The Highley Family Permaculture Garden

The Highley Family Permaculture Garden

juiliens garden


The garden which slopes south and is well sheltered with good loamy soil provides the ideal environment for growing fruit, nuts, vegetables, wildlife and children. It provides colour and intrigue throughout the year and fresh salads and herbs, sweet fruits and tasty nuts in the autumn and delicious tuberous treats in the winter. The garden has been designed so that it can be progressively altered to achieve the final plan.

New plants and shrubs will be incorporated amongst those already in place to ensure that diversity and beauty is maintained As the climax species mature and take up more room, occasionally some of the ornamentals may need to be relocated to another open area or left to die of naturally, although most will integrate happily among the new plants and shrubs. Initially the garden will begin with wild flowers but as the garden matures these will be partly taken over by food bearing pants. The wild flowers will still persist in the gaps between and at different times of year when there is less foliage. The garden has been designed so that flowers will always be plentiful providing a feast for bees and butterflies and for your eyes.

The beds and borders in the garden have been designed to minimise the need for watering as their shape naturally collects and stores rainwater. The plants and trees have been grouped in guilds so their nutritional needs have largely been taken care of. Once the garden is established you will only be required to harvest, mulch, liquid feed and water in zone 1prune, compost, mow, relocate or remove the occasional plant, enjoy and observe. Your time needed in this garden should be no more than 4 hours per month to ensure maximum fertility health and harvest is maintained. Everything you will need for your garden will be grown in the garden, it will function as a closed system recycling nutrients with you as its facilitor.


This details a description of the garden once fully matured as shown in the map provided. Please use the map for reference whilst reading this description.

The Patio Area Zone 1

The Air Potato and Grape

The patio area is the greatest sun trap in the garden, the south facing aspect and the shape of the house reflect the heat and sunlight back into the patio and store warmth in the slabs and walls of the house.

Vines climbing on the walls around the kitchen window and conservatory take advantage of this ideal microclimate. The Air Potato vigorously wraps its self around a trellis and produces delicious potato like fruits and under ground tubers.  A Grape vine wraps its way around a trellis and winds its way over the conservatory and takes full advantage of the south facing aspect. It produces grapes in good summers and edible leaves.

These plants live in a raised bed where red clovers grow as ground cover and fix nitrogen from the air to provide fertility in the soil and attract pollinating insects. Whilst the vines are young, strawberries also take advantage of this ideal position and their berries hang down over the raised bed and ripen in the sun. Where there was once one water butt there are now two, they provide a heat store and additional humidity for the vines.

The salad and herb patch

Perennial salads in this bed keep coming year after year and provide much sort after leaves from lemon flavoured sorrel, Siberian purslane, peppery chicory and two types of rocket. Chives provide a tasty accompaniment along with lemon balm. Thyme, sage, parsley and rosemary also grow here helping to ward of caterpillars and in an ideal location near to the kitchen for cooking.

The Annual Raised bed

The annual raised bed is close to the house so it can be tended to regularly and easily cared for. It comprises of two raised terraces which are an adaptation of the existing rockery. It can be used to grow all kinds of annuals such as carrots, potatoes, courgettes and tomatoes. Whilst it is not being used it is planted with red clover that can be used as a green manure to condition the soil before each planting. And also used as a cover crop during plantings to help retain soil moisture and suppress weeds.

 Columbine and good king Henry beside the swing seat.

In the shade area beneath the wisteria and next to the swing seat columbine boasts unusual blooms in the spring and early summer and good king Henry supplies b vitamin rich leaves that can be used for both cooking and salads throughout the year.

 The western side of the seating area.

Beneath the ceanotha and between the roses the giant silvery leaves of the globe artichoke add a dramatic contrast. The big beautiful purple thistle like flowers can provide a delicious treat to those who dare to attempt to cook them. Beneath them wild lungwort provides an effective ground cover and food for bees.

The honey suckle that was once rampant is now entwined on a trellis along the conservatory walls and winds itself amongst the grape.

The Water feature

Beneath the honey suckle a wooden barrel holds your anniversary gift. It sprays water into the air and its cascades down over smooth stones. Yellow iris and marsh marigold provide colour in the spring and purple water hyacinth conditions the water and provides attractive blooms in early summer.

 The Garden borders Zone 2

Raised borders down the sides of garden curve in and out providing more edge for growing space and more microclimates to satisfy the needs of a variety of plants. They have been designed to collect and store water as the edges are raised so that water and nutrients drain inwards.

 Western border

Walking down the slope from the seating area on the western side of the garden, giant Jerusalem artichokes provide bursts of yellow flowers in the late summer, and food for insects as well as many delicious edible tubers in the winter. Among them lupines grow, they fix nitrogen from the air and the slope of the garden helps these nutrients to be carried down to the plants below.

The fruiting cherry tree

The cherry tree takes advantage of these additional nutrients as well as the nutrients accumulated by the comfrey that grows along the border, it attracts beneficial insects and stops the grass from spreading and competing for nutrients. The comfrey is a very important plant in the garden and provides nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. Its leaves and roots are edible and have medicinal uses and its leaves can also be used as a compost activator and mulch.


Mashua provides ground cover under the cherry tree locking in moisture and also conditioning the soil keeping it free from harmful pathogens. This perennial nasturtium has attractive round leaves and orange flowers, it forms delicious tubers underground that grow in abundance and can be harvested in the winter once the foliage has died down. Mashua grows vigorously and sprawls its way up the cherry tree and over the fence suppressing any weeds in its path.

Fruiting shrubs

Behind the cherry tree making the most of the additional moisture, black currents and redcurrants thrive above the mashua. More Jerusalem artichokes make the most of the shade from the trees and provide a later show of flowers. This border leads down the garden and ends with the shed once drab, it is now adorned with the clematus that has been rescued from under the yew tree.

 The eastern border

The eastern border of the garden edges each side of the path, and as with the western border lupines planted at the top fix nitrogen for the plants below, along with the wisteria and laburnum tree. Hop vines provide ground cover for the apple tree and wind there way amongst its branches. Their flowers can be used for beer and their shoots like asparagus.

 Fruiting shrubs

Raspberries grow either side of the path and can be picked by the children on the way to play under the willow tree. Geraniums provide purple blooms and suppress weeds underneath them.

A giant jostaberry bush makes its mark near the end of the trail providing delicious purple fruits in the autumn. Its fruits are a cross between a gooseberry and a black current but are surprisingly sweet.

 Compost and ground cover

Peppermint grows under the willow tree in the shade along with nettles that make a welcome addition when composted by adding essential nutrients and minerals. Or to ones own diet where they are truly the most versatile vegetable in the garden. Underneath the willow tree where grass will not grow, babies tears forms a thick green blanket and with stands the constant stampede of children’s feet.

 The bottom of the Garden Zone 4

Woodland plants

At the bottom of the garden where the yew tree, beach, willow and conifers cast shade and dry out the soil not many plants will grow. But some will, in the raised bed around the wendy house fox gloves boast pink flowers and purple flowered periwinkles thrive with a variety of magnificent ferns

And under the yew tree ivy grows in a dense carpet, with ferns and cyclamen behind the castor plant. The addition of rotten logs and rocks help store additional moisture and provide an attractive feature. The trees branches have been lifted and thinned to allow more light and rain water.

The Front Garden Zone 3

Insectaries in the shade

Looking out the window onto the front garden heathers provide a boast of colour throughout the year, food for bees and pollinating insects and also brighten up the most shaded part of the garden.

In the corner next to them the rhododendron that was once in the back garden now makes the most of the extra moisture and light and the harmful substances excreted by its roots stay with it as it is in the lowest part of the garden.

 Nut trees

Next to it hazel grows into a small tree and provides nuts in the autumn, at its base st Johns wart provides food for bees and suppresses weeds.

Next to the hazel a heartnut provides even bigger nuts and makes the most of the extra sunshine. An everlasting pea grows in and out its branches and flowers in the canopy whilst providing extra nitrogen for the tree.

 Fruiting shrubs vines and nitrogen fixers

In front of the hazel tree a mulberry bush provides dense green foliage and delicious pink fruits, perennial flowers grow beside it along with a blueberry bush. Additional nutrients are provided for these plants from lupines and everlasting pea.

Underneath the tulip tree Japanese wineberry provides a dense blanket of green leaves with red furry stems and bright vermillion sweet fruits in the autumn. Beside it a gogi berry sprawls its branches out and produces superfood fruits.

Intertwining between this trio, an everlasting pea provides additional nutrients and a show of colour. The Laburnum to the left of them also provides additional nitrogen.

Ornamental insectaries

On the eastern side of the driveway the arrangement stays the same accept for the addition of some well needed pruning and some lupines and lavender to provide nutrients and protection for the roses.

 Colour in winter and early spring

In the late winter and early spring bluebells, snow drops, crocuses, daffodils and tulips brighten up the garden and welcome back summer.

 Action Plan

This details basic instructions of how to achieve the garden described above, as you are aware there is much to learn and you will have to access various resources to achieve your goals so please utilise the list of references I have provided you with. And remember that the information I have offered here is only a rough guide, as the methodologies may need to be adapted according to how the garden develops and your limitations.


0 level patio and fix pergola

1 Prune apple trees

2 build cuped borders in back garden and add well rotted organic matter and compost.

3 plant fruiting shrubs in front and back garden.

4 prune roses.

 Early spring

6 Prune cherry trees and plum

7create water feature

8 get water butts

9 terrace the annual bed and sew with red clover

10 build the raised bed for the grape and air potato and plant.

11 Sew wild flower seeds and plant other perennials

12 thin out yew and beach

13 make hedgehog home

14 build raised area for woodland plants

15 plant up woodland raised beds near wendy house

16 keep building compost


17 chip bud graft your cherry trees.

18 harvest your salads and herbs

19 mulch around plants and keep an eye out for problems

20 harvest globe artichokes


21 harvest fruit and nuts

22 build compost

23 Harvest root crops

24Build compost


25 plan crocuses, daffodils, bluebells, tulips, snowdrops


 Creating the raised borders that collect and store water

Mark out borders, remove turf, turn it upside down and layer it over border. Fill borders with good quality organic compost. Sew with wildflower seed to include flowers that are beneficial for wildlife such as borage, hyssop, ox eye daisy, ladies bedstraw, yarrow, and valerian. These flowers will serve the purpose of suppressing weeds whilst your main plants are becoming established. (you can buy wild flower mixes from

They will attract much wildlife to you garden and will provide a wealth of colour through out the season. They will also help to lock nutrients in and condition the soil. You can obtain wildflower seeds from the websites listed in the appendix. It is important that you coat the up turned turf in wildflower seed, especially comfrey which serves as an effective grass break.

Sew the comfrey into the up turned turf by scoring lines in the turf with a knife and sewing the seeds inside. You can also do this with the wildflower seeds. Whilst these plants are becoming established you can then focus on putting your other plants in like the mashua, Jerusalem artichokes and fruit bushes if you didn’t manage to get them in before spring. When these plants are coming through clear a space for them to ensure they are not competing to much with wildflowers and use the wildflowers as mulch to suppress the growth of more wildflowers  around them as they are growing by weeding them out and laying them around your target plant. Just simply chop and place dead matter around the newly growing crop.

See diagram A

Managing nutrients

Your soil is your greatest asset! It is important that it stays covered to keep In moisture and nutrients, mulching is an effective way of doing this. When you plant something new and you have bare earth around it, mulch around it using partially decayed organic matter, wet card, paper or comfrey and nettle leaves. Both these plants are very good for the soil.

Your comfrey plants can be chopped and placed around fruit trees or any plant you want to give a boost to, the same goes for the clovers. With nitrogen fixing plants such as the clovers, everlasting pea, wisteria and laburnum every time you cut them they release nitrogen from the roots and the leaves used as mulch also release nitrogen. Just be wary you don’t damage the last two by pruning.

You can also make powerful liquid feeds with your nettles and comfrey which will be especially good for your plants in containers such as the air potato and grape. Simply ferment nettles and comfrey in a bucket of water for a couple of weeks. Add a few cup fulls of the mixture to a watering can and mix and dilute with water and add to plants to give them a real boost.

Your comfrey and nettles are great for accelerating your compost too. Add them to the compost and regularly rotate it to speed the process up.

 Increasing fruit yield

Prune your fruit trees to obtain maximum yield.

Guides for pruning are listed in the appendix.

 The winter -apple trees, don’t forget the one tucked away under the willow. Also make sure you remove the Loral next to it, the leaves are toxic if burnt and will not compost well so put it in your brown bin. Undoubtedly it will come back but at least the apple tree will be able to fill out. See appendix 1

 Early spring –the wild and fruiting cherries see appendix 2

 Late spring- the plum out front see appendix 3

 The summer- Graft high yielding cherry buds onto wild cherry trees so that you can obtain more good quality fruit. But leave some branches with wild cherries to distract birds. Or leave some cherry trees wild. Please see details of how to graft in appendix 4.

 The Annual Bed

Use the existing spare bricks to terrace the bed so that it is level. This will prevent unnecessary drying out. Move plants to another location in the garden. Such as beside the swing seat where the columbine and good king Henry are. Move the rocks to under the yew tree to help lock in moisture. Remove any weeds and then sow the ground with red clover seeds. These seeds will grow to form a dense matt of clover that will provide nitrogen for the soil. They live for three years and will prevent pesky weeds from becoming established. Once you have decided you would like to start growing, dig them back into the soil wait a few months for them to decay then sew your seeds or plant your seedlings.

Use spare slabs or bricks to build up a raised bed about 60cm and as long as you can fit in the space given. It needs to be about 50cm high, fill with about 10cm of gravel then add good organic compost until almost full. Put up a trellis going around the inside of the alcove and over the doorway of the conservatory. Instead of wooden trellis you can use screws and wires to make it more discreet and to get into awkward places. Then plant in your air potato near the kitchen window and the grape at the other end. Sow the soil with red clover and plant in your strawberries. Keep well watered until established and occasionally feed with comfrey brew.

The Annual Bed

Use the existing spare bricks to terrace the bed so that it is level. This will prevent unnecessary drying out. Move plants to another location in the garden. Such as beside the swing seat where the columbine and good king Henry are. Move the rocks to under the yew tree to help lock in moisture. Remove any weeds and then sow the ground with red clover seeds. These seeds will grow to form a dense matt of clover that will provide nitrogen for the soil. They live for three years and will prevent pesky weeds from becoming established. Once you have decided you would like to start growing, dig them back into the soil wait a few months for them to decay then sew your seeds or plant your seedlings.

The grape and air potato

Use spare slabs or bricks to build up a raised bed about 60cm and as long as you can fit in the space given. It needs to be about 50cm high, fill with about 10cm of gravel then add good organic compost until almost full. Put up a trellis going around the inside of the alcove and over the doorway of the conservatory. Instead of wooden trellis you can use screws and wires to make it more discreet and to get into awkward places. Then plant in your air potato near the kitchen window and the grape at the other end. Sow the soil with red clover and plant in your strawberries. Keep well watered until established and occasionally feed with comfrey brew.

The water Feature

This simply consists of a wooden barrel filled with rocks. A Water pump is in the middle and attached to the water feature. This pumps water through the feature and keeps it circulating round. The water feature is solar powered so it takes care of itself, athough it may need cleaning out from time to time. The plants in the feature need to be planted in pots or bags. To feed them use fermented nettle or comfrey liquid feed as described earlier. See diagram B and B.1

 Diagram B

Zone 4 The bottom of the garden

The yew and beach tree at the bottom of the garden have edible parts, the yew tree has edible fruits they are a delicious and superfood but be warned the seeds inside are deadly. Always spit out the seeds and only eat the fruit surrounding it. The beach also has edible nuts although I have never ate them my self as they take some considerable preparing.

To alleviate the problem of the yew and beech blocking out light and rainwater, remove the inner and crossing branches and generally thin out smaller branches. Then lift the crown so that the trunks are visible. This will make the areas beneath them a lot more hospitable.

Hedgehog home

Use the cut branches to build a hedge hog home. Arrange them in the sheltered spot behind the shed. Simply lay down the big branches first against the shed and fence. Lay them in such away so there is a pocket in the middle. Then lay the smaller ones on top. Every time you prune anything in the garden and have woody matter lay them on top of this pile and you will provide a home for hedgehogs as well as birds and toads. These animals are all very important in managing pests such as slugs and snails. See dia

Planting the woodland area

Use rocks and logs to build up this area. Use organic matter to build the soil layer, such as leaves, compost grass clippings etc. This will help give some well needed nutrients and help to lock moisture into the soil. Part the mulch and plant in the ground ivy and ferns and once the mulch has broken down plant with cyclamen too. The raised bed on the other side should flourish better once you have opened the tree canopy up. Also add more organic matter to the soil and mulch around the new plants.

 The beds in the front garden

The bed at the top does not need much preparing simply fold back the turf where the gogi berry will go, leaving a lip toward the downward sloping edge. This will help to collect and store water that would otherwise just run straight of the road and down the garden. Plant in the gogi berry and add lots of compost to the hole, plant in your Japanese wine berry underneath. As the Japanese winebery grows, pin its runners down to form a dense mat under the three trees. Once the gogi and wineberry have become established, plant in the everlasting pea underneath in the moist sheltered areas beneath the wineberry and gogi. Eventually the wineberry and everlasting pea will make there way around all three trees. Keep mulching them to make them grow faster and help suppress the grass.

With the second bed down simply add organic matter and mulch in your trees and fruiting shrubs. Keep an eye on the perennial flowers that are already there to make sure they don’t out compete them. If the shrubs do seem to be struggling which is unlikely simply relocate the perennial flowers to wherever you have room. Plant young lupines and everlasting peas in the spaces available in the spaces available.

 Watering the Garden

The water butts will collect rain  water from the roof, use the overflow from one water butt to fill up the other and the over flow from that to go back into the drain. Grow duck weed on top of the water butts. This will help to stop them from drying out and will prevent mosquitoes and midges from laying their eggs. You can also use the duck weed as mulch around your plants. It is very high in minerals and nutrients and will help to lock in moisture and surpress weeds, it also regenerates very quickly in the water butt. There will be little need for watering if ground cover is maintained. The raised beds around the patio will need the most watering simply do this using a hose from the water butts. Whilst the borders are getting established in the garden they will need watering too. Use the hose to water them at the top and water should slowly drain down to the bottom.

 Additional notes

Whilst you are converting your garden into a permaculture garden don’t be afraid to let areas go wild as I know your not. These areas are good observation points and can tell you a lot about your garden. You have a lot of nettles and bramble that come up. This is good it means you have high nitrogen! These wild areas are also of great benefit to wildlife, such as the passage way down the west side of the house where the brambles grow rampant.

 If you do not like some of the plants or shrubs I have chosen then please use the websites and books I have provided to choose others. The plants I have recommended are not a strict guide you may stumble upon other things you find for interesting that you would like to put in there place. As long as you consider their requirements and their interactions with the plants around them they will be fine.

 There are a lot of plants listed in this garden. Most of them you already have, they just need to be grouped together and put in the right place. Many of the plants such as ferns fox gloves, periwinkles and ground ivy you will undoubtedly be able to find in a friends garden.

 Principles and ethics

 Central to permaculture are the  three ethics: care for the earth, care for people, and fair share. They form the foundation for permaculture design and are also found in most traditional societies. Here are the 12 principles of permaculture as described by David Holmgren. It is useful to always refer to these principles as modern day conditioning can easily lead us back into unsustainable gardening techniques.

  1. Observe and Interact – “Beauty is in the mind of the beholder”
    By taking the time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.
  2. Catch and Store Energy – “Make hay while the sun shines”
    By developing systems that collect resources when they are abundant, we can use them in times of need.
  3. Obtain a yield – “You can’t work on an empty stomach”
    Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the working you are doing.
  4. Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback – “The sins of the fathers are visited on the children of the seventh generation”
    We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well. Negative feedback is often slow to emerge.
  5. Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services – “Let nature take its course”
    Make the best use of nature’s abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources.
  6. Produce No Waste – “Waste not, want not” or “A stitch in time saves nine”
    By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.
  7. Design From Patterns to Details – “Can’t see the forest for the trees”
    By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.
  8. Integrate Rather Than Segregate – “Many hands make light work”
    By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.
  9. Use Small and Slow Solutions – “Slow and steady wins the race” or “The bigger they are, the harder they fall”
    Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and produce more sustainable outcomes.
  10. Use and Value Diversity – “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”
    Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.
  11. Use Edges and Value the Marginal – “Don’t think you are on the right track just because it’s a well-beaten path”
    The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.
  12. Creatively Use and Respond to Change – “Vision is not seeing things as they are but as they will be”
    We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing and then intervening at the right time.


David Holmgren is best known as the co-originator with Bill Mollison of the permaculture concept following the publication of Permaculture One in 1978. (


Handy books and websites and films


Perennial vegetables by Eric Toensmeier

Creating a forest garden by Martin Crawford

A beginners guide to permaculture by Rosemary Morrow

Getting started in permaculture by Ross and Jenny Mars

Gaia’s garden, a guide to home scale permaculture by Toby Hemenway

How to grow perennial vegetables, low maintenance low impact gardening by Martin Crawford.

Websites (for unusual seeds and plants)


Geoff Lawton, Soils

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