To determine the best placement for plantings and structures, permaculture offers you a way to look at the garden in terms of zones, and there are sustainable options for gardens of every size.
Designing Your Garden
Consider the day-to-day use of your garden. Where you want to socialize? Do you want to have herbs growing near the kitchen? Will you put in raised beds? Will you have a shed, chicken coop, goat enclosure, greywater system, beehive, or other structures even if you’re not ready to build them yet?
Learning how to identify the six permaculture zones is the best design tool for creating a basic gardening layout. Think of a small stone thrown into water and the resulting ripples in concentric circles. Permaculture zones function similarly, although the boundaries within zones are not as clear cut as circles, but instead overlap depending on existing site features. Planning in terms of zones helps you determine where in the garden to place elements based on their frequency of use and their scale. Most average-sized home gardens have mainly zones 0, 1, and 2, but with a little creativity, we can envision the other zones even in small residential gardens.
The first zone is numbered 0, and it represents the home and the self. Permaculture designer and teacher Bonita Ford says, “Zone 0 reminds us to begin the design process with ourselves, with observation of the
inner landscape. Our personal values, needs, likes, and dislikes all contribute to the design and its implementation. The invisible/social aspects of our design ask that we sustain our own vitality and creativity, taking care of ourselves as living elements in the design.”
Clearly, if we are not doing enough self-care, then we will have a hard time tending a garden. Zone 1 starts outside the back door, or near another highly used area, and zone 5 is the farthest away from the living area and so the least used. It represents wilderness. We may need to plant here to restore native habitat or to attract pollinators. We want to have the most tender and most frequently picked edibles closer to home.
A sample annual planting plan might be:
• ZONE 1: herb garden and salad mixes
• ZONE 2: frequently picked collards, kale, and Swiss chard
• ZONE 3: tomatoes or potatoes
• ZONE 4: amaranth, fava beans, mushrooms, sunflowers, and winter squash
• ZONE 5: native plants
DESIGN FOR A BALCONY GARDEN
PERMACULTURE ZONE 1
OBSERVE AND INTERACT: Many of the herbs were once planted in an herb spiral by the garden, but because of our cold nights and rainy days, we brought them up to the deck for easier harvesting.
CATCH AND STORE ENERGY: We dry and store many of the herbs for later use. The container-grown fruit nearest the wall receive extra warmth from the house.
OBTAIN A YIELD: Fruit, herbs, spices, and vegetables.
USE RENEWABLE RESOURCES: Most of the containers are recycled 15-gallon pots, but there are also salvaged ceramic pots and used wine barrels.
DESIGN FOR A SMALL GARDEN
PERMACULTURE ZONES 1 AND 2
USE THE EDGES: An adobe guest house and a wall make a space to socialize along one wall of the garden.
CATCH AND STORE ENERGY: Greywater is channeled into a constructed wetland to store nutrient-rich water. The hot tub is solar heated. The pizza oven is wood-fired.
USE AND VALUE RENEWABLE RESOURCES: Nettles, comfrey, and borage are nutrient accumulators.
OBTAIN A YIELD: Fruit trees, annual and perennial vegetables, and berries provide harvest for family and friends. Chickens and ducks provide eggs.
DESIGN FOR AN AVERAGE LOT
PERMACULTURE ZONES 1 AND 2
USE THE EDGES: Bamboo hedges block the large buildings next door. Pollinating, droughttolerant natives are planted on the shady northeast side. Keyhole beds, mandala beds, and herb spirals maximize planting space.
CATCH AND STORE ENERGY: Rainwater harvesting to catch water. Lots of mulch to act as a sponge for rainwater (22 inches per year).
USE AND VALUE RENEWABLE RESOURCES:
Chickens and ducks help control slugs and snails and give use manure. We save seeds and trade them with BASIL members. Bamboo hedges make construction timber.
OBTAIN A YIELD: Fruit trees and berries provide harvest for family and friends. Chickens and ducks provide eggs.
PRODUCE NO WASTE: Our household waste is converted to soil. I do a weekly pickup of vegetable scraps from a nearby restaurant to feed the fowl, and make into compost.
Christopher Shein has started dozens of community, school, and market gardens. He teaches permaculture at Merritt Community College where he helped develop the award-winning student farm. Shein also owns Wildheart Gardens, a permaculture landscape business that designs and builds sustainable gardens.
“Whether you are starting a new edible garden or looking to take your veggie patch to the next level, this book is worth exploring.” —Edible East Bay