Permaculture design of an urban garden
I was honored to be asked to to participate in mapping out this living space for you and your partner. The space has a lot of potential, is sited beautifully and what you have already done is really amazing aesthetically. In the design process I have mainly focused myself on adding diversity and resilience to the broad strokes that you already implemented. Diversity in the sense of plant life but also in interaction with the elements. Resilience in the sense of dependencies outside your home, whether that means energy needs in the sense of water or hot water, or resilience in food and fertility. I have also tried to add a layer of mental resilience, to enhance your drive to make it a place to relax and regenerate.
Introduction to Permaculture
“Permaculture is a holistic design science that is reflective of natural patterns and promotes mutually beneficial relationships. Rooted in ethics, the concepts and themes in Permaculture help us rediscover how to be a positive contribution to the earth, ourselves and humanity.”
The three Core Ethics:
- Earth Care – Provision for all life systems to continue and multiply.
- People Care – Provision for people to access those resources necessary to their existence.
- Future Care – By returning surplus and setting limits to population and consumption, we can set resources aside for the earth and others beings. Both alive now and in the future.
Permaculture Principles and Directives
- Work with Nature: we can assist rather than impede the natural elements, forces, processes, agencies and evolutions (Use gravity, use native species, use the sun, wind, etc.)
- The problem contains the solution: Everything depends on perspective. It is only how we see things that make them advantageous or not.
- Make the least change for the greatest possible effect: Make work a source and not a sink of your energy.
- The yield of the system is theoretically unlimited: The only limit on the number of uses of a Resource possible within a system is in the limit of the information and the imagination of the designer.
- Everything is connected: Everything gardens and has an effect on its environment;
The sector analysis tells us about the different external energies that enter the site.
Major Sector Considerations:
– South (Winter): This sun sector has the most potential for entering the house. Because of the low amount of sun received during the winter months optimizing sun exposure is a priority. The roof is angled South so solar panels of different sorts can be an option.
– South (Summer): Due to the soutfacing aspect of your house and the mass of the terrace a warm microclimate is created. The roof is angled South so solar panels of different sorts can be an option.
Southeast: This is the main wind direction in the Netherlands, but with the homes and the small forest to the South it is of no concern.
Northwest: The prevailing wind direction for winter brings cold air and snow. The front of your home is sheltered by the pine tree. Some attention could go towards adding heavy curtains to the windows.
Water Access • Southeast: Primary water access will be from rainwater and tap water. Infiltrated groundwater is an option but not needed for the functioning of the design.
Primary/Secondary Access • Main access to the garden will happen through the house as this garden is mainly a living space. There is access to the garden from the outside in the Southwest corner of the garden.
Visual and Sound •
No major visual or auditory elements to take into account.
Part 1: Water
Water is the source of all life. For that reason I will start off this design brief with the water systems that I incorporated. I will continue into fertility (compost), plants and trees and finish up with energy systems.
Concerning the water there is a visual aspect, a rainwater management aspect and a greywater filtration aspect.
Part 1a: The visual aspect.
On the side of your balcony there is a downspout. It gets fed by the roof and the balcony. I feel it would be nice to divert your downspout. I have several reasons for that. The first one is aesthetics. Other reasons involve infiltration and the mold problem on the grapevine.
It is possible to make rainwater a visible aspect of your garden. It can be made to trip-trap around in a very playful way and I’d like to start that rerouting from the roof and lead it through different cycles until it goes away from your garden.
The water comes from the roof and enters a catchment basin.
From this basin we feed a small bird bath on the balcony using a pump, the overflow of the birdbath goes back into the catchment basin. Bird baths can have different shapes and forms and do a lot for the birds in your area. The balcony is a place the cats cannot come, it is also up from the ground and away from frost, lastly it receives some heat from your bedroom. All these components make sure that it forms a little micro ecosystem. A bird bath can be a really beautiful way to observe and interact with the local birds. The catchment basin is also a way to keep leaves and other debris from entering the rest of the system. The pump ensures clean water and a ripple effect which should cause a beautiful reflection of sunlight inside the bedroom and will help attract the birds. I have placed it next to the bedroom window and included the following video to give a sense of what is possible. Of course it would be possible to have the bird bath further away or closer by depending on your preference.
The basin overflows into the drain that already exists on the balcony. It continues into another function underneath the balcony. Underneath the balcony we bring the downspout out to about two-thirds of the balcony, turning the corner towards your garden and out past the sitting area.
Then several rainchains are attached to the downspout. Rainchains guide the water down in the same way that a regular downspout does, but it can become a very peaceful and interactive part of the garden design. I also included a little video to show what the rainchain looks like. One added benefit of this downspout is that it removes the downspout near grapevine, which eliminates one possible cause for the high humidity and thus the phytophtera.
So the rain comes down the rainchain and tumbles into a small pond. It is very possible to have a tiny pool like this without any mosquito’s. Two small goldfish will take care of that concern. This pond would be planted with some beautiful and edible water plants. I have included a list in the ‘list and resources’ section.
The pond overflows onto the roof-tile stream. This adds another visual aspect to the garden and transports the water like a little stream across the garden. This could also be done using some pond liner and river stones.
From there we can choose to let it sink into the soil using an infiltration basket, or make it go to the sewer like is happening now. An infiltration basket is something that the Dutch government is starting to ask citizens to use so that rainwater doesn’t all end up in the sewer system.
Part 1b: Greywater
A scale drawing of the two tanks and their component parts.Part of your list of elements was the greywater system. I have designed a relatively simple one that should supply you with ample water for use in the garden. You can choose to let the overflow enter the garden or go to the sewer like it used to. The system takes the water from the sink and the dishwasher like we discussed and first deposits it in a settlement tank. From there the water is taken by gravity to the storage tank. I chose to use 220 liter blue food grade barrels because they are easy to find and have a removable top. But you can use whatever style or size you like.
In the bottom of the tank I would install an electric sump pump that can be turned on by plugging a cord. It would be used to water the garden and the gardenhose can be stored near the barrel. Another option, and more low-tech, would be to use a hand pump and fill a watering can.
Part 1c: The Water distribution system
In the picture above I have portrayed how I imagine the grey water feeding your garden. The grey tube is regular plastic pipe, used for inside the home or downspouts. The blue pipe is drainage pipe, in this case used to distribute the grey water. The big square is a rainwater and greywater infiltration basket. This basket is about 500 liters and is dug into the ground. During big rain events the basket fills up and makes sure that the rainwater systems of the city are not filling above capacity, afterwards the water seeps slowly into the surrounding soil. If the basket does indeed fill up it has an overflow to the rainwater sewer of the city. I imagine that you would plant some water loving plants like Red Currant or Gooseberry above the drainage pipe, a list of possible candidates can be found in the plants and resources section.
As you can see in the picture on the right the overflow from the grey water system can be directed to flow through the garden or directly into the sewer. The idea here is that during the winter it is likely that you will have too much rain in your garden anyway, the greywater will be cleaned before leaving the area and the drainage pipe can make sure the garden doesn’t form wet areas.
Part 2: Compost
Another element that we discussed, and that would be interesting for you and your cats is the compost bin. I have some experience with compost in the Netherlands and the best way to compost fresh manures like cat poop is to use a hot compost. But to do that you need quite some outdoor space and it takes focused attention for about 2 weeks. So in looking for different solutions I have decided on the Worm Farm instead. A worm farm is a kind of compost solution that works year round, without turning and without too much maintenance. The idea is that certain kinds of worms can eat half their bodyweight in compost each day. So lets say you start out with 1 kilogram of compost worms, you should be able to feed your worms half a kilo of foodscraps or cat poo per day. In 90 days they would have doubled their numbers, allowing you to feed up to one kilogram per day. I don’t know how much food scraps and cat poo you produce per day, but a small system should do for your house hold. The worms produce a kind of liquid fertilizer that I have seen people sell in the Netherlands, it is very high quality fertilizer. Besides that the worms produce a solid fertilizer of the highest quality called ‘worm castings’, this is as close to true humus as you can get. This amazing compost you can dig out once every season or so and feed to your favorite plants. There are different ways of setting this up, the model I would choose is that of a recycled fridge laid on its back. The insulation will keep the worms warm in winter and cool in summer. It also upcycles an otherwise difficult to recycle object. Here you can find a great video explaining the process.
Part 3: Plants and trees
You had told me you would like several different plants. An olive tree, a wisteria vine, a small lemon tree, some potted herbs and some fruit bushes. Also something to replace the grapevine as it suffers a lot from phytophtera. I researched a lot of different fruitbaring plants to try and see if I could replace the grapvine with something that didn’t suffer from this mold disease. To be honest, there are not many vine-like plants that don’t suffer from phytophtera….
Eventually I realized it might be best to give this central place in your garden to the Olive tree!
It is a perfect candidate because it adds a beloved evergreen element to your garden, and one that serves cultural, functional as well as dietary functions. You showed a desire to have an olive tree and in any other place than on the wall you run the risk of it growing too tall and shading out your garden. An evergreen tree will also take away natural light coming into your home during the winter.
The Olive will really get to come into its own here as the ancient and beloved tree that it is. On a southfacing wall it is very likely to give good olives and it is the most resistant to phytophtera of all the options I came upon.
Lastlly, it can easily be sculpted and trained to form along your balcony and above the door.
This is a process called ‘espalier’ and it is an easy and worthwhile training technique. The olive lets itself be trained very easily and produces strong, vital branches with lots of fruit. It would be possible to harvest the olives using a small ladder and from the balcony, eventually making them into table olives using a salt water recipe. The best olive for eating is called Ascolano and it is also one of the most cold hardy varieties, this olive is what is historically used in Martinis.
The placement also fits perfectly with the bird bath. Songbirds need bushes and shrubs to hide in and the evergreen branches of the olive tree fits this niche like a glove. Its proximity to the birdbath will provide them a sense of safety and you with the opportunity to further observe them in their natural behavior.
On the balcony itself I suggest to plant a Wisteria plant in a pot.
The reason for planting it in a pot is simple: Wisteria is well known for its aggressive root system and planting it in the garden can be asking for trouble. Especially as the best place to plant it would be along the fence you share with your neighbor on the west. It could be that your neighbor ends up having shoots of the Wisteria come up in their garden, which is a social consequence I want to prevent. On the balcony, and in a good sized pot, the Wisteria will provide you with a wealth of beautiful drooping flowers and lovely foliage to contrast the olive growing from the opposite direction.
Then as a last request you mentioned the Lemon tree. I looked at many different varieties and came up with two options. There is a frost resistant lemon tree that does well in the Netherlands, even in full soil. But it loses its leaves in winter and the taste is not comparable to the actual lemon. I would therefore advise to plant a dwarf Lemon in a big pot. In the summer this dwarf variety would live outside and brighten up your garden with its foliage and flowers. In winter it would live inside your living room, close to the window and busy itself with ripening off its fruit. I have found reports of people doing this successfully in the United Kingdom, so the Netherlands should not pose a problem. The winter hardy lemon might be good if you just want the Lemon tree as a visual feature. The ‘true’ lemon is better if you are after the fruit and the evergreen foliage.
Then you asked for some herbs in pots. I know that you have already gathered a lot of herbs. The only thing I added was to place them inside olive oil cans like you requested, and placed them close to the back door for easy picking and some added heat. It would require that you bury the two barrels of the grey-water system almost completely and build a wooden box around it. On this box I also imagined a hand pump, so you can easily fill your watering can.
Because of your preferences on the topic I did not include any area to grow vegetables. But in the back of the bed that has the drainage pipe I would recommend planting a few berry bushes like Gooseberry and different Currants. Next to the little pond I also placed a Jasmine bush, as you mentioned loving the smell of Jasmine so much! I have included a list below in the resources section.
Part 4: Energy
We spoke during our interview about the different options of lowering your bills and conserving energy. You have already improved upon the house immensely with the insulation and the addition of the wood stove.
I have looked into some technologies that might aid you further in your search for a more self-reliant, greener lifestyle.
The first that I will describe is the solar hot water system.
You already know it from Greece, but there are different styles available and the most efficient ones are generally not used in Greece. The evacuated tube system for instance offers a high return on investment. Compared to solar electricity panels this system can earn back its investment in as little as 6 – 8 years, quicker when the price of natural gas rises again. After that 6 – 8 years your hot water will be for free. From day one you can expect a decrease of up to 60% on your gas bill. An added benefit is that the estimated price on your house will go up, when you decide to sell it. One last benefit is that it is possible to get a subsidy for the purchase of this system. The requirement is that the subsidy papers are sent within 6 months of installing of the system.
Here are two websites that can provide further information on this technology.
As a second technology I would like to suggest Infrared Heating Panels.
The idea here is that it takes a lot of energy to heat up a room using conventional central heating, especially rooms that are not used very often. An IR Panel basically acts like the warm rays of the sun. Even though the air temperature might be cold, you warm up when sitting in the sun. The sun also heats up stones and other solid objects, which store the heat and release it at a later time. This form of radiant heat is much more efficient because the energy is applied directly to your body, rather than trying to heat up the air, which in turn heats up your body. In your case I could imagine installing one in the bathroom as an experiment and see how it makes you feel. This place would be ideal because it would for instance heat up the cold floor as well as your body and do so within a short amount of time.
Here is a short video which explains the concept more indepth:
Solar electricity panels.
We talked shortly about solar electricity panels and I realize you have no direct interest in buying any at this point. But I did a little bit of research anyway, on my own time. Just so that I can say I included it and because I am curious myself. I made some assumptions and used the average usage of electricity for a Dutch household of two people, which is almost 3000 Kilo-watt Hours per year, or 250 kWh per month. I assumed a generous 40m2 of roof area, which would include your shed and excluded the solar hot water panels.
Electricity consumption per month: 250 kWh
Roof area available: 40 m2
Solar generation per kW per day: 3 kWh
Percentage of your monthly consumption that can be met with solar: 115.2%
Part 5: Conclusion and resources
With this I would like to conclude my design, of course I hope that I included everything that you had hoped for in a way that works for you. If there are any changes you would like to see, please let me know and I will change them for you.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to work with you and may you experience joy and health from interacting with your garden!
Resources: (Work In Progress)