporting wildlife.
The aim is to have the pond and new trees sorted by the end of 2018 (seven months to go, at the time of writing). Then I can observe the whole of the new canvas and as the trees mature, plant the understorey appropriately.
Now in May 2019, the pond has been constructed and it is one of the best things I could have done on a personal level, as I enjoy watching birds visiting. It seems to me that there are more birds and a wider variety than prior to the pond being there.
I’m now thinking of adding a dwarf pear tree to my collection of trees. This will need to be in a large pot as there isn’t realistically any more ground space for it.
In the meantime, I watch as other perennials, such as raspberries and a globe artichoke, presents from friends and family, grow, since being planted this spring.
In addition to the pond, I built one raised bed for annual vegetables. Having taken several hugel beds out in order to do the landscaping last winter, I had lots of spare wood and lots of bricks, which originally been acquired to build a cold frame. Thus, they have all been repurposed for the raised bed. So far, it is full of broad beans, which seem to be doing well.