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Permaculture and the Ornamental Garden Jan Hoyland loves ornamental gardens as well as growing veggies, but where do they fit in a permaculture design?

Ilove plants, all of them, well almost … (I strongly dislike bedding plants as they seem to be a terrible waste of resources …) I have a deeply held passion for growing vegetables, which I do with varying degrees of success, but I also love flowers. It has been on my mind for some time – where does a flower garden fit in with a permaculture design?

I am now in the process of designing my own garden within a 2 hectare (5 acres) smallholding on the North York Moors and obviously I am using my permaculture knowledge as well as my plant knowledge to hopefully design a beautiful and productive space. I also have a chronic autoimmune disease, which leaves me with fatigue and limits the amount of physical work I can feasibly do, so all the planting developments, and especially these non-essential decorative spaces, need to be as low maintenance as possible.

I have two different vegetable plots, a newly planted orchard and a polytunnel, which supply me with a lot of produce. They are of course, beautiful in their own way, but a large part of me also needs food for the soul, to nourish zone 00. I enjoy colour, form, scent and the joy of a flower garden changing with the seasons. I strongly believe that accessing Nature and appreciating beautiful planting is essential for our mental health and well-being.

With this in mind I am exploring the cross over of the design principles I learnt on my Permaculture Design Course (PDC) and those I learnt as a garden designer as I begin to develop the smallholding which came with the semi-derelict cottage we are ecorenovating.

Starting with Observation In the first year, I observed the land, learning the best places to grow things and how the microclimate worked. Professional designers don’t have this luxury and I have seen plenty of designed gardens which make this all too obvious. I also made early mistakes by rushing into things, such as choosing what seemed like a practical place for the polytunnnel, only to discover the soil is awful and it gets waterlogged in winter. I have poor acidic soils, a very short growing season and a very windy site. We are close to the coast, the sea being less than five miles away, and our land borders a wonderful ancient woodland valley. We have been here three years and although I started planting things the minute I arrived here, these were mainly woody plants, trees and shrubs to form the backbone of the garden. I estimate that I have planted close to a thousand trees and shrubs, many natives as hedges and woodland to provide windbreaks and habitat for wildlife, but significantly many are purely ornamental. I’m a total plantaholic.

Last year I started a small flower bed outside the kitchen window. It was a patch of rubble and nettles beforehand, so my long suffering partner cleared it for me and I started planting … The soil was surprisingly fertile, as previous tenants had dumped the ash from the fires there, so I planted straight into what I had, no compost added. There was also quite a lot of builders’ waste and rocks, which makes it fairly well drained, a benefit as most of our soils are waterlogged through the winter months. It is on the east side of the house, so it gets plenty of early sunshine and most importantly it is sheltered from the fierce westerly winds.

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Ornamental planting, summer 2020

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