Tin Bath Design

TIN BATH DESIGN

Thanks to the article in the latest copy of Permaculture Magazine by Vera Greutink,unnamed where she describes how she establishes different polycultures in an old tin bath, I was inspired to create my own. A polyculture is simply a group of different plants all grown together. In her article she grows 3 different polycultures: a group of edible flowers, a group of edible annual veg, and a group of edible perennials (I’m guessing she did this in 3 consecutive growing seasons).

My husband had picked up an old tin bath (2ft x18″) with a hole in the bottom that he’d spotted being thrown away, and brought home a few years ago. It had remained unused but even so we brought it with us to our new house, intending to use it some day. Well that day has arrived! The bath fitted perfectly on our new patio in the sunniest spot. Using Vera’s article for inspiration I designed my own polyculture of plants that would enjoy a sunny spot together.

 

Design18268463_1860143450678732_7755514504573130736_n

 

In my design I chose: a compact tomato ‘patio yellow’ for colour at the back, calendula for height and colour and to deter pests, garden rocket for leaves and flowers, rainbow chard for colour and leaves, dill because I love that in salads and with fish, a perennial viola for it’s pretty (and edible) flowers, and a compact nasturtium ‘empress of india’ for it’s edible leaves and flowers.

 

Implementation

I put the tin bath on two pieces of wood so that it would drain properly, then filled the bottom with broken pots. Then I filled it with multi-purpose compost and farmyard manure in a ratio of 50/50 which I bought from the garden centre. I figured that my polyculture which included a fruiting plant (tomato) would need plenty of nutrients.

unnamedWith my design in hand, I had a look for the plants on my list at the garden centre. I recommend bringing your design with you, because it’s all too easy to get distracted by the range of plants on offer in a garden centre and then it’s tempting to change your design at the last minute. This is usually a bad idea because your design is something you will have spent time on, getting the spacing right, making sure the plants are compatible and like the same conditions, so if you change it on a whim, the chances are that you might not have taken all these factors into account.

I could have grown it all from seed, but it was getting too late to start the tomato, and perennial violas take a long time to grow to the point of flowering, so I aimed to buy these two plants. I also spotted the ‘empress of india’ nasturtium plant while I was shopping, and decided I would buy this one too because I only needed one plant, and it was too tempting to have it ready to plant out for immediate effect. Such is the allure of garden centres! But I would rather buy a pretty multi-use plant than go shopping for dresses any day of the week!unnamed-1

When I got home I planted out the 3 plants I’d bought immediately into the tin bath. It was a sunny day and I thought they would all grow and be happy. But little did I know that we would get a very late frost followed by dull weather the following week and the tomato plant didn’t like it, but it survived and has now started to grow. The viola and nasturtium were fine and are growing well.

I sowed the rocket, calendula, chard and dill in late April in modules and these took off quite quickly in my sunny conservatory. Yesterday I planted them out (it’s now mid May). So, here is a picture of the tin bath planted up – so far so good. I’ll let you know later in the season how it looks and what kind of yield I got out of it. I wonder whether it will turn out anything like I imagined in the picture I drew?

 

 

Walking in zone 5

WALKING IN ZONE 5

In permaculture we take inspiration directly from nature. It’s the wild places that we go to unwind and to only observe and not to interfere, that we call ‘Zone 5′. These places are harder to find these days but small pockets do still exist in the UK.18193951_10154860022116622_2441948835739621272_n

Going for a walk in the countryside is a therapeutic way to exercise, calm the mind and even lower your blood pressure. I like to call this ‘Nature Therapy’ because I find it so good for my spirit and it improves my whole sense of wellbeing.

I am not alone in noticing this health benefit. It is also known as Ecotherapy which stems from the belief that people are part of the web of life and that our psyches are not separate from our environment. This means that if we can build a deeper relationship with Nature and it’s self-righting capacity and it’s complex systems of balance, it is believed that we can harmonise our own selves and improve our well-being.

 

This certainly feels true to me. And it echoes the words of Chief Seattle:

“..Every part of the earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every meadow, every humming insect. All are holy in memory and experience of my people.DSC_0058

We know the sap which courses through the trees as we know the blood that courses through our veins. We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters. The bear, the deer. the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the dew in the meadow, the body heat of the pone and man all belong to the same family…

Will you teach your children what we have taught our children? That the earth is our mother? What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of the earth.

P1010111This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself…”

 

I certainly believe that the more disconnected we’ve become from Nature and her harmonising influence, the more sick we become as a society. The clue is in the fact that there is no mental illness such as depression to be found among the native hunter-gather tribes that still exist today, at least according to this interesting article ’The Caveman Cure For Depression“.

 

18268586_10154860022276622_4751414748179626455_nI love to go walking in bluebell woodlands in the Spring. They are a great example of how nature finds her balance between native species that have been growing symbiotically together for centuries. Woodland flowers come into their glory just as the warmer Spring sunshine hits the forest floor and just before the canopy closes above them. They have found their niche – in time as well as space, which I find very inspiring.

I am trying to copy this natural pattern of succession in my own garden. I’ve planted alpine strawberries in my ground cover layer, which is now flowering at the same time as the bluebells, and so are beginning to fruit before the deciduous trees planted around them (apple and willow) get their full canopy of leaves. Another woodland plant now in flower is wild garlic, otherwise known as Ransoms, and I would love to have some of this growing in my garden too.18268529_1864145096945234_8428929558081558690_n

I have noticed that if I’m having a bad day, or my mood is low for whatever reason, then getting out into the countryside always makes me feel better. And I feel so lucky that I have a garden too. On bad days when my bad health stops me from walking, at least I can sit on a chair on my patio and listen to the birds singing and watch them in the trees. And if I feel up to it, I can potter around with my seedlings, watering them and planting them out. I call this my ‘happy place’.

What kind of things do you do to connect with nature in your own life? How often do you manage to feel that connection? Can you think of a recent example of when being in nature really shifted your mood and lifted your spirits? How might you build more of these opportunities into your regular routine?

 

 

 

My New Back Garden

MY NEWLY IMPROVED BACK GARDEN

In my previous blog I told you about how I designed and implemented the design on our front garden (you can read it here). In this blog I’m going to tell you how we went about implementing changes to our back garden. I’m really excited about how this plan has come together actually, despite the challenges. By taking advantage of the good Spring weather and rising energy in our bodies, and paying attention to serendipity it feels like we’ve ridden a wave, and accomplished great things. 17884216_1839647046061706_5266374742279531243_nI feel pleasantly surprised! This is a photo of what it looks like so far.

 

As I mentioned in my previous post, having Fibromyalgia means that I have limited energy and I feel poorly much of the time, which means that I have to design according to these limiting factors. So as part of my design, I decided to pay a gardener to come and do the landscaping for the front garden, and he was also able to implement some of the back garden design while he was here too.

 

I had spent the whole 18 months since we moved here, watching and noticing what was happening in the garden, what was growing where, and where the sunlight was hitting the garden at different times of day and different times of the year.unnamed-6

 

For example I noticed that the sunniest part of the garden was on the patio outside our conservatory, and yet we couldn’t sit there and enjoy the sunshine because it was cluttered full of junk that had been dumped there after we moved in. We also didn’t have any outdoor furniture to sit on. I noticed that the top of the rockery also got a lot of sunshine so was the best growing space but it was currently overrun with geraniums and weeds. I noticed that the left hand border got dappled shade for half the day, but got the full strength of the sun during the afternoons in the Summer months. I noticed that the end of the garden was shady for all of the day and only got the occasional hit of direct sunlight on long summer evenings. And I noticed that roses and geraniums didn’t seem to mind being in the shade. These observations really helped to show me where it was best to locate elements in my design. And here is a photo of what the garden looked like during the Winter months before we started the changes.unnamed

 

I also decided to Zone my garden according to how frequent each part was visited and therefore how much attention it would get. For example, I put the sunny patio in Zone 1 as I expected that once we had garden furniture we would sit out there very frequently. I put the left hand border in Zone 3 because I expected that would get less attention as it was at the top of the steps and mostly out of view from Zone 1.

 

Features of my new design:

 

1 Clearing Zone 1 – the patio area – which had been left cluttered with junk after we moved here 18 months ago and creating a seating area so we can drink tea and eat lunch in the sunshine

2 Clearing the weeds out of the steps and rockery and then planting up some herbs in that area of Zone 1

3 Creating a raised bed in Zone 2 out of left-over Sweet Chestnut planks (from the building of the shed) in the sunny spot at the top of the rockery – so I have a little area to grow annual veg and salads that is visible from Zone 0 and 1

4 Taking out the invasive weeds in the left hand border of Zone 3 and creating a food forest

5 Clearing the weeds in the shady raised beds at the back near the shed and mulching heavily and planting fox gloves (Zone 4)

6 Clearing the narrow shady bed on the right hand side of weeds and planting it with shade tolerant plants

 

Zone 1unnamed

 

This all came together very quickly and synchronistically one afternoon. I’d mentioned my ideas to my husband and then one day I came downstairs to find him clearing the patio clutter into the back of the car, ready to take to the tip and recycling centre. It was a sunny day, so I went with him to the tip and enjoyed seeing all the old rubbish get sorted into various containers for recycling. It felt so nice to be out, that we ended up making a flying visit to a local flea market on the off-chance of finding an affordable set of garden furniture. We were very lucky to pick up the only one in the place, which was a faux-french table and four chairs that looked authentic enough in a shabby-chic way, a real bargain at £58. It was such a treat to come home to a cleared patio space and to be able to put out our new table and chairs and sit in the sunshine for the first time!unnamed-14

 

What a transformation this was. And now that we had a comfortable place to sit and drink tea in the warm Spring sunshine, this meant that I was now frequently out of bed and sitting in the garden, which gave me a new vantage point to continue designing from.

 

Every now and then I would get up out of my chair and weed out a few dandelions in the rockery or pull a few geraniums that had rooted in the gaps in the steps. This was more like the gentle gardening I could manage! One day when we got some food from the supermarket, we noticed they were selling herbs in good sized pots for a bargain 3 for £5 so I bought some chives and sage and planted them out into the rockery. Another time I picked up some violas, an edible flower that I just love at this time of year, and I potted it up in one of our old blue ceramic pots to put on our new table. This brings me lots of joy and it’s so pretty that I would rather look at it than eat it!

 

Zone 2unnamed-5

 

One Saturday morning my husband was cutting the grass when he asked me where I wanted the raised bed to be located. So I showed him the place at the top of the rockery and we marked it out. He then cut the Sweet Chestnut planks ready to be assembled into the new bed, and cut back some of the geraniums growing there with sheers.

Then later that week, our gardener who’d come to work mainly on our front garden design was able to put the bed together for me, mulch it with cardboard and then fill it with compost. That was very satisfying to get done, but when I looked down on it from my bedroom, it looked wonky. We realised this was because the ground sloped off to the right. So my husband was able to raise up the right hand corner of it the following weekend, and inserting Larch planks inside it to support it’s new height. Now it looked a lot less wonky. 17992221_1839648959394848_2054822158652601497_nAnd the first thing I did was add in some more peat-free compost from the garden centre, and some manure, and then I sowed some broad beans.

I’ve now got plans to make this bed into a ‘Square-foot Garden’, where I divide the bed into square feet and plant something different in each section. But I’ll write more about that in a future blog.

 

Zone 3

 

Our gardener was also able to help clear this bed on the day he was here. 17861962_1832953083397769_7026577108935229702_nIt was full of invasive weeds such as Rose Bay Willow Herb, grass, bindweed and Crocosmia which was coming in from the neighbours garden under the fence. We decided to keep a self-seeded oriental poppy, the mature rose bush, and an unknown shrub in the back corner. This left plenty of space to create our new food forest. We’d been given £50 vouchers for Tamar Organics (an online seed and plant supplier) by the Housing Co-op as a leaving present, so we spent this on a new Bramley Apple as well as other plants for the front garden.

 

So far we have planted in Zone 3:

 

Bramley Apple – 1 year maiden

2 x Golden Willow

Thornless Blackberry to grow up the trellis on the fence

Autumn-fruiting Raspberries **17862651_1832953020064442_8117846841536394124_n

Lemon balm **

Alpine Strawberry **

Chinese Chives **

Ice plant **

Sweet Cicely **

Comfrey (Bocking 14 – from a friend)

 

** we brought all of these plants with us in pots from our previous garden

 

Zone 4

 

unnamed-10I was blessed with a window of better health while all of this planting out was happening at the beginning of April, which was perfect timing. While I was planting in the border, my husband was clearing the dense layers of weeds in the two-tiered raised beds at the back of the garden. He did the heavy lifting with the garden fork and I sat on the edge of the bed and picked out the roots and put them into bags. We filled many many bags! When it was as weed free as we could get it, I planted out the foxgloves – a couple had been given to me by a friend and 3 I’d recently bought from a garden centre. Then we put down a permanent membrane over the top bed with the climbing rose in it, ready for the wood chip that we’d ordered from a tree-surgeon friend. The lower bed will be mulched with a layer of cardboard around the foxgloves and topped with wood chip.unnamed-11

 

We have yet to start on the narrow and shady right hand border, but I know it will happen soon. And we have plans to paint the ugly garage with masonry paint to make it more attractive to look at as well as the ugly retaining wall in zone 1 – which is rather exciting!

It’s amazing how my sense of wellbeing has improved with spending more time outdoors in the sunshine, my hands in the earth, listening to birdsong. This is what they call ‘Nature Therapy’ and it feels like the best medicine.

 

I had some trouble with my website recently which meant that my last two blogs disappeared into the ether, so I’ve had to repost this one and the previous one again. Sorry for any inconvenience. If you are interested in following my progress in my new gardens -front and back- then do click ‘follow’ in the bottom right hand corner of your screen. This means you’ll automatically be sent an email each time I post a new blog. I do not share your details with anyone. Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

My New Front Garden

17634739_10154795043526622_6429687954531524012_nMY NEW FRONT GARDEN

I wanted to tell you about the exciting new developments in my front garden, which is all the more exciting because of the challenges I’ve faced while designing it.

Those of you who follow my blogs and magazine articles will already know that I struggle with chronic health problems. My current diagnosis is Fibromyalgia, which is a chronic pain disorder. Doctors think it may be caused by a malfunction in the nervous system which means that my brain interprets many sensations as pain that ordinary people would not experience as pain. I hurt all over in my muscles, tendons and nerves, which makes me also suffer from debilitating fatigue. And quite often I also get rather low too, especially when the pain feels relentless. unnamed-9This means that I have to design my garden so that I can manage it within my limits. I am happy to report that my design has already been successfully implemented and it’s looking great. So I wanted to talk you through the design process briefly, and show you some photos of how it’s going.

For this blog I am going to focus on the front garden only, so you can see the challenges I came up against and how I overcame them specifically for this space. In my next blog I’ll do the same for the back garden.

To begin the design process, I decided to use some of the time that I was feeling my worst (and stuck in bed) as research time.unnamed-5 Over the previous year, I had observed that my front garden is a north facing slope, with it only getting direct sunlight through the summer months between the Equinoxes. It gets frosty in Winter and the frost is slow to clear in a patch in the middle. For most of the year it gets a lot of reflected light bouncing off the white houses opposite us. I noticed that the front part by the pavement often gets direct sunlight for most of the day in summer. So I while in bed I did some research on which edible plants would be happiest in what location. I had to research plants that are happy in shade and partial shade, as this was outside my experience because my previous garden was in a sunny south-facing aspect. I also observed that the garden was actually an old rockery completely overrun with grass and weeds.

On a good day, when I was feeling a bit better, I took measurements and then drew up a base map. This is what I used when I started designing. 11148344_1223895354303548_3066816150175048919_n

The main challenges were that the front garden was full of rocks and therefore would take a lot of energy to move all the rocks and get rid of the weeds that grew in the cracks between them. I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to do that job, even if my husband did the heaviest lifting for me. He does a physically demanding job and the thought of moving all those rocks on a weekend or a day off was daunting for him as well as me! So when I was designing, I decided that I was going to need to pay someone to do this. I had put a budget aside of £500 for both front and back gardens, and so it had to come out of this. We also had been given £50 in vouchers to spend at Tamar Organics.

I decided to turn my thinking around about the rocks and see them as an opportunity and resource instead of a problem. So I decided to use them in my design.

 

17862542_1827202757306135_8036797901927526729_nMy implementation plan was this:

 

1 Move all the rocks to the top of the garden

2 Cut a pathway with steps down the middle of the space to make the whole of it accessible for harvesting

3 Put down sheet mulch of cardboard all over the new beds

4 Replace the rocks to hold down the cardboard to create the shape of the new beds

5 Cover with compost (and later on wood chip mulch)

6 Put membrane over the path and steps

7 Create steps out of hard wood left over from the building of the shed/cabin

8 Put down gravel on the path and steps

9 Plant out new tree 18119268_1849476821745395_8959626286495025161_n

10 Plant out plants

 

List of plants:

 

Shade tolerant:

Black Currant ‘Big Ben’

Bay

Mint

Chives

Salad Burnett

 

Partial Shade:17861623_10154795043786622_2060073187033160209_n

Bergamot

Strawberry

Rhubarb

Sage

Golden Willow

Silver Birch tree

 

Sunniest part at the front:

Lavender

Rosemary

Winter Savoury

Cotton Lavender17523648_1827202687306142_7127793429069799017_n

Thyme

Asparagus

 

I was recommended a local gardener called Jeremy Fields who is permaculture trained and does permaculture implementation. He was great and he did it all in just two 4 hour sessions, which cost £160. Plus £40 for a square metre of compost, £15 for waste removal, and £15 for the path membrane made a total of £230. He’d implemented stages 1-7 for me and that meant that all I had to do was to plant out the plants. My husband put down the gravel.

It was a very satisfying transformation which took very little time. All the time went into the observation and planning. I really enjoyed planting out the edible plants and herbs, and thankfully I had a window of better health during the Spring that meant I could get on with it. You might notice that the far left hand side of the garden on the other side of the steps is not yet done. We’ve covered most of it in cardboard and will be using that space for our delivery of wood chip. We hope to get that part of the garden done at a later date.

17634827_10154795043576622_3351391020869452862_nThe maintenance side of the design is that we’ll need to keep on top of the weeds that might want to start poking up through the edges of the garden where the cardboard meets the wall. We need to water everything regularly, and we plan to mulch with wood chip once all the plants are in to make sure the weeds underneath the cardboard don’t re-emerge once the cardboard breaks down. I’m sure that I will be constantly tweaking the design as time goes along to optimise which plants are happiest in which location. I will also be using the principle of succession too; where immature plants are widely spaced now to give them space to grow, this gives me the opportunity to plant out some annual veg grown in modules to fill in the gaps. Later on these gaps will be filled by the perennials.

Thanks for your patience – I know it’s been a while since I wrote but hopefully it was worth the wait!17634839_10154795043826622_4985980527157558595_n

By the way, if you’re having a kind of deja-vu experience reading this post, that’s because I already posted 2 blogs about my front and back gardens last week, but these were lost due to a fault with my website hosts moving my site to a more efficient server and losing my latest blogs in the process. So I’m re-posting them today. Thankfully I had the main content backed-up on my computer!

Garden Observation

GARDEN OBSERVATION

Happy new year to you!

I know it’s not quite new year yet, but I’m sure that you are, like me, looking towards 2017 and starting to think about your plans and ideas for the year ahead.unnamed-1

I’ve been living in my new home, a fifties semi-detached house on the edge of town, for over a year now, and so I’ve had plenty of opportunity to observe the garden through all stages of the cycle of seasons. So far this Winter – and the last – I’ve particularly noticed that we live inside a frost pocket. We are on a north facing slope, with a tall bank of trees shadowing us. In high Summer, we get the sun at the back all day long, and into the evening too, but in the Winter, the sun does not reach us.

We knew this when we bought the house (that the trees would likely block out the Winter sun) and thankfully this isn’t too much of a concern for us because the aims we had for moving here were not predominantly about growing food. If I was looking for somewhere new to live in future in order to create an extensive permaculture garden, the aspect and soil would be top priorities. But in our present case, our top priorities were to buy a property that would adequately house our growing family (two adult teenagers) and to be in a good location for them, while giving ourselves a moderately sized project that I could still manage while taking care of my delicate health.

unnamedSo far inside the house we have improved the bathroom and first floor rooms, and the stairs leading up to the loft room. We have installed solar and cavity wall insulation, taken out an unnecessary partition wall downstairs and installed a wood burning stove. In 2017 we are due to start the rest of the work on the ground floor. We managed to get a solid oak floor in the sale, which is now stored upstairs in my studio while we get started on the building work. We have plans to create a porch on the front of the house to give the open living space of the ground floor a buffer to the outside world, and to keep the heat in when going in and out. We’re going to replace the dated kitchen and knock a bigger hole through the kitchen wall where the 50′s hatch is, in order to improve the open plan feel and connectivity between kitchen and dining space.

I also have plans to start work on the front garden at last. In a future blog I’ll show you the design on paper. I have found a good contact who will help me implement my design, as there is quite a lot of landscaping to be done.

I’m really excited about 2017! Have a great new year :)

Terrariums

unnamed-5

TERRARIUMS

Today I’ve finally been able to continue my creative indoor gardening project, and I have really enjoyed myself. I’ve created two terrariums from mostly recycled/repurposed materials. Terrariums were originally created by the plant collecting biologists of the Victorian era. They created glass cases to contain their tropical plant specimens so that they could be brought back and admired in our colder climate.

unnamed-7Today Terrariums have become fashionable again and I’ve been collecting images of them and other house plants on my Pinterest board here. They can be made out of any glass container, so you are only limited by your imagination really. There are two different types of environments you can create: one is a closed container (with a lid) in which you can keep tropical plants such as mosses and ferns, who like a warm moist environment (the closed system looks after itself and requires no watering at all). The other is an open container, in which you can keep arid loving plants such as succulents, cacti and air plants. The succulents prefer a little bit of misting occasionally, but the cacti and air plants need very little attention. So in this way, terrariums are the ultimate permaculture easy-care low-maintenance way of keeping houseplants!

I was walking past a chip shop the other day when I remembered something a friend had told me; that chip shops are the best place to pick up unnamed-6large glass jars for reuse. So I popped in and introduced myself. I told the lady who owned the chip shop what I was hoping to make and she gladly offered me two empty jars which had contained picked onions and pickled gherkins. I took them home and gave them a wash. They were a perfect size. And it feels good to be using them in the spirit of creating no waste, and up-cycling waste materials. Because the lids weren’t very attractive I decided to make two open terrariums with succulent plants.

So next I researched how to plant up my terrariums. Again I found the relevant information on Pinterest here and here. It’s all about building up the layers. I started with a bottom layer of small pebbles (I had a bag left over from other gardening projects), then a thin layer of charcoal (we had some left over from the summer), then some potting compost (I used left overs from other household plants I was repotting), then the plants and then to finish off, a layer of attractive stones or shells.unnamed-1

The plants I chose were mostly bought from a local shop. I like to support local businesses and I really enjoyed looking around this beautiful inspiring place in the Needlemakers in Lewes. I also dug up a succulent plant called Stonecrop, left over from our old living roof which we brought with us and planted out into our new garden. It likes the same free-draining dry conditions and has a beautiful pink flower in summer.

So here they are all finished. I’m really pleased with them, and they make a great centre piece for the table. I enjoyed looking through our hoard of little pebbles and shells we’d collected over the years to find ones which would look best with the plants. I even found an old stone cannonball which one of my sons found on a walk on the Downs near Portsmouth when he was much younger, so these will be treasured and talked about for some time to come.unnamed

All I need to do now is to show these photos to the lady in the chip shop and encourage her to give it a try herself!

Planted for Bill

PLANTED FOR BILL

Last weekend, an 88 year old mighty pioneer tree died and fell out of the canopy of our world. Bill Mollison was the founding father of Permaculture. He worked together with one of his students David Holmgren in the 1970′s to create the permaculture design system, which helped people all over the world to reconnect with nature, and to find ways of living and working in harmony with the Earth.IMG_1849

Bill grew up in Tasmania and worked for most of his earlier years much like a indigenous person would; he gained a livelihood from his immediate environment, from the rainforest and the sea. He loved the natural world intensely because it provided everything he needed. Then later on in his adulthood, he started to notice that fish stocks were running dangerously low, and that the rain forest was starting to die back in places, which he found really alarming. This prompted his quest to bring the world back into alignment with the Earth, and ultimately this is how permaculture was born. You can read more about him and his life here and here.

Here are 12 quotes in rememberence of Bill – my favourite is “Though the problems of the world are increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.”

For me, Bill was a rather funny old character, and I first ‘met’ him as we watched a video as part of my permaculture design course with Brighton Permaculture Trust in 2008. What sticks in my head most about him was the way he said in his Australian accent “..and so essentially, the designer, is the recliner!” as he lay back on his hammock, which was slung between fruit trees and surrounded by an edible forest that he’d created on his land. His phrase has really stuck with me all these years, because it was in that moment that I realised that once you had set up and implemented your permaculture design, essentially, all you did was sit back and watch it grow, and harvest what you needed. unnamed-2I also realised that you can design a lifestyle which is not energy draining and wasteful of resources, and this could be applied to the way I lived my life. It enabled me to live a good life despite all my health limitations.

I wanted to do something this week in tribute to Bill. On social media it was made known that Bill’s family wanted people to plant a tree in memory of him, and so this has started with the hashtag #plantedforbill . I wanted to plant something too, but because of my health limitations I’m still not able to do any gardening at the moment. So in the spirit of my last post about indoor gardening I decided to use the pots I’d just decorated to plant the Aloe Vera babies I’d rescued. So here they are. I added them to my indoor garden. And I also lit a candle on the eve of his death to shine on my plants.unnamed-3

In the spirit of permaculture, I had made the candle holder from an old jam jar. I decorated the top with ribbon which I tied on with a bell and filled the bottom with salt crystals. I added a few shiny stars and sat the night light on top. I stole the idea from a magazine.

I love to keep hold of inspiring ideas and gardening tips that I find in magazines, and paste them into a scrap book. It’s great to be able to refer back to them and use the ideas. Here’s one of my collage pages of inspiring indoor gardens (below). I am now inspired to make a Terrarium too. They traditionally were created in Victorian times for botanists to bring back rare plants from warmer climates. Because the plant is growing in it’s own protected environment, they are less vulnerable to the harsh English climate and to neglect, and therefore easier to not kill – which is ideal for me!unnamed I’m just looking out for some large storage jars so I can start making it. I’ll keep you posted!

Have you planted anything large or small recently? Perhaps if you feel moved to, you could take a picture and post it online with the hashtag #plantedforbill . You can find out more on my Facebook page.

Bringing Outdoors Indoors

BRINGING THE OUTDOORS INDOORS

Hello lovely people. It’s been a really long time since I wrote a blog here. This is because I’ve been really poorly as you know, with Fibromyalgia and with that, and moving house, and life in general being quite challenging, I had to make some choices about how I spend my time.

IMG_1849So, in the permaculture principle of apply self regulation and accept feedback I realised that to make my life more energy efficient, I was going to have to cut back some of my activities for a while and focus on the ones that were the most necessary. Basically I had to make my life more simple. So I stopped blogging for a bit and just sat back and observed how I was interacting within my new environment, watched what came up in my garden, and noticed how I used my house. I also spent most of my time also just resting and walking in nature for inspiration.

From being so ill over the years I’ve realised that when things get tough, you need to focus on your inner most zones first. Getting myself feeling stable in zone 00 is primary. Then I can work on zone 0 inside the house. I’m still working on these innermost zones. We’re still working on the decoration and furnishing of our house, and slowly slowly (in the principle of small and slow solutions) we’re achieving our goals.

I plan to show you in future blogs: how we’ve decorated the house so far, what resources we’ve used, what I plan for the garden, and what little creative projects I’ve achieved.

 

Today I want to share with you something creative I’ve been doing this week:IMG_1840

OBSERVATION: I had been noticing that because my energy levels have been so low and we had been observing the garden rather than doing anything new out there, I felt I was missing out on gardening and the joy that it gives me. The only way I could connect with nature was to go for little walks around my immediate area, and sometimes this felt too far away and I wanted to feel more connected to nature inside my own home. So I decided that it was time to bring a bit of the outdoors, indoors; I felt the solution was going to have to be houseplants. Houseplants really improve the indoor environment, helping to increase oxygen in the air and I have also heard about claims that they can help filter Wifi and other pollutants.

LIMITING FACTORS: I knew from experience that I am generally rubbish at looking after houseplants – I have killed more than my fair share of them over the years due to neglect! So the design was going to have to include houseplants that were hard to kill. I was getting a lot of inspiration from browsing Pinterest and I’ve been posting inspiring images onto my board Indoors-Outdoors in which I attempt to find ways of blurring the lines between garden and home. IMG_1843But a lot of the plants I liked in their trendy-looking pots can be expensive to buy, so I was going to need some cheap ways of acquiring them. We also have 2 young cats, who when were kittens would chew everything that looked green in the house – we lost a lot of succulents to chewing! I noticed that since they’d been able to go outside, they had stopped chewing our meagre sad looking collection.

RESEARCH: I found out which houseplants were the easiest to look after and the most hardy. Plants like Aloe Vera, Spider plant, Rubber plant, Mother-in-law’s Tongue and Peace Lily. I told my husband which plants I liked and he started looking out for them on freecycle. I studied how to transform ordinary pots into pretty ones, looked for antique pots in flea markets, and looked through what we already had at home. I also looked at the plants we had which had survived the kitten attacks to see if I could divide them and make new plants.

DESIGN AIMS: IMG_1850To have great looking houseplants in attractive pots, which were in the optimum location to get attention and therefore what they needed to look attractive and healthy. To give me a little bit of indoor gardening to do at a scale which I could manage.

IMPLEMENTATION: I found some lovely little antique hand-thrown terracotta pots at a local flea market and bought seven for £14. My husband found a massive spider plant on freecycle with lots of ‘babies’ ready for transplanting. So I repotted all the babies into the new pots. So this was a relatively cheap little project with great results.

We looked in a local garden centre and found a small package of 3 pots with succulents (one had died) at the reduced price of just £2. I found the 3 old stone pots which we’d brought with us from our old place (I think they were car boot sale finds) and transplanted the 2 surviving plants we’d bought – a cactus and a succulent – into them. In the 3rd stone pot I planted up a ‘money tree’ succulent (one which had broken off its parent and survived and rooted in another pot). See photo above.

IMG_1852My husband also bought me a ‘mother-in-law’s tongue’ for my birthday, so we bought a new pot for that too. We also found a lovely Peace Lily in our local supermarket for a very reasonable price – it now sits happily on the sideboard where we notice when it’s leaves begin to droop and it needs water. And I’m presently in the middle of painting the 3 little pots which came in the £2 package – I’m doing them black with white spots and white with black spots. And I’ve pulled out some struggling Aloe Vera babies from the parent pot, and they are doing well in their new little homes.

It’s still work in progress, but I’m really pleased with the results so far. And I’ve really enjoyed doing a little bit of gentle gardening indoors, in little steps, on days when I can manage it. Please do comment with any houseplant tips!

And here is a link to Holmgren’s Permaculture Principles which I was referring to in this blog.

 

 

Make Do and Mend

MAKE DO AND MEND

Hey folks. Did any of you catch that BBC TV series called ‘Back in time for the weekend‘? I stumbled across it while I was resting in bed one day. I was lying under my hand made patchwork quilt (made a few years ago from fabric scraps) while I darning my favourite and very worn out cardigan.97130802-944a-4641-b6bd-1beeca97573b I found the whole series really fascinating; a family of four living in London underwent an experiment to live in each era from the 1950′s right through to the 90′s.

They lived one year each day over the course of a summer; their home was completely transformed at the beginning of each ‘decade’ to look in keeping with each era. And that was fun to watch in itself; with each new decade came new wallpaper and furnishings that made me laugh out loud in recognition, especially the psychedelic prints of my 70′s childhood!

They also dressed according to the right styles, played the family roles they would have played and were introduced to each new piece of technology as it would have emerged in this time-lapsed version of reality.

What became apparent over the course of the decades, was that the 50′s was a very austere time, where women slaved all day, every day, with household chores such as hand-washing, cleaning, mending and cooking from scratch. And as time went on, new technology liberated women from this drudgery, such as the arrival of the washing machine. This created the opportunity for women to work outside the home and for more leisure time in general.

But by the 80′s technology was developing so fast that their shed was filling up with old obsolete electrical goods, and their leisure time was dominated more and more with electrical entertainment.

9875fffd-ff77-423e-a944-597042f543aeIn the 50′s women might have spent their evenings sitting and darning a cardigan, or sewing up the hem on a dress. And men might have spent a Saturday afternoon making a new table. But by the 80′s and 90′s it was just easier to replace items with cheap new imports. Capitalism was in full swing and we were being persuaded by advertising to buy more and more products.

It was really interesting that in their 70′s decade, the family had the most freedom and leisure time together as a family and looked back on that as a golden era. It was a time when children played out in the street together unsupervised, men were more involved in family life because of the 3 day week, and women got to go out to work. It was a time of low-tech fun and they also got to go on a camping holiday together.

The final episode was about where we are now and what the future might bring for the British family. It was expected that there would now be a backlash against the consumerist ideal of past eras, and people would search for ways to make do and mend things once again. This was partly to do with rising awareness about how our consumer habits were having a detrimental effect on the environment, and partly to do with people being more conscious of cost since the recession hit.

I found an article that seems to echo this message – The rise of mending: how Britain learned to repair clothes again. Apparently mending and repairing is now a huge growth industry in need of people with those skills.

89ce847e-defd-4aeb-8f3a-193c0c2b9bdcOf course you guys are probably already mending your clothes and reusing and repurposing things, but I find it interesting that it’s becoming mainstream and has now gained more value there. I think people nowadays are more likely to buy one item of quality that will last them years and can be repaired, than something that’s cheap and poor quality – and quickly replaceable.

Maybe even, a darned cardigan has a kind of ‘make do and mend sheik’ to it these days? Will we wear our mended, darned and patched clothes with pride? I’m certainly glad that I can carry on wearing my favourite cardigan, now without big holes in the elbows and without ragged cuffs!

By the way I’m now on Instagram so check me out here.

 

Living with Fibromyalgia

LIVING WITH FIBROMYALGIA

Once again folks I have been struck down with another chronic, life-limiting incurable illness – this time it’s called Fibromyalgia. Six years ago my diagnosis was Lupus, an auto-immune disease which caused inflammation in my body, mostly in my joints, but the Lupus is now ‘inactive’ according to my blood test results. Instead, now it’s my nervous system that’s completely out of whack, so that I experience pain all over my body, in my nerves, tendons, muscles and around the joints. The fatigue has exploded into something that dominates my life even more than before, where the simplest task such as washing my hair, can leave me exhausted and feeling unable to lift my arms for hours afterwards.

So how do I respond to this new diagnosis? What resources do I have to help me deal with another chronic illness characterised by pain and fatigue? Well once again it’s permaculture design that has come to the rescue; I’ve found that permaculture gives me several helpful tools in my toolbox to enable me to approach my illness with an attitude of seeing the solution in the problem.natural patterns3

Part of the reason I have become so ill is due to the stressful events that had been thrown at me over the past 6 years. I was dealing with:

1 A new diagnosis of Lupus which was stressful in itself; my body was attacking itself and some people find this disease life-threatening when it attacks their vital organs – so was I under the same threat?

2 The trauma of caring for a father who was slowly dying of Parkinson’s and Dementia; I was losing him piece by piece until he finally passed away, a process which I found quite traumatic at every step of the way.

3 And while I was losing him, I was also living in a very stressful environment; the housing co-op where I was living at the time was full of conflict and challenging relationships, and I didn’t have the resources within me to meet the demands of what that required.

4 And then we moved house so we could finally live in a quiet stress-free environment, which is great now, but at the time this pushed me beyond my resources.

So what do you do when life has sucked all the energy out of you and you are quite literally in debt, your tanks are empty, and you’ve borrowed fuel from next year’s supply? As a permaculturalist I turn to nature for answers.

In nature you will not find any system that takes more energy inputs than it outputs in order to sustain itself. Nature is balanced – when mankind doesn’t interfere – so that each eco-system is able to effortlessly sustain itself; the inputs of rain and sun are used efficiently by plants and animals so that they live with a surplus of energy, able to output new growth and offspring each year.

To be clear, it’s not due to mismanagement of my energy that I am ill. It’s more due to being dealt a bad hand by life which has meant that I have less ‘fuel in the tank’ than the average person; I was born premature with a heart defect, small for my age while I grew up, susceptible to getting ill & exhausted by school work.. and so the pattern went on. If I had been born a Gazelle, I would have been the weakling of the herd and picked-off by predators by now! But I’m a human being and I am lucky enough to have healthcare and a cunning brain to design new ways of overcoming challenges.

So this is what I’ve come up with:DSCN3754

1 Zoning my life

I have less energy, therefore I cannot work outside of zone 0 for the foreseeable future. This means that I am not trying to do or create anything that isn’t inside my house. I can’t. This has meant:

- I have not yet designed my new garden, I am merely doing the most basic observation of it from my bedroom window. And if I do any gardening this year it will be inside zone 0 inside my conservatory.

- I am focusing only on activities that I can do each day inside the house that don’t overstretch me physically. For example sewing work or gentle decorating.

- I have handed over all commitments that involved working outside zone 0, including the community food growing project which I initiated in my old neighbourhood.

2 Living inside my energy envelope

The main treatment for Fibromyalgia is a balance of gentle exercise, rest and improved sleep and so I am using pacing techniques in my life in a way that builds up energy resources rather than depleting them. I have fought this ‘pacing lifestyle’ before because it sounds so boring, but this time round I am finding good results. Pacing is a way of dividing my day up into a timetable of activities and rest periods, and the strength of this solution is found in the variety and diversity of those activities and rest periods. The trick is in recognising which activities are physical, mental or emotional, and getting a balance between them all. For example my day might look like this:

Wake up & rest in bed for half hour (I wake up feeling exhausted)

MENTAL ACTIVITY – drinking herb tea while writing for 1 hour

PHYSICAL ACTIVITY – Make breakfast, clean kitchen & feed cats

REST – laying in bed rest with eyes closed

PHYSICAL/MENTAL ACTIVITY – sewing for 1 hour

PHYSICAL ACTIVITY – making lunch & eating it

REST – laying in bed with eyes closed

REST/MENTAL ACTIVITY – watching Youtube films in bed

PHYSICAL ACTIVITY – gentle walking for 50 minutes

EMOTIONAL ACTIVITY – chatting to a friend on the phone while resting on sofa

PHYSICAL ACTIVITY – repainting a door frame for 20 minutes

REST – cuddling cats on the sofa

PHYSICAL ACTIVITY – making dinner & eating with family

REST/MENTAL ACTIVITY – on sofa watching DVD’s with family

REST – Salt bath

Bed.

3 Small and slow solutions

Pacing myself this way also echo’s the permaculture principle of small and slow solutions. With a loose timetable like this each day, I can take tiny steps towards my goals. This means I always feel like I’m heading in the right direction – however slow – and my mental state remains positive and hopeful despite my limitations. We are slowly remodelling the house, while I continue to meet my creative work commitments, and I am not getting stressed about deadlines or pushing myself to do more, I am accepting of where I am and enjoying the process of slow creation.

4 Use natural resources

I now have a diverse number of natural remedies, therapies and supplements that I use to help me manage the pain, the quality of my sleep and wellbeing. Some of those include nerve tonic herbs, supplements that improve serotonin levels, acupuncture, gentle walks in nature, and salt baths._9-ODutWVfTfvUdZHwX3_qUwvWGirFxTUN4WkM7uNDM I respond so much better to these than to drugs, but I also have some strong pain killing drugs to help me on the really bad days too. I have needed the drugs less and less as I have found which natural remedies work best for me.

5 Build beneficial relationships

In an ecosystem there are billions of beneficial relationships between flora and fauna that sustain and build the system. In the same way I try to build positive and beneficial relationships with the people in my life.

I am very lucky that I have a husband who is wonderfully supportive, who enables me to do activities that I would otherwise be unable to do, such food shopping in a supermarket (he drives me there, pushes the trolley and lifts the heavy bags). Of course in any beneficial relationship it’s about mutual care and kindness, and I play my part by making sure on days when he works long hours I save my energy so that I can cook a good meal for us to enjoy together. Working together we are much stronger – we even managed to go to a gig together recently (we found benches at the back) which was a huge achievement and much fun.

My kids are older now and more independent – they can put their own washing in the machine, and clean up after themselves, and so I am less needed on a physical level and can instead enjoy the emotional engagement in their lives.

Although I find it hard to get to social events or spend hours chatting on the phone, I’m still able to maintain many friendships through email, messaging or FaceTime, and a few meet-ups with tea and cake. I have cut down the amount of time I spend on Facebook where I was fretting about political posts or worrying about people’s comments and opinions there – I found this to be a big drain on my energy.

I belong to a supportive forum online which is helpful on bad days when you need to chat so someone else with a similar illness. I have also had counselling through my GP which was tremendously supportive.Cb5z_voWAAAQGtq

I still like to maintain my relationship with nature by going on gentle walks. I am lucky to live on the edge of town with walks straight out into the countryside, so I make the most of that. I find it nourishes my soul to stand amongst the sheep listening to skylarks while little fluffy clouds drift overhead.

So there you have it. I don’t have all the answers or a miracle cure, and I’m learning new things all the time, but this is how I’m using permaculture tools to help me with my current challenges. I hope that over time, I will gradually build up a store of fuel in my tank so that one day I’ll be able to go hiking again or swimming. In the meantime I hope I have provided some food for thought for those who are also struggling with chronic health conditions. And I also hope to have given an insight into what it’s like to live with such limitations for those who have been blessed with good health.

 

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