What a trip – we just got back from two weeks in the North West of England doing some permaculture design work on a 5 acre plot of land.
Helen invited us to come and help her to redesign her farm after circumstances meant that she could no longer look after her sheep. She wanted something that was purposeful, low maintenance, and would spark joy.
With this brief, we spent some time observing the land and figuring out what would be best for the space and Helen’s needs. She was eager to work with the Woodland Trust, who will fund 85% of the cost of woodland planting within this region of the UK. She also wanted to make use of the existing pond and to be able to eat some homegrown produce now and then. Ideally the land would also provide an income of sorts.
To get some inspiration, we went on a field trip to some existing projects around the area, starting with Mere Brow farm in Weaverham.
Hugh had recently started working there but was happy to give us the tour along with his volunteer Corinna.
Hugh walked and talked us through the site, explaining some of its plans and existing structures. He introduced us to IMOs (Indigenous Microorganisms) as a way to add fertility to soil. He made these himself using a mix of molasses and brown rice.
Mere Brow is around 13 acres and has various sections: pond; kitchen garden; hen house; polytunnel; budding food forest; willow plantation and orchard. It has been functioning as a permaculture farm for just four years, so it was great for us to see a fledgling project in the same area to give a sense of what can be achieved in the near future.
We were glad to see an example of a young food forest and interested by how they had done it. There were a lot of woodchips gotten for free from a local woodyard, which is something well worth looking into. We felt that if possible we would prefer to plant all the canopy trees in one go for Helen’s forest garden rather than doing it bit by bit. The plan is to design the forest in detail, including species and spacings, before putting anything into the ground.
We were very grateful for the tour and felt inspired, wishing we had more time to see the North field with the willow plantation and orchards.
Next we journeyed on to Alderley Edge, where Peter Woollam’s organic garden is nestled on Hough Lane.
Peter grows an impressive range of flowers and vegetables, managing to run it for free by selling jams and leftover produce to pay for the seeds and any compost. The material for the structures all come from wood sourced within the garden, so it is totally self-contained. He trades some herbs with a local veg box company in exchange for the sugar to mke the jams. By late August, he is already sold out.
Peter’s garden was a colourful wild wonderland, lots of interplanting and maximum space usage with lots of levels!
We were wowed by the diversity in Hough Garden, hundreds of different plants and some we had never heard of such as perennial mountain spinach, which looked like someone had come and spray-painted the centres bright pink.
It was useful to see how a small space can be transformed into something so magical, and it reminded us how personal it is to create a garden. The scale and organisation of this permaculture project was one that only Peter could manage – due to the layout of it it would be difficult for someone else to know their way around. Whilst this was perfect for Peter, it gave us something to think about when designing spaces which need to be accessible to many.
TARPORLEY GARDEN CENTRE
Finally, we stopped at a garden centre to buy some gloves and have a look around the nursery.
Helen bought some wild strawberries, two types of echinacea, a discounted hydrangea and a purple pot plant. Something to get started with!
BACK AT THE FARM
After a over a week of observation and an inspiring field trip, we were able to come up with a preliminary design for the farm. We have applied for 0.5 hectares of woodland from the Woodland Trust, and are going to start designing a forest garden in detail with help from Martin Crawford’s book. His forest is in Dartington, UK, so it will be incredibly helpful to learn from him as it is a very similar climate.
Since we were there the land has been mowed in preparation for wildflower sowing, which were bought from the lovely people at Shepherd Seeds, who kindly advised us NOT to buy their cover crops and to use the valuable grass that is already there!
We planted some hedging around the gaps in the perimeter for privacy and windbreaks.
Now we are back in Spain, we will spend the next few months designing the forest garden in detail, and should go back in November to help with the tree planting if all goes well with the Woodland Trust. The kitchen garden can also start to be prepped and the ground readied for spring.
We have adored working on this project so far and are excited to do more. This feels like something that could work on a small as well as big scale. Permaculture designing for all!
Let us know what you think,
Peace & Pollen x