A quick tour…

Measuring roughly half a hectare, the garden encompasses a surprising number of different uses, habitats and landscapes. It slopes gently from south to north. At the lower end of a former cow pasture a small patch of wood connects us with the surrounding forest. The lower half of the pasture is rather boggy and at some point in the not-too-distant future we’d like to establish a large pond and reed bed here.

The upper half of the pasture and the back garden accommodate part of the young orchard, as well as an expanding collection of small fruit bushes, melliferous plants and bushes, and indigenous hedgerow species. We are also in the process of establishing a wildflower meadow. Near to a small terrace for both guests and residents, a herb garden is taking shape.

The western half of the garden is a wilder space. For well over a decade, nature was left to herself on this plot. A thick pelt of brambles made it hard even to enter. We were delighted to discover a healthy, productive walnut tree in the middle. Elsewhere, ash trees, oaks, willows and wild cherries – some mature, many self-seeded – grow in a scattered pattern. Parts of the boundary consist of a mature hedge of great diversity, with hazels, hawthorns, elder, blackthorn, holly, oaks and willows – a paradise for native fauna of all kinds.

A green vision with permaculture

Starting out from the walnut tree at the heart of this small jungle, I have begun clearing some areas within it. We intend to share this land with the nature that is already so well at home. Working in the spirit of permaculture, we’ll experiment with a forest garden to produce fruits and perennial vegetables. Already we have added two apple trees and a medlar tree. In the more open spaces we have begun growing vegetables. Although I have started conventionally here, my aim is to establish “plant guilds” and focus on perennial species. This is a central feature of permaculture: by exploiting the mutually supportive characteristics of different species we try to create self-sustaining, edible ecosystems.

Permaculture is also about avoiding waste, and using energy and resources constructively. I work the soil without machines and should avoid a lot of digging and weeding by practising “no-till gardening” – i.e. focusing on perennials and mulching. As there are no machines there is also no need to plant vegetables in monotonous rows. This opens the way to a particular aesthetic that I hope will be in harmony with the natural feel of the garden as a whole. I am planning a mandala garden, with a pattern of beds filling out a large circular space, as well as a large “Hugelbeet” – a substantial raised bed built over a core of slowly decomposing wood.

I’ve already completed a number of “infrastructure” projects to save and recycle resources: these include a rainwater collection system and a cold-frame to protect plants and seedlings from frost in spring. Other plans for the future include beehives, chickens and a greenhouse. But these too must find space within the natural garden, and will complement not exclude nature.