Birth preparation design

15 05 2014

[Criteria 1: Looby’s design web, Holmgren Principles, PMI, brainstorm/mind map. Criteria 2; permaculture in my own life.]

This design was developed throughout my pregnancy which began in Feb 2013, but a lot of groundwork had been done throughout the course of my diploma starting in summer 2012.  A lot of strands that had been unconnected were joined up through this design which provided me with a clear focus for the last 3 months of my pregnancy (Aug – Nov 2013).


I am due to give birth in early November. My pregnancy has been good, I have adopted an approach of being generally active and healthy. Throughout my pregnancy I have been researching birth and babies, this culminated in a focussed design of how to spend the last three months of my pregnancy to best prepare me to achieve the birth I would like. I have wanted to try out Looby McNamara’s design web from People and Permaculture, this design fitted well with this desire.  Whilst the final documentation of the design happened after the birth I was using the elements of the design web to generate ideas and help me to connect my different ideas – writing notes on how each of the design web elements and permaculture principles were resonating with me.


  • Natural birth with no medical interventions, drug free.

    • Delivering our baby in a relaxed, calm, fun, empowering, powerful and safe space

    • That both Catherine and I feel supported throughout, both emotionally and physically

    • That I am as prepared as I can be to achieve the above aim


  • That when I start to implement this design there are only 3 months until the baby comes out, it is a short time to make what I want to happen happen.

  • Reading about birth and researching – natural birth, hynobirthing, orgasmic birth etc

  • I have also been doing an exploration of ‘inner work’ (here) throughout this period which has been a massive help to get me to this point

  • Two friends who have had homebirths, but in particular Mags who has been ever positive and helpful and returned into our lives at just the right moment (moving back to the UK after living in Spain for 5 years!)

  • All of these ‘helps’ enabled me to be certain of my instinctive decision made at the start of my pregnancy that a home birth was right for me.  Drawing them out as a flow chart showing the options of where to give birth and the influence of each of the helps demonstrates how these ‘helps’ have helped!
  • Helps


  • The ethics are always a help and they don’t feature specifically in Looby’s web, so this felt like a good place to consider them.
Earth Care People Care Fair shares
Hospitals are very heavy users of electricity/lights/heat – how can I reduce my impact? Prepare me emotionally  Birth is common to everyone, everywhere, historically and into our future.  This ethic reminds me how unique and not unique this experience is!
Drugs used during birth have manufacturing process emissions, chemical leachate into environment, drug waste that needs disposing – how can I reduce my impact? Prepare me physically; food, general exercise, body preparations
Food is fuel for me always and especially during pregnancy and birth – eat organic, local foods as much as possible Lots of people have given their time, stories and love to me which has been very nurturing Logistics – buy second hand items for anything I need – reduce limit to consumption
Walk as my primary form of exercise Catherine emotionally and physically well


I see the limits, as those that limit me achieving my vision.

  • Fear causing adrenalin during birth is the biggest factor that could cause labour to slow and/or create the need for medical interventions.  I need to be aware of this and work to break any cycles or situations that might create fear through my preparations.

  • I may have to have medical intervention which could save my or the babies life. The limit is how I perceive this, which is why emotional preparation is so important.

  • Due date, this puts pressure on me from the medical profession and from myself that the baby should arrive on or soon after this date


  • Current patterns of thinking that arise from me interacting with other people:

    • Negative birth stories shared by others

    • the assumption from many that birth is a medical process involving doctors and thus should be feared

    • ‘I’d like a home birth IF POSSIBLE’ feeling that I have to justify that it could all go wrong

    • Knowing the high rates of c-section and epidural use in the UK

    • Birth programmes on tv

  • I need to create a spiral of abundance of positive thought using affirmations, not listening to negative stories and challenging the nay sayers with my positive and certain unwavering position

  • I know that learning a lot about birth will help me to feel confident because I have the facts, I need to create this spiral of abundance of personal knowledge

  • I know that Catherine will be absolutely brilliant at advocating for me, standing up for me, asking questions and challenging if and when appropriate and doggedly not leaving my side – this is a great pattern to have in my arsenal


As mentioned in my inner work annex, the following design tools specifically helped me to generate ideas for this design:

  •  Life aims (fitness, empowerment, spiritual and social)
  • Biotime diary
  • Think & listen questions
  • PMI of the last day/week

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The key ideas that emerged for this design from all of this work are in the following mind map.  Interestingly all of the prompts in the design web have helped to generate ideas for this design.

Ideas including those that link together

Ideas including those that link together


  • Catch and store energy

    • Remember to sleep/rest in the early stages if there is a possibility of it

    • Food is key to maintaining my energy

  • Integrate rather than segregate

    • Things to integrate in this design:

      • personal outlook and mindset (how I perceive pain/birth process i.e. mental preparation)

      • pain relief (water i.e. a birth pool, coupled with movement and breathing),

      • atmosphere (calm, relaxed, familiar, safe i.e. home rather than hospital),

      • care givers (me and Catherine to look after our own needs, a trained midwife to look after the birth process)

  • Observe and interact

    • Observation that since I’ve been pregnant many people have shared negative birth stories, people like to share the dramatic and exciting stories fewer positive stories have been shared

    • tv programmes that glamorise difficult births and don’t focus on simple straightforward uncomplicated births

    • our own perceived lack of knowledge about the process led to self doubt that we would be able to make the right choices and make a home birth happen. Challenging this has brought us new strength in achieving the vision

  • Obtain a yield

    • Ideal yields: a positive birth experience for me and the baby, bonding for me and Catherine, empowerment for myself that I can deliver a baby

  • Apply self regulation and accept feedback

    • It is important that we design our ideal scenario, plan and prepare for it mentally, emotionally and physically. Feedback loops will come about during the birth process and we may need to alter the design based on what is happening to me and the baby. However even if I do end up needing medical intervention I believe that with the right preparation and mindset I can still achieve a positive birth even if it doesn’t look quite like the vision.

  • Design from patterns to details

    • Pattern is healthy me and healthy Catherine in mind, body and spirit prepared for birth.

    • Details include active birth classes, daily movement and breathing practice, daily affirmations, focus on what I eat, regular exercise, hearing positive birth stories

  • Small and slow

    • I expect labour to be small and slow! And must keep that in my mind, my body will slowly get there, I can’t rush it!

  • Use and value diversity

    • Remember to use different movements, try out different positions, different breathing techniques that I have learned. Remember to introduce diversity if I feel the need to (music, aromas etc)

  • Edges

    • I think homebirth is an edge activity! If it goes well perhaps share my story with others in the homebirth support group or others in the local nct group.

  • Creatively use and respond to change

    • Similar to self regulation in this scenario, keep the vision in mind and make sure that it happens as and where it can even if there does need to be medical intervention at times – don’t let the interventions throw us completely off track of what we want to achieve.


Through all of the above prompts in the design web, the following themes emerged as the key areas to focus on for developing a specific plan to get me prepared during the final 3 months of my pregnancy.  Understanding this helped me to narrow down my specific ideas and enabled me to focus.

  • Eating and drinking

  • Exercising/stamina building

  • Positions and movement for labour

  • Positive mind activities

  • Knowledge gathering


In this section I have set out the plan for the next 3 months (there are aspects of this plan that I would like to continue post birth if possible including the eating and drinking, exercising and positive mind activities (although I will have to tailor these to be more relevant post birth)).

Eating and drinking

  • Be even more conscious of my diet and daily water intake
  • Prepare food for labour, keep the fridge stocked just in case

Exercising/stamina building

  • Swim/walk regularly, do something every day – don’t be lazy

Positions and movement for labour

  • Start attending local active birth classes
  • Start daily practice of breathing techniques, movement, positive affirmations about birth, relaxation, pelvic floor exercises and perineal massage (from week 34).  Some examples of my birth preparation notes are in the following photos:
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Positive mind activities

  • Daily programme of positive affirmations and visualisation about the birth
  • Regular massage for us both to relax (aim for twice/week)
  • Stop watching tv programmes about birth
  • Challenge and/or avoid conversations that are likely to lead to negative birth stories, or negative associations of pain with birth
  • Meet other home birthers to give me confidence – go to the home birth support group meeting
  • Being clear with the midwives about what we want – make a simple birth plan for them before 36 week check up

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  • Knowledge gathering
    • Re-read orgasmic birth book, read hypnbirthing book, watch orgasmic birth dvd again

With the above plan in place how do the ethics fit now?

Earth care: most of my daily exercise is walking, my food choices remain as earth friendly as possible, I can walk to my classes

People care:  I feel like I am looking after myself and the growing baby with this plan, my personal people care is great; I have met more people who have shared their experiences through this process which has been very nurturing for me

Fair shares:  this hasn’t been a big fair shares design so at least I would like to share my experiences and design process with others when it is all over.


  • It feels relatively easy as there is a clear end point with this!

  • Weekly active birth classes helps to remind me of the movements and breathing techniques to practice each week

  • NCT classes on a weekly basis during September have helped to keep us challenging our thoughts and desires and to keep me motivated.


  • There are lots of great things already happened to get me this far in the pregnancy!

  • I have a calm and relaxed attitude, I feel clear that the vision is the right approach for me that marries with my sense of self and life goals.

  • Catherine wants the same thing as me (perhaps even she wants it more than me)


  • I started doing all of this and here are my reflections one month in:

    • Eating has gone well, coupled with preparing food for the freezer to make things easier for when the baby arrives

    • I have added more depth to the daily affirmations to include welcoming the baby and focussing on positive thoughts about the baby as I saw a pattern of worry/doubt over having the baby in our lives within myself.

    • Shared use of hypnobirthing relaxation scripts hasn’t gone so well, so I started doing it on my own and that sort of works a bit, need to keep reviewing this one

    • Movement and breathing and exercise I do most days, at the moment I am happy with missing the odd day when I am busy as the balance is on more rather than less. I have found the right time of the day to do these that work with my life and I need to keep a check on myself if I get busy and start to stop doing it. I enjoy feeling fitter and noticing that my breath and lung control has improved, which continues to motivate me.

Sept 2014 reflections

  • Despite my intention to maintain my daily practice after the birth in the way that I was able to pre-birth I have struggled to fit in breathing/movement and affirmations on a daily basis with my daughter Teasel around.  However I do still use affirmations to help me to prepare mentally for upcoming challenges/situations, which prior to the birth I had never done.  I also am more aware of being mindful and when I get a moment (such as feeding Teasel) I take a couple of deep breaths.  I feel pleased that the work I did has filtered through into my life even though it has not been to the level I had intended.  I also think that the inner work I did around this time proved incredibly useful in preparing me for motherhood which has been a very positive experience so far.


  • A lot of this design is about bringing pauses into my day through my daily practice, and I have found that when I do this daily I miss it if I don’t do it, and it has brought a new energy to me.

Reflections on the design process

  • I enjoyed this one. It is simple but it was useful to have the framework of Looby’s design web to put together all the things that were in my mind.

  • It is really specific and has specific actions – so I know either I am or I am not doing them which I like because it is so clear.

  • Because of the time limits and my desires I am reviewing my progress regularly and keeping this in the forefront of my mind. A challenge for me will be to continue some of these daily practices which I have been seeking to have in my life up after the birth.

  • Time limited is fun – will review again once the birth has happened!

  • Cost – the only financial cost has been my active birth classes (£60)

  • Time:

    • daily practice (breathing, movement, affirmations) – 45 mins per day

    • daily exercise (I was doing anyway reasonably regularly have tweaked to definitely do something every day) – approx. 1 hour/day

    • classes (Sept only) – 1 hour/week (active birth)

    • design – has been an ongoing process of research and understanding birth and babies, this design evolved over a couple of weeks when I really started to consider it and start to practice, writing it up has taken a few hours

  • Interestingly using the design web didn’t prompt me to make explicit consideration of the ethics in this design (pointed out to be by Tomas my tutor after writing the first draft of the design process).

Was it a success?

Whilst I didn’t achieve the vision as written above, through birth I did achieve an amazing experience that was totally in keeping with this design even though we had to be in hospital. Thinking through the design in this way was invaluable to ensure that all of our needs were met during the birth and I am really glad that I did the preparation that I did to help me to achieve this. Teasel was born on 16 November 2013.

I have also done a little PMI of the hospital birth experience

Plus Minus Interesting
Clear and easy for visitors to come and see us afterwards – we didn’t need to make tea etc! DUE DATES! Not letting nature take its natural course (which is why we ended up in hospital) That induction led to C-section – as is common with the cascade of interventions, which all my reading suggested!
No drugs until the C-section.That medical care was there when I needed it Too many medical staff, crowding in and offering opinions when I should have been left alone to push. Because home birth was planned the time I spent at home in labour was great as we were all set up
Use of the shower through labour, staying focussed on my breathing and staying in the moment even though I was in hospital Having to spend 48 hours in hospital Labouring on the stairs of Kingston hospital.
Judy giving us a ride to the hospital in her car – a comedy car journey! The first 15 mins in the hospital – but it turned out to be a plus as our tears and disappointment galvanised us to have a wonderful experience Bumping into a friend in labour – our babies were born an hour apart.
An amazing midwife who cared for me.
A time to really appreciate how lucky we are to have the NHS and just what a great service it is.
Pasta! Fizzy orange drink that we would never have had in the house at home!

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TT Cobham permaculture afternoon

15 05 2014

[Criteria 1; SADIM, Client Interview, Holmgren Principles, PMI, Zones/Sectors. Criteria 3; education. Criteria 4; leading workshops. Criteria 5; convening courses and events]

I was invited by Stephanie Jacommeti (SJ), who attended one of our intro to permaculture courses at Sutton Community Farm in 2013, to facilitate an afternoon with her garden group at Transition Town Cobham. They have a plot of land earmarked for a community garden and she wants me to introduce the group to permaculture and also to help them to develop designs for the site.This is a great opportunity for me to use permaculture design to help me to develop the programme and plans for the afternoon session.


  • Meet with SJ to understand the brief at the garden site – client interview

  • Use the existing two day Intro to Permaculture course that Ruth and I deliver as a basis for the design:

    • Course materials – use the elements that are most relevant to this group, cut out some of the content due to a much shorter time

    • Course participants – reflect on what I have learned about running a course in terms of people and group dynamics

    • Being the person who holds the space – reflect on what I have learned about being the holder of the space/facilitator

    • Course space – indoor and outdoor activities, film, flipchart, discussions, observing

  • Ruth and I also held a short 2 hour session (which included 45 mins of planting) for TT Tolworth in 2013, use the experience and lessons from this to input into this session considering the same elements as above.


I did a zone and sector analysis based on typical patterns relating to courses and reflections on my conversation (client interview!) with SJ.

Sectors, or external energies that might influence course participants’ ability to design and participate in the course that I need to be aware of:

  • Individuals within the group their existing knowledge, motivations etc. key ones that I know of ahead of time:

    • Some very experienced gardeners

    • people who are not part of the garden group but who are part of the Transition group who are coming to learn about permaculture

  • Perceptions of limits/barriers/positives about the project of each member of the group to include

    • the ear marked plot of land,

    • the land owners,

    • other existing land users,

    • the group itself

  • local resource availability (e.g. tools, manure, etc)

  • potential project partners/sharers etc

  • stuff going on in their lives – other things they might want to be doing on a Saturday afternoon

  • Stuff going on in my life – C&T will they be ok!

    Zone analysis of the afternoon obviously this is not strict use of zones but I am trying it out from a people interaction perspective (from my perspective and experience to date):

  • Zone 1: group discussions + group activities held by me – high intensity I need to be on my toes, responsive, energetic etc

  • Zone 2: pair work/small group work – set up by me, they do it I work alongside them and input as and when needed – lower energy from me

  • Zone 3: occasional conversations – tea breaks, in between activities (some I’m involved in lots I’m not) – I might or might not enter into this activity

  • Zone 5: my breathing moments when activities are in full flow and I take a breath – remember to do this Liz!!

Consideration of the ethics:

Earth Care People Care Fair shares
Project is about earth care – improving a patch of land Look after me when I teach – don’t get stressed, am I ok to do it alone? Sharing permaculture with more people
Hold the event at a local venue so participants can walk/cycle Make sure that participants feel welcomed and  get something out of the course Helping the group to enable the project to be accessible to all
Reuse as many of the printed resources that I have from other course to minimise waste Ensure that SJ’s house is looked after and that she feels happy
Encourage and value their inputs it’s two way


Firstly I did an initial brainstorm of design ideas, then I reviewed and refined (patterns to details) a number of times using an incremental design process. The plan that I finally delivered is here.

How can the principles help this design?

Least change greatest affect – don’t reinvent the wheel keep the core of our course and just cut bits out!

Everything gardens – this is me gardening our course – just modifying my environment – the existing course for a new outcome and new yields!

Edge – there are different ways to create edge in the course:

  • Interactions between people both formal and informal – coffee breaks, pair discussions, small group work, large group format. Design note: keep rotating who is working with/talking to who to create as much edge as possible.

  • Working inside and outside – patterns session is outside, do the ice breakers and web of life outside

  • A range of different skills/formats within the course; discussion time, observation time, designing, analysing, thinking, talking, listening – there are edges between each of these and creating different tasks and atmospheres enables edge to develop


  • Me delivering a course without Ruth – a new step for my teaching!

  • Potential future Intro course participants

  • Small financial yield

  • Trying out a shorter format for our course which can be fed back into our 2 day course

  • the chance to influence a local project – perhaps one I could get involved in


  • Stacking in sharing/teaching permaculture with the group with them also getting to make a start on designing their space


I ran the course on Sat 8 March, my sector analysis highlighted that Teasel might be a challenge for me – and she turned out to be. I had to leave after an hour as she wouldn’t feed. The group were very kind and we rescheduled to finish off the rest of the course a month later (Teasel being a little older and more able to cope this time!).

I ran the second course on Sat 5 April. There were four people in the room and one joined us via skype (which was a new thing for me to teach to someone on skype but worked well).  The following is the PMI analysis of both sessions.

Plus Minus Interesting

Ethics session – they really engaged well and started to think of ideas of how they could use them in their project

The second session was too heavy on indoor activities – because the outdoor bits were at the start and done in the first session My plans for paired activites didn’t happen as the group was so small it didn’t feel right to break it down further – but perhaps it could have been beneficial to enforce it – how to deal with the inevitable silences that occur?

Patterns session – I got very nice feedback from one participant that it was a really great exercise.

 Ending – how to successfully close the course?

Principles session – the group got into lots of detailed and interesting discussions, the principles really helped to spark things. It also allowed me to share other project examples that I was planning to do later in the session here in a great informal way.

That I had to split the course – it was pleasing that they all came back to finish off

PMI/PASE were excellent tools for this group to get the design working

How to make the design element feel more like premaculture and less like them moving bits around the paper – although this was only the first stage for them perhaps not be too hard on myself about this

I didn’t take any pictures on the course (one of the challenges of teaching on your own, not having space to step out and take pictures), but I share examples from other intro courses of the types of discussion points that came up.  Also we didn’t actually produce flip charts as we had such a small group we mostly discussed things in the group.

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Here is the final layout design reached at the end of the session, the elements were extracted from the PMI/PASE exercises and we used a sort of planning for real technique with cut out elements moved around the site plan through the discussions (not done to scale due to time considerations).  You can also see the use of our patterns exercise to help influence the collaborative design process.

Final layout reached at the end of the session


I will take the PMI points into our intro course, particularly that we can probably move a bit quicker on some of the day 1 activities. NOTE: we did this at our intro course in May 2014 and it worked well. I still feel the need to improve on the design stage aspect, have relfected with Ruth and will keep pondering on this one (also as I get better at design this will help).

Can I run a similar format for any other groups? It worked well and I was able to share a lot of information – more than I thought possible with the group. I feel they have a reasonable grasp of principles/ethics at the end of the session and have made a great start on pulling design ideas together and bringing their plot to life. There is a potential opportunity with a pub in Streatham – talk to Ruth further about this.

Reflections and thoughts

  • Doing a design that adapts another design (our intro course) makes it difficult to really ‘design’, it feels more like tweaking rather than radical design.  Having said that I was pleased to use zones and sectors in and interesting way.  Also it feels like there are two levels of the design, one which is the overall design outlined here and a second which is a mini design of each of the teaching sessions taking place both in my prep time and in the moment of delivery of a session to a group (e.g. PASE) when I adapt my teaching materials and knowledge and skills to date as appropriate to the group.  It is harder to reflect this mini design in the write up as it is mostly an internal process.
  • Teaching via skype added the element of pause into the group – with a slight time delay and the need to ensure that our skype participant could see/hear I had to pause and check in with the group more than usual.
  • I didn’t allow time for feedback on this course which is interesting as it is an important element of our 2 day intro course.  I didn’t have time for it, but also I think it is easier to receive feedback when working in a pair – it will feel extremely personal when on your own, so I didn’t ask for it.  Having said that I felt that everyone left pleased and I did recieve an email of thanks from the organiser saying:
    ‘Thanks so much for coming by today and teaching us about permaculture. It really helped us plan the community garden. It was also good to talk about the principles and how they slot into Transition work’
  • What yields did I harvest?
    • Delivering a course on my own was successful – although it is more fun with someone else and I think the dynamic is better with two – we can bounce off eachother and the group can get different opinions.  But given the small group size it was appropriate to have just me.
      • I don’t think there are any potential future Intro course participants from this group – but they could spread the word to others as and when the project grows

      • Small financial yield

      • Trying out a shorter format for our course which has been fed back into our 2 day course was really useful.  Knowing that our course materials can be used in other scenarios

      • I got the chance to influence a local project, unfortunately I have not had time to follow up and see how things are going with it.

      • Boost in self confidence that I delivered a good course on my own and that I have quite a lot of knowledge to share with others in this field.  Also that most people came back to finish off the course and others joined for the second session.
      • I always get the opportunity to re-engage with permaculture, spend time with like minded people which I find very soul boosting (I got 2 doses this time!)

Was it a success?

Yes – the participants were happy the course was good

Yes – the design was adequate for the needs of the project

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Douglas Road energy strategy

11 07 2013

[Criteria 1; SADIM, Holmgren Principles, PMI, Zones/sectors, microclimates, patterns, incremental design, mind maps, ethics. Criteria 2: permaculture in my own home. Criteria 3: site development. Criteria 4; dissemination (Open Homes). Criteria 6; symmetry (Open Homes and thermal imaging parties), Criteria 7: evaluation and costings]


The story is set in an end of terrace 3 bed house in suburbia, not been touched for 60 years resplendent with 1940s wiring, 2 pin plugs and an asbestos roofed shed.  The house is solidly built, but nonetheless draughty, there’s daylight seeping in round the edges of the front door, the aluminium framed double glazed windows are both leaking heat through the metal and because they are so old they no longer close properly and there are some really weirdly placed air bricks throughout the house which simply blow cold air directly into a couple of the bedrooms.  This was an opportunity not to be missed.  The chance for me to put into action all of the knowledge I had gleaned over my career to date working as a sustainability consultant and a civil engineer.  Plus the time for me to step away from desk bound activities to learn some new highly practical skills.  (PROBLEM IS SOLUTION)

We have a number of overall decision making criteria for the house project – the 3 most important ones are:

  1. Can the design choice save energy – are we adopting a system that will save the most energy in use? (EARTH CARE)
  2. Re-use of materials, closing the loop and preventing call off of new materials.  Can we use renewable materials as much as possible – sustainable timber, sheeps wool insulation, etc?  And also in what ways can we re-use materials that come out of the build on site – and or re-useable materials that are widely available in this part of suburbia (pallets!) (EARTH CARE)
  3. Our wallet is our weapon. (PEOPLE CARE AND FAIR SHARES)

The ‘energy strategy’ – grand title!  The overall plan to reduce energy in the building is to wrap the house in a woolly jumper.  We want to make sure that as much of the heat that is generated inside from ourselves, the cats, cooking and of course the gas central heating system stays in the house for as long as possible keeping us toasty warm.  Obviously it will all leak out at some point – but we want the house to ‘catch and store’ as much energy as possible.

  1. Keep our bodies warm – invest in thermal underwear before next winter
  2. Keep any heat generated in the house – draught strip, insulate, double glazing, thermal curtains
  3. Focus heat retention in zone 1
  4. Minimise hot water use – aerators, low flow taps, A rated appliances, small bath
  5. Generate heat renewably – wood burning stove, solar hot water
  6. Generate electricity from the sun – solar PV panels (plus a financial yield from the government!)


The survey phase for this design included the following:

  • I had done some small retrofit works on my previous flat and through this process learned what else I could have done
  • Work at BioRegional, running sustainability consultancy for 4 years – knowledge about sustainable energy and sustainable building materials
  • Interview every trades person I could think of who would come round and give me a quote – asking lots of detailed questions (plumbers, electricians, architects, sustainability consultants, builders, solar installers etc)
  • Feel where cold is in the house, assess possible materials from house – i.e. look at house!
  • Other people’s retrofits (visits, blogs/websites)
  • Other sources of info on building design – AECB, passivhaus etc
  • Research specific products and product combinations; Green Building Store, Ecomerchant, Greenspec, and specific product manufacturers websites.

Decision Making and Targets

The plan was to upgrade the house and ensure our electricity and gas bills be as low as possible.  In keeping with the Climate Change Act 2008 I set myself a target of 80% reduction in bills.  But quickly came unstuck – 80% compared to what?  National averages?  But I know from monitoring our bills data in our old 2 bedroom flat (the ground floor of a leaky Victorian terrace) we are already 60% better than benchmark data for that house type.  Granted we had some energy efficiency measures installed, plus our normal behaviour – multiple jumper wearing and keeping the thermostat at 19.  So our personal benchmark isn’t the national average.  When I set out on this project I felt a target was important otherwise how else would we ever achieve our goals – the engineer in me!  But as time went on I realised that not only do I not know what to compare the reductions to I also don’t have a simple way of measuring the impact of individual design choices.  There are software and tools out there that could do this – but they are not available to me.  Plus the ultimate reductions will always be influenced by behaviour – so the high level target went out the window.  (APPLY SELF REGULATION AND ACCEPT FEEDBACK, original design concept was not appropriate to this design)

Over time I found The Association of Environmentally Conscious Builders (AECB) ratings which is a set of criteria for new builds and retrofit setting out good practice thermal performance for elements (walls, floor, roof etc).  The silver standard seemed good to me – better than Building Regs but not as far reaching as Passivhaus (German standard for houses requiring zero heating).


  • Previous consumption data from our old flat
  • Possible targets, decision making criteria and design parameters, pros and cons]


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So I have insulated with 140mm of sheeps wool insulation (Thermafleece), a renewable material (USE AND VALUE RENEWABLE RESOURCES) under the ground floor to prevent draughts from the floor void under the floorboards from coming up to cool our feet.  In addition I have draught stripped between the floorboards – yes this is belt and braces approach – but using the permaculture principle of multiple elements with the same function – if one of the systems fails we should still be ok.  One final element of the floor design has been to seal the draughts around the skirting boards with my trusty tube of decorators caulk – this plastic/toothpaste-like material squeezes into the small gaps and stops the draughts coming into the room.  The acid test was with the back of my hand on a cold windy day – pre-caulking there was some serious cold air blowing into the rooms… and now with caulk installed it is no more.  Draught stripping has been a low cost option and once the draughts are no longer coming through it’s possible to keep the temperature inside the house lower and still feel comfortable.

Insulation u value calcs

Insulation u value calcs


The loft is where most of the heat in the building is lost (maybe 35 – 40%), so making sure that the house has a very good hat on is vital.  We are undertaking a loft conversion so the loft insulation is going into the pitched roof and into our new box dormer.  My original design decision was to use Pavatex products from Natural Building Technologies – these are woodfibre boards and batts, using waste wood from industrial processes and converting it into a useable insulation product (PRODUCE NO WASTE).  These insulation materials are breathable, don’t release nasty chemicals into the air and lock up carbon (due to being made from wood) as well as closing a loop by using waste materials win win win win.  However – with a builder coming on board to build the loft conversion I’ve had a slight re-think (CREATIVELY USE AND RESPOND TO CHANGE).

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There is a downside to using woodfibre board – which is the thickness of materials (120mm above the rafters + 175mm between and below rafters) required to achieve a good u-value (0.15W/m2K) coupled with the (100mm) air space needed to ventilate the material to allow it to do it’s breathing thing making for a pretty thick roof.  To save space to gain more headroom in the loft we have decided to reach a compromise, we have decided to use a highly manufactured but super thin material called Tri-iso (Actis Super 10+) – like a space blanket coupled with some Pavatex to get the u-values to approx 0.16W/m2K – which I’m happy with and we get a roomy loft – brill compromise and keeping the heat inside the house.


  • U-value/cost/company manufacturing ethics comparison of different products]


The windows were a difficult choice… PVC windows are widely available, cheap and do the job – but many PVC windows degrade OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAvery quickly in UV light.  The process of manufacturing PVC is highly toxic and generally I feel quite uncomfortable about using PVC.  So we decided to opt for timber windows.  And I found a great company in Bereco who manufacture bespoke timber windows (u-value 1.37W/m2K) – with the level of security that we wanted on the windows… other benefits of new windows have been blocking the sound of the A3, and making the rooms lighter (white windows as opposed to the very dark ones that were in before) (MULTIPLE FUNCTIONS FROM ONE ELEMENT, OBTAINING MANY YIELDS).  Triple glazing was considered, but was too expensive – to use our wallet as a weapon we need to have enough money in it, we can use the money saved from triple glazing for more insulation elsewhere – a better £/tonne CO2 saved.  A further element of the window strategy has been to install thermal lined OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAcurtains and blinds to the windows – now I’m not sure how much of a difference this will make as the double glazing is pretty effective – but it will certainly feel more cosy on the inside with thick curtains – and that’s half the battle.  Plus – more than one yield I am learning how to sew in order to make the blinds and using old curtain material and pre-used coffee sacks too!

There remain some decisions to be made about the front door – with light and therefore cold air pouring in around the sides.  (SMALL AND SLOW – focus on the big areas first and prioritise)


The final piece of the woolly jumper on the house puzzle was to install insulation onto the external walls.  There are two possible ways to do it – (1) on the inside in which case you lose space in the rooms (not great if you want to sell the house in the future) and there are all sorts of issues with thermal bridging and damp that arise when doing the inside so we decided against this option – or (2) on the outside.  Outside is simpler you just get big sheets of insulation and fix them to the walls in long runs much less fiddly than the inside… so we opted for external.  However the prices we were quoted tripled during the project.  I tried to look in detail at the potential savings – but found it hard to find real and accurate data.  Based on our behaviour I estimated it would take 60 years to payback, and also considered how much thermal underwear could be bought for £10k! (the approx cost of the works). We have put the walls on hold for now.

We thought seriously about our zones when making the wall insulation decision – the zone 1 of our house where we spend most our time will be our new kitchen/dining room – which will be super warm because of the newly built highly thermally efficient walls.  Our zone 2 – the bedrooms – only need to be warm at night and when we get up, they’ve been draught proofed and only have 1 external wall each so heat loss from each room is not too bad.  The coldest part of the house is our zone 3 – the stairs and hall – which has the largest expanse of exposed external wall on the north side.  If we keep the internal doors closed and draught proofed, therefore preventing the colder air leaking into the warm rooms – then the hall being a little colder shouldn’t make too much of a difference.  We need the warmth of the house in our zone 1 – where we have also installed a wood burning stove to provide us with free heat from renewable sources.

But it is not a closed book now that we have two very thermally efficient rooms (our zone 1 kitchen and our bedroom in the loft) I can really notice the affect, thermal comfort is an important factor and to be in a space that requires little heating and still feel comfortable is great (RESPOND TO CHANGE, OBSERVE AND INTERACT).  I have been investigating the use of cork as an insulation material, I could do it myself, it would cost less, and it would support the very troubled Portuguese cork industry. (SMALL AND SLOW, VALUE THE MARGINAL – cork is an edge product in insulation terms).


The hot water plan is to make sure that all showers and taps are aerated and low flow to reduce the water coming out of the tap (VALUE RENEWABLE RESOURCES).  And then we are going to try and install some solar hot water panels into the twin coil cylinder (INTEGRATE RATHER THAN SEGREGATE) (which was required to replace the very old, very leaky hot water cylinder which currently doesn’t hold heat in the tank for very long and mainly heats the airing cupboard – great for germinating plants but a bit of a waste of fossil fuel energy I think!)  The location of the panels is proving to be a bit tricksy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAElectricity from the sun – well if there is a bandwagon why not jump onto it!  Given that the government are still paying a reasonable rate to anyone who can afford to install solar panels onto their roofs to generate their own electricity it seems foolish not to.  So we’ve decided to commandeer the biggest roof space for this purpose – at the expense of being able to heat our hot water – financially at the moment it makes more sense to do solar electric because of the payback even though in carbon terms it’s better to do hot water.  But solar hot water is not a write off yet.  This has been an interesting compromise – the yield of an income is important and real the yield of carbon savings is also important but harder to see and therefore harder to see the direct benefit.  The government is talking about a renewable heat incentive which will make hot water more viable but it’s not in place yet.


So to summarise the design and implementation of this project:

  1. Keep our bodies warm – invest in thermal underwear before next winter
  2. Keep any heat generated in the house – draught strip, insulate, double glazing, thermal curtains
  3. Focus heat retention in zone 1
  4. Minimise hot water use – aerators, low flow taps, A rated appliances, small bath
  5. Generate heat renewably – wood burning stove, solar hot water
  6. Generate electricity from the sun – solar PV panels (plus a financial yield from the government!)


The only way to identify the success of the strategies implemented will be to monitor our performance over the coming winter (the works were mostly completed by Feb 2013 so the 2013-14 winter will provide a complete winter’s worth of monitoring).

The monitoring plan is as follows:

  • Weekly meter readings for gas, electricity and water
  • Use imeasure website to record meter readings and assess against degree day analysis
  • Observe how we use the house once it is no longer a building site and actually a place to live and assess if the analysis is appropriate to our useage patterns, tweak as appropriate
  • Analyse meter readings quarterly to identify design tweaks and improvements
  • Consider implementing the ‘next steps’ identified below
  • Thermal imaging of the house to assess what is and isn’t working, work with Transition Town Kingston to implement a thermal imaging party in my street to include my hous
  • Update this blog post with actual energy usage as I get the data


  • Make final design decisions on solar thermal, wall insulation and front door
  • Share my knowledge with others:
    • web article,
    • use this design as a teaching aid on my intro to permaculture courses
    • contribute to the newly formed Kingston green building group
    • thermal imaging party (as above)
    • perhaps consultancy – I have already done this informally through friends and formally through a consultancy report on another house


  • I had a very long survey phase through my previous work, previous flat project and through the first few months of owning the house and not doing anything but interviewing trade which allowed me to get to know the building.  No ‘design as we do’ on this project!
  • A lot of the analysis took place as and when I needed to do it for the design of a particular element, there were a number of analysis/design cycles that I went through as the pattern was developed into detail.  There was a lot of analysis on this project – particularly numerical data analysis of consumption, u-values etc.  It feels like analysis was a bigger element of this project than some of the other designs I’ve done, I wonder if this is because I had the knowledge built up over years working in this sector to know what and how to analyse, compared to some of my other projects which have not had so much analysis because I was working in technical areas that are newer to me.
  • The timing of the project (house purchase just as I was doing my PDC) was perfect for being able to see how permaculture integrates into the engineers approach.
  • I could have tried to use a few more design tools in the early phases e.g. PMI, an adapted form of PASE – but this was really my very first attempt at integrating permaculture into my work (even though it’s one of my later write ups!) and I don’t think I fully appreciated the usefulness of some of the permaculture tools at the time.
  • The biggest lesson from this project overall has been developing my skills and the confidence to use those skills – I am now reasonably confident carpenter and tiler and I can have a go at plumbing and electrics, these skills I gained through observation first and then working up slowly in my competence as I developed my skills.  These are really important and valuable life skills that I am pleased to have confidence to do now.
  • I understand how houses work!
  • Time was another key factor in my personal people care.  Allowing myself time to think through the problem, developing the solution and then implementing (even if it required some time to learn the skill) without strict deadlines has made it a period of abundance and learning for me.
  • Costs – this is an extract from the costs spreadsheet, overall for the total retrofit project we came in at our budget with some elements costing more than anticipated but savings being made elsewhere.
    1 Windows £15,745.00
    2 Insulation – side + back walls (internal)  tbd
    3 Insulation – front (internal)  tbd
    4 Insulation – ground floor £761.66
    5 Bathrooms and plumbing – total £5,566.04
    6 Woodburner £1,958.00
    7 Hot water tank  Incl in plumbing
    8 Solar thermal  tbd
    9 Solar PV £6,127.09
  • Time – the overall project took approximately 6 months longer than I had anticipated at the start, this was due in part to my naive time planning having never programmed a project like this before and in part due to stopping for 6 months to wait for the long wet winter to pass and finish off the final external elements.

September 2014 update

Following the monitoring plan I have been taking weekly meter readings.  Using 2 years worth of data I have worked out the total annual consumption and the % improvement from typical similar houses shown in the table below.  I have put a range of figures for improvement because there are a variety of different sources quoting different typical UK average figures (the problem I highlighted in the beginning).  Our electricity consumption is almost entirely offset by the solar panels so we are close to net zero on electricity.  In addition to the numbers the thermal comfort levels of the house are now SO much better we have plesant and warm spaces to live in.

We have joined the Superhomes network and have been assessed to have a 62% carbon reduction in the building fabric, the property was open for our first Superhomes open day on 13 September and 12 people came round.  We are planning a thermal imaging party based at our house and including others on the street in January 2015.

Ave June – June % improvement on UK average for similar house/useage patterns
Elec, kWh/yr 1650 50 -75%
Gas, kWh/yr                    10,950 30 – 65%

Peer review guild

19 04 2013

[Criteria 1; Holmgren principles, patterns, incremental design. Criteria 3; administration. Criteria 5; community building. Criteria 6; symmetry]

This design began in December 2012 and my inputs lasted for about a year.

I don’t resonate with the ‘apply self regulation and accept feedback’ principle too well in my permaculture designs, or at least I haven’t so far.  I’m a do-er, I often struggle to reflect and adapt and change in response to my reflections, especially when I work on my own.  But over the last couple of months I’ve been working on a project design which is all about self regulation and feedback, that’s a turn out for the books!  I have used the plan-do-review action learning cycle in this write up, which I learnt about during my PDC.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA quick canter through recent history – I did my permaculture design course in Sept 2011, I was very inspired and excited about permaculture and immersing myself more into its application in my life.  I started to teach permaculture and embed my knowledge early 2012.  I signed up and started my diploma in May 2012.  I did more teaching throughout the summer, I generated lots of ideas, I did lots of research and quite a few sketches and doodles, I did some pacing of my back garden and drawing of base maps I even built a pond and a shed.  But come October 2012 all of this felt like it was for nothing, I was ‘stuck’.  I’d lost sight of why I was doing the diploma or what all the effort and enthusiasm had been about.  The reality was that because I had not written anything up, I felt like I wasn’t ‘doing’ my diploma (even though in reality I had been ‘doing’ lots of things, I just hadn’t produced any outputs yet!).

Fortunately the initial spark burned bright enough for me to know through my ‘stuck’ haze that there would be a light at the end of the 2012-11-10 18.43.13tunnel.  And serendipitously there was a Diploma weekend scheduled in December.  So I duly signed up and went along.  I’ll be honest I felt quite anxious, I knew I’d probably see my tutor and have to face up to the truth that I felt like I hadn’t really done very much and that I’d probably be surrounded by lots of highly efficient permaculture diploma apprentices with lots of designs under their belts.  But pretty much once I had walked in the door and (principally once my blood sugar levels were restored after a long and hungry train journey) spoken to a couple of familiar (ish) faces I felt like this was going to be a good thing this weekend.  There were plenty of stories unfolding as the night progressed of unstarted/unfinished designs and the like, I was amongst friends!

And then after a day and a half of inspiring and interesting talks and discussions I hit upon, for me, the weekend highlight!  A talk by a diploma tutor called Richard Perkins and some of his apprentices.  They had devised a really exciting approach to doing their diploma together, and it was this working on it together whilst doing your own projects that really resonated for me.  That’s exactly what I need, I need some other people to be working together with on this thing.  That’s how I’ve always worked, I’ve been feeling isolated and that’s why it’s felt so hard.  And they had a really simple method for achieving this – to have a peer group who support eachother by reviewing another person’s design.  Genius!  And the other best bit about this workshop was that not only was it resonating with me, but it was also resonating with a few of the other London folk.  After that one hour session I walked away feeling that we had an embryo of a peer review guild in London, three enthusiastic people was enough to get us started.

The design itself was extremely simple, I based it on the format that Richard’s group were adopting and made minor tweaks rather than major redesigns for the first trial.  I researched in a bit more detail how Richard’s group had been doing their work through looking at their websites and looking at their peer review template form.  As a result of this I extracted the following elements required for this design:

  • A period of time for the design to happen;
    • 10 weeks works for Richard’s group as we have nothing else to base our decision making on use this, test it and see what happens.
  • Who will be part of this?  There were 3 of us from the diploma gathering but are there any others?
    • I have access to some email lists of London diploma apprentices, use these, contact London tutors (Claire White, Hedvig Murray – check if there are any others) to pass on, ask people on the lists to pass on to others they know. (People care – try my hardest to make it possible for anyone who wants to to join in by contacting widely)
    • I decided that as there was a small group of us who had some energy to make this happen not to invite people in theory, but to set out the plan and invite them to join the trial now and if the timing didn’t work for them they could join future peer review processes.  Catch and store energy of the small starting up group.  Fair shares – make it possible for people to join when it suits them and that there is no advantage/disadvantage to being in the first phase
  • Joint agreed deadline for completing a written up design
    • 10 weeks after the start (Fair shares – everyone is in the same boat, we are all working to the same deadlines)
  • Joint agreed deadline for doing the review.
    • 2 weeks after the design write up deadline works for Richard’s group, try this out it seems sensible to have some time but not too much time so that we can keep the energy of the process moving.
  • Action Learning Guild during the design cycle;
    • Richard’s group did this online, we are geographically closer so we could meet face to face in a central London location.  Previous ALG’s have been at the Royal Festival Hall, it works, don’t change it.  (Earth care – everyone can reach by public transport, building is already in use no need for additional heat/light for us)
    • This gave a chance for us to meet up and chat about our progress, feed off eachothers energy, help with problem solving etc.  Use the 4 questions (what’s going well, what’s challenging, what’s the vision, what’s the next steps). (People care – this seems to me to be really important to combat the feeling of isolation and giving us support)
    • Make it clear that people can be involved in the process even if they can’t join the ALG (People care – other commitments may make it impossible for all involved to meet, but still make people feel welcome to join)
    • Set a date when at least the three of us could make ask them now at the start.  (People care – involve everyone, make sure I am not left on my own at the Festival Hall!)
  • Who will review whose work?
    •  I will design how this works once I know who is part of the group
    • Make it explicit that people can submit work however they want (via email, meet up in person, post etc), leave this to the individuals to work out with their reviewer  (People care – make sure that those writing up their diploma’s that don’t have a website are still included in the process, and those who don’t want to fill in the form can meet face to face to do their feedback.  Earth care – a lot of this process will happen via email, we can reduce transport journeys in this way)
  • Have a trial to see if it works and then review.
    • I need to design in a feedback session after the end of the process.
  • Peer review template form for us to use for the actual review process.
    • Tweak Richard’s group form to include links to some of their websites for examples of written up designs and peer reviews.  I don’t know which bits of the form will and won’t work yet this is what the trial will help to find out, review after the trial.

This design was written up in this email as an invitation to London diploma folk to join the trial (I first passed it round the three of us who were the spark for comments and feedback, I tweaked the commitment part for the final invite).  I tried to keep it as simple as possible so that those who hadn’t heard the talk or done the research that I had would still understand the process through my email invitation.   I was staggered that 9 people were keen to take part in the trial with a few others interested but the timing of the trial was not to work for them.

When I was doing this work I didn’t really think of it as a portfolio design and I didn’t use any design tools because the whole thing just seemed too simple to be a permaculture design, do a trial using somebody else’s format.  Talking to my tutor about the process he encouraged me to write it up as a design and having done this I can see that it was a valuable design, there was more design to it than I thought and that I could probably have explicitly used more tools for example I could have done a formal PMI or SWOC of the design elements, I could have thought more formally about the limits as this might have helped to highlight challenges other people might face with engaging in this process, I could have done some wild design to harvest other ideas.  I did keep the principles and ethics at the heart of the work I was doing.

Who reviews who?

There were 2 broad options for this, I have written a PMI of the options to demonstrate how I came to the conclusion that a circle pattern was the preferred option.

  1. Pair people up and they do a direct swap
  2. Circular pattern where you review someone’s work and someone different review’s your work
Plus Minus Interesting
Pair people up Simple to design Not good for an odd no. Could make the ALG into just these pairs and reduce diversity of feedback
If one of the pair drops out then the other one has nothing Some people might just go off in their pairs and not join in in future if it really works for them
Less flexibility for future rounds
Circle pattern More diversity of feedback – 4 different people inputting to your work in 2 rounds More complicated to design and communicate I didn’t realise it was a circle pattern until I had done it, the concept was about diveristy
If one drops out you still get something out of the process You get to communicate with more people – could be plus or minus
More flexible for people being added or removed in the futre – the circle can be made as big or small as it needs to be

As a result of the 9 committed to the trial I designed a simple circular pattern for peer to peer feedback so that each person had someone different to give and receive feedback to and in 2 guild cycles there would be inputs by 4 people into your work, and it also allows flexibility so that people can be added/removed in the future.  I presented it as a spreadsheet for simplicity as shown below (made anonymous for this write up); behind the scenes everyone had a number and each number shifted along one place for the first review and two places for the second etc etc.  (Fair shares – it is more equitable to have different reviewers/reviewees as different people will put in different amounts of time and commitment to the review)

My name is: The person who’s work I am reviewing is: The person who is reviewing my work is:
Person 1 Person 9 Person 2
Person 2 Person 1 Person 3
Person 3 Person 2 Person 4
Person 4 Person 3 Person 5
Person 5 Person 4 Person 6
Person 6 Person 5 Person 7
Person 7 Person 6 Person 8
Person 8 Person 7 Person 9
Person 9 Person 8 Person 1

How did the principles influence the design?

  • The circular pattern for giving feedback increased diversity of feedback received and projects looked at  – use and value diversity
  • Use what has been done before with minimal adaptation, for a minimal change we will get the effect of lots of people getting diploma work done which on an individual basis is a great effect on our diploma journeys – make the least change for the greatest possible effect
  • The problem is the solution: I wasn’t able to commit to my diploma, there were others in the same boat
  • Pilot phase – to test the system, we don’t know if it will work until we’ve tried it out, so keep it simple in the first phase and then learn from that (use small and slow solutions)
  • Catch and store the energy of the diploma weekend, I got on with making it happen straight away whilst there was still lots of energy from the weekend.
  • Observe and interact – observation that this was working well for another group, interaction with their plan adapted to our situation.  Also the pilot phase allows us to observe and then interact and make changes for future phases.
  • Use and value renewable resources and services – use our own personal renewable resources of our skills as designers and try to develop these skills through practising reviews and looking in detail at other people’s work.
  • Apply self regulation and accept feedback – use the feedback recieved from others to influence our design work as well as the lessons we learn from doing reviews of other people’s work.


And so it happened, we had a great action learning guild meeting in Jan 2013 with 7 people attending,  we used the 4 questions in small groups to discuss individual progress and had a large group discussion about the peer review process we were in.  Designs were submitted by the 31st Jan.  9 people were involved and I think all either received or gave feedback some got both (not everyone managed to get a project submitted for their own personal reasons).  On a personal level all the groundwork that I had been doing came together in the form of some written up designs and all of a sudden my diploma made sense.  And during the 10 week design period I had written up 3 designs!  I set a date for the


Following the cycle we had a review of how it went, three people didn’t attend and I haven’t really heard from them.  So I guess I have to assume that it didn’t work so well for them (I know for 2 of them life commitments and time commitments have got in the way).  But for the other 6 it was a good thing all round.

  • People found it really useful to a) get things written up – this is a common problem, getting round to doing the write up and b) to give and receive feedback – different people have had different levels of feedback given/received.
  • It’s important for the group to connect on a regular basis and to know the other people whom we are in the same boat with. So the ALG is an important part of it.
  • A desire to do it again gives us the opportunity to catch and store this energy
  • Even with life complexities and not exactly meeting the deadline for everyone it still seemed to work and people were happy.

PLAN (round 2)

And so we decided to embark on another cycle, 3 people left and 3 more joined in, so we are keeping with the magic number of 9!  The one adaptation we added was to make the next action learning guild more design focused, rather than progress focused.  So we were all to consider the 4 questions (what’s going well, what’s challenging, long term goal and next steps) with respect to the specific design we are working on rather than to our diploma generally.

DO (round 2)

The second round happened again with mixed levels of projects being completed and reviewed.  I think that as the spring/summer arrived people moved into outdoor phase and some of the original enthusiasm started to wane.  The review meeting after the second round was less well attended and we agreed to take a break from the cycle of peer review and perhaps look at other ways of giving/receiving feedback.

Beyond round 2

I continued to organise action learning guild meetings without the peer review element every couple of months, the ones over the summer were poorly attended but come the autumn there was more interest.  I observed that a lot of people would come along to one meeting soon after they signed up for their diploma and then we would never see them again.  I had a baby in Nov 2013 and so stepped out of attending and then of organising the meetings.  Since then until now (Jan 2015) there have been at least 3 people I know of who have been organising action learning meetings among the London peer group.  In addition I have still been doing peer reviews on a direct one to one level with some of my peers.

To end here are my personal reflections:

What’s gone well?

  • I felt really energized doing this work because it worked well and others got something out of it too.
  • It’s had a big knock on effect for me, not just doing one design but really immersing myself in my diploma
  • The design and implementation has touched on principles that don’t resonate so much with me in other areas of design/life e.g. apply self regulation and feedback, use and value diversity
  • This was a good opportunity for a people based design
  • From an inner perspective this process has made me more confident in my ability both as a designer and as an organizer.  It’s given me bags of confidence to make things happen.  It’s shown me that making a commitment to others is a really important aspect of how I work and design, it makes me feel more comfortable when the commitment is explicit.
  • It’s good that people can be involved and get something out of it even if they haven’t followed the instructions to the letter (i.e. late deadlines)
  • The group, meeting and sharing, has been a really valuable part of what made this work.  But having said that it still worked even though there were some in the group who never came to any of the meetings.
  • Writing up designs really helps to clarify the design process and learning outcomes – this is important!
  • For the two peer review sessions that we did it was a real success for the people involved, they got on with designs and were able to give and receive feedback.

What’s challenging?

  • Though there were lots of other people involved, I don’t really feel like we designed the actual process together – as the design work had sort of already been done – the work was in relocating an effective design to this specific time and place
  • I am left with some unanswered questions; Did it only work for the people who came and shared their stories?  What about the ones who didn’t complete a project and we haven’t heard from them?  Did it work as well for them?  Should I follow up in some way?
  • I know that one person dropped out because he didn’t feel like it was useful for him to be involved as he had submitted and reviewed 2 designs and not received any feedback on his work – this was a real shame and inevitable and something that is hard to control.  We made it very clear that being involved meant that you were committed to doing all of the process, but this didn’t actually happen for some people.  Perhaps I could have designed some sort of fallback option to ensure that this didn’t happen, or perhaps a three way review process so that there was a third person available, this would have made it more complex, and in the beginning I was relying on people’s individual commitment to the process and the group to make it work for everyone.
  • It’s very situational as to who is available/interested/has energy at the moment (which is a people thing!).
  • There are loads of people on the original email list who didn’t get involved, could I have done anything differently to get them involved, or are they all people who were just not actively working on their diploma’s at the time?
  • It’s challenging to make something that is really simple and requires not a huge amount of ‘design’ into a design, but I still think it is a valid design, because though it is simple there were still design decisions and the principles and ethics influenced the way I approached this work.  My use of design tools was limited as the design itself was so simple.

What’s the vision?

  • Having done this work, I would love to think that someone else would pick up this work when they are in the same position as I was on their diploma journey, I hope that by having written it up as a design I could make it available to others so that they too could think about doing this.

What’s the next achievable step?

  • To achieve the vision, once I have this design signed off I will send it to the permaculture association for them to publish on their website to make it available to others.



Design/Organisation: 4 hours

ALG: 2 hours

Feedback: I didn’t get a project to give feedback on – so zero for the first round

Feedback meeting: 2 hours

Money: £0

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Douglas Road garden design

4 03 2013
Baseline garden!

Baseline garden!

[Criteria 1; OBREDIMET, Holmgren principles, PMI, PASE, Zones/sectors, shade analysis, microclimates, base maps, client interview, soil analysis, incremental design, ethics. Criteria 2; permaculture in my home. Criteria 3; site development]

This is the design for the above space, my back garden at Douglas Road, Surbiton. The designer is me, the implementers are me, Catherine and any friends and family we were able to rope in on occasion to help us dig out concrete paths or dig holes for trees!  The design began in Jan 2012.

The aim of the project is to have a healthy, garden growing a wide variety of fruit and veg that we will eat, supporting as much biodiveristy (insect, plant and animal life) as we can achieve and providing a beautiful place for us to potter in as well as to work in.  We also want to experiment both in designing and in implementing.

The following is the overall grand design for the garden, there are lots of smaller sub designs that have also happened.  Some of these are written up elsewhere.  I have decided to try out using the permaculture design process OBREDIMET for a change!


Site conditions

  • Sun/shade.  I marked out where the shade fell on the site at different times of day at different times of the year.

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  • Soil analysis. I dug a couple of trial areas to test the soil.  Outcome: silty/sandy/clay – it had a bit of everything in it.  And seemed to be similar in a couple of different places across the garden.  Soil was quite compacted and there wasn’t much soil life (this observation was particularly noticed in relation to the much bigger abundance of soil life in the no dig beds we installed with lots of organic matter where there is now (one year later) lots of worms/insects/ soil activity coupled with a lot more aeration)
  • Species on site.
    • Rose bushes (lots).
    • Leylandii hedge at the back and on the side. Soil around is very dry.  Very little biodiversity noticed.  No other plants growing nearby.
    • Grass.
    • Strawberries.
    • Big pink flowering bush at the end of the garden – loved by bees and other insects.  Flowers in April/May
    • Some fungi – in May, I couldn’t identify it from the fungi book from the library – will have to see if it reappears this year
    • Cats (ours plus a couple of other neighbourhood cats)
    • Pigeons nest in next door but one’s pear tree
    • Large pink flowering tree right next to fence line in next door neighbours garden (shade and leaf fall)
    • A surprising lack of foxes!  None observed – perhaps we are just too far away from the local take aways and shops.
  • Wind.  I have found really hard to observe.  Above the fence line it blows NE-SW.  Mostly from the NE.  Observed through the direction of drying washing being blown.  I am not yet sure I know what the impact of wind is below the fenceline, occasionally (especially in winter) it swirls and blows around.  Wind tunnel along the alleyway beside the house.
  • Microclimates.
    • Very warm sunny spot where the shed is – sheltered by the houses, south facing – sun heats it up.  Brick wall of next door house provides a heat store and slow release of heat.
    • Dank right beside the south side fence (i.e. north facing), especially on the west side of the garden near the house
    • Where the run off from the roof gathers there is a boggy patch with very large dandelion like plants growing extremely tall – much taller than anywhere else in the garden.
  • Structures.
    • Concrete shed
    • Small wooden shed
    • Clothes line ( concreted in pole at one end) – regular use during summer
    • Concrete path along the length of the site
    • Bird bath – not used
    • A couple of gnomes!
  • Other
    • Land is flat
    • No pooling of water observed
    • Access from house (side and back door) and via side gate.
    • No existing desire lines (but we created a few once we started walking about on the space)

Our needs of the garden

  • Fruit and veg growing
  • Relaxation and fun (space to sit, eat, share)
  • Storage (for garden equipment, tools and wood (as it panned out over time))
  • Clothes drying
  • Explore permaculture design and experiment


Outline of 30 Douglas Road, image oriented north at the top

Outline of 30 Douglas Road, image oriented north at the top

the site in context with neighbouring gardens

the site in context with neighbouring gardens

Site boundaries

Site boundaries

Physical: The edge of the garden defined by the existing fences and neighbours house.  (There is also space inside the house for growing seedlings, and it will be possible to use the front garden as additional growing space but these are not strictly part of this design).  [An interesting aside – and a major lesson learnt.  My skills at plotting a base map were rubbish – I paced the site and drew it up, but somehow made a mistake – which meant when I came to designing the site I couldn’t make things fit on my base map even though I knew that on the ground they did fit!]

Time: Ideally we would have the bulk of the structures/big planting done within two seasons.  But strictly speaking there is no real time boundary.


Consider the resources mandala – natural, physical, social, personal and financial resources available to us for this design

  • Ourselves (Liz and Catherine) and our energy (N, Ph, Pe, So).  Occasional help from friends and relatives (So)
  • Seeds (that we have already) (Ph, N)
  • Pallets/local skips for wood, stone etc available for free (Ph, Fi)
  • Local stables with well rotted manure available for free (Ph, Fi)
  • Tree surgery waste – wood chippings for free (Ph, Fi)
  • Plants moved from previous garden – that were in pots (N, Ph)
  • Lots of garden tools left in the shed (Ph)
  • Liz’s attendance on a Permaculture Design Course and teaching intro to permaculture courses (So, Pe, N)
  • Key books: Gaia’s Garden, Hemenway, Creating a forest garden, Martin Crawford.  Plus lots of others (Ph)
  • Previous growing experience from allotment and garden since 2006 (Pe)

Overall our financial resources are realised through things we can acquire for free.  We didn’t set a budget, but have kept a record of money spent on the design implementation.  This design seems low on social resources, is this a problem, or simply a reflection of the nature of what we are designing?


Here I used a range of tools to look at ways to interpret the information and to start to consider designing.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAZone 1 – bikes, salads, herbs, workshop/shed, bbq/pizza oven, patio,  icu/greenhouse, water storage (from roof of house).  Any implementationOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA work on Zone 1 cannot start until we have finished building our extension (probably ready for the second summer season).  In practise this meant working on zones 2 and 3 before zone 1 – the reverse of starting small and working outwards.

Zone 2 – main crop veg (rotation raised beds), fruit trees, water storage, compost, work shed

Zone 3 – wild zone, pond, bee and insect plants, wood store, compost bins, possibly chickens, possibly bees, possibly kayak storage

Zone 4 – forage in local parks, local forest garden at knollmead

Zone 5 – Scotland(!), some of the spaces at knollmead, north downs etc

Plus, Minus, Interesting (PMI):  Plant, Animal, Structure, Event (PASE)

A long train journey allowed us the time to do a bit of analysis and we carried out a PMI and a PASE, shown in the pictures.

PMI analysis

PMI analysis




Earth Care People Care Fair Shares
Improve biodiveristy of the space Increase our knowledge and skills – growing, building, observing Share our surplus crops with our neighbours
Grow local produce! Do fun projects with friends and family Design a space that will inspire and encourage my nieces/nephew (and now my own child) to care
Reuse and recycle building materials, growing mediums wherever possible Have a space that will allow us to spend time in with ourselves with eachother with friends/family Reuse – don’t create waste for someone else to deal with
Use nitrogen fixing plants to improve soil fertility Make lots of the space low maintenance
Local leaf litter for soil structure
Make our own compost


In the beginning we tried to observe mostly whilst making minimal changes, but there were times when our interactions were a little bigger than our observations!

We got rid of the things we knew had to go:

  1. The leylandi – ugly, nutrient sapping, biodiverse poor, fear that it might be a giant growing species that would take over the entire garden.  We managed to cut down and remove 9 trees and not take a single piece of them off site, every bit has been incorporated into our wood shed (below) or used as a mulch or for pathways. (Produce no waste)
  2. The concrete path – all the way up the south side of the ???????????????????????????????garden, this is some of our prime growing terrain – we don’t need a concrete path here (or anywhere in our garden for that matter!)

And added a couple of structure that we knew had to be in, we designed and built slender structures and stuck them on the north side up against the fence – effectively giving us a small fence extension with minimal impact to the garden.

  1. A wood store – so that we could start to gather and season wood to burn in our stove and keep us toasty warm.  We made it out of pallets and old doors that we had to remove from our house, the wood shed gave us the chance to use up all our leylandi obtained from removingOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA the hedge – logs we put in the shed to season and all of the trimmings we used to cover and protect the shed providing insect habitat (produce no waste, least change greatest effect, local renewable resources)
  2. A couple of compost bins – made out of pallets (what else!) (produce no waste)

The actual design evolved over time, through the use of a lot of doodles and sketches and a huge long list of plants that we want, plants that we’ve heard of, like the look of, will do good for x, y or z reason.

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I also tried out Google Sketchup, these are some initial design ideas, final design further down the page.  As you can see through all the sketches there are some elements that were repeatedly part of the design, these have stayed into the final design (e.g. fruit trees, veg patch, pond, compost) and some elements that were important but as the design process evolved and the analysis undertaken fell by the wayside through lack of space, recognition that they required more work (e.g. kayak storage, bee hives, chickens).

Sketch up designs

Sketch up designs


Base map with fruit tree girth to plan layout

Christmas came and we were generously given 6 fruit trees from our families.  We had an outline idea of where we would put these (zone 2), we looked at the sun/shade pattern – identified the area that has most sun and planned our annual veg growing for that ???????????????????????????????area and placed the fruit trees adjacent to this.  There was an aesthetic of putting them closer to the house, to provide intrigue as they grow over time, and being on the west side of the annuals area they won’t cast shade.  I made cut outs of the full girth of the trees and moved them around my base map to find the optimum location.

I did some nitrogen requirement calcs for all these fruit trees and all the area we had planned to grow annual veg.  I wanted to see if we could provide enough nitrogen to meet the needs of all this growth on the site.  This is what I worked out:

  • Each M27 apple tree (we have 3) requires 25.1g nitrogen/year = 5 pees/tree, 7.5m2 nitrogen fixer in full light or 1 goumi tree (for all 3 trees)
  • 2 no. cherry trees require 56.5g nitrogen/year = 11 pees/tree or 2 no. goumi trees or 1 no. goumi + some herbaceous perennial nitrogen fixers
  • For the annual veg I calculated 1 goumi/2m2 of veg – for the area we had planned (15m2) this was 7 goumi trees OR have a nitrogen fixer in the rotation.

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We made some raised no dig beds (out of pallets – oh yes!); we laid cardboard onto the existing ground to block out all of the light and then sourced some well rotted manure and any other organic matter we could find and filled the beds.  We laid paths using wood chip delivered from a tree surgeon around the beds. (produce no waste, catch and store energy, small and slow) I planned a crop rotation. (stacking over time, self regulation and feedback over time)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe planted a prickly fruiting hedge at the end of the garden – way more diversity than the leylandii it replaced.  Prickly plants to prevent intruders into our back garden, fruiting for a lovely yield for us and other insects and birds, somewhere to put the raspberries and wosceter berries that we had acquired from various places.  We took cuttings from prickly plants such as rosehip, sloe and hawthorn and planted them directly in the ground.  A couple of these cuttings did produce small green leaves during the summer, quite a few produced nothing.  Interspersed with our cuttings were shop bought prickly species (raspberry, japanese wineberry, gooseberry). (multiple functions from one element, multiple element for one function, yield, integrate rather than segregate)

The list of perennial plants we wanted to incorporate remained long.  In truth I became a bit unstuck with too many long lists of plants and a lack of clarity about where/how to fit them all in.  So I broke it down a bit into something more manageable.

  1. Design a guild around the fruit trees:  build soil structure, build fertility (nitrogen and other mineral accumulators), attract beneficial insects, experiment with aromatic plants to ward off disease, minimise inputs from us to keep the trees alive and thriving
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Function – primary Other fns
Plants Shade Height ground cover Mulch Bene insects Nutr accum N2 fix Food Medicine Aroma Bee plants
Small fruit trees guild
Comfrey 0.8 2 2 1
Salad burnett 0.6 2 1 2
Mint tol 0.6 2 1
valerian 1.2 – 2 1 1 2
Oregano 0.4
Sweet cicely Partial 0.6 – 1 2 2 1 2
lemon balm tol 0.6 – 0.8 2 2 1 3 3 2
cardoon up to 2 1 2 2
rhubarb tol 1-2 1 2 1
chives/garlic chives 0.4 1 2
Licorice tol 1.5 2 1 1 2
parsley 0.4
angelica tol 0.6 – 0.8 1 2 2
daffodils 0.4 1
daffodil garlic 0.3 – 0.5 1 2 1

Above is an extract from the perennials list in an easier to read form (although the formatting is lost through the web programme).

  1. Design a hedge guild: shielding from the neighbours for privacy (and possibly wind break), edible perennials, shade tolerant (as north side), not too tall so that it doesn’t cast shade on the rest of the garden, attract beneficial insects to help pollinate the garden and to keep pests and diseases in check.  This is still being worked on.
  2. Design zone 3: possibly as a chicken forage system, or as an insect haven.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  3. Anything to add to our raised bed annual plant system to increase fertility

We identified a little sun space between the fruit trees that will in a few years time probably be shaded out – but for the next 2 or 3 will produce well, so we moved some strawberry plants into the area. (Stacking)

We designed and built a shed, and a pond.

Sort of final design

Sort of final design

This is the sort of final(ish) design.  There will forever be adaptations and with the overall pattern set, details in each area or zone will change and grow over time


Things that have been implemented so far:

  • compost bin
  • pond and hugel bedOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  • mini orchard
  • Some of the hedge
  • Annual raised bed area
  • pallet salad bed – did not work out – because insufficient organic matter – too much heat and too little water

Things to be implemented:

  • Zone 1 – seating/cooking etc
  • More work on the hedge
  • Fruit tree guilds

    Eleagnus hedge plant

    Eleagnus hedge plant

  • Zone 1 – herb and salad area
  • Greenhouse/ICU
  • Zone 3 – needs to be designed

Resources used:


Shed £197.26
plants £254.71
pond £228.5
seeds £41.52
tool hire £96.00


Shed – 4 person weeks

Raised beds – 2 person days/bed

Pond – 1 person week

Hedge – 1 person day so far

Design – On and off 2 person weeks


The design for the hedge and the fruit tree area for low maintenance.  Time will tell if this works out, once the designs have been implemented.  The annual veg will require regular maintenance to plant and harvest the beds.


I am not sure that the design for this garden will ever be finished, we will continually tweak and adapt our garden to suit our needs.  We hope that in the first year of implementation we haven’t done anything that we will regret.  We have put some reasonably immovable structures in (such as shed, pond etc), but it feels like they have gone into the right places.  Our level of design and communication of design has been adequate for our needs, it would not be possible to do this sort of designing for a client outside of me!

The first year we did not expect big yields but some of the yields we did obtain include:

  • A lot of joy building and growing things in the gardenOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  • 7 months supply of garlic
  • onions, tomatoes, a few beans, 2 small squash
  • some great stories of digging up concrete paths shared with friends
  • the chance to observe and actively make notes of my observations over the course of the year.  I was particularly interested in how the annuals grew – as they are easy plants to observe change because they grow quickly.
  • teaching my niece how to use power tools!


This design will constantly be tweaked and changed.

There was one big tweak which only came to light after living here for a year and only once the workshop was fully functioning as a workshop.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe need a fall out area from our workshop/shed where we can work on things that are too big to work on in the shed.  This really impacts on the zone 1 area.  And it’s been good that we couldn’t implement zone 1 until 2013, as my thoughts and plans for it would not have allowed for this very important usage pattern.

Overall lessons learnt and evaluation

  • I’ve learned a lot about perennial plants, started to understand about different species and groupings and the benefits of plants (this is mostly through my hedge and guild work – not fully presented in this overall design).  I look forward to observing how the plants actually work together in my back garden.
  • I’ve learnt that shade isn’t something to be feared, but can be extremely valuable, provide the opportunity to plant different species and have different uses!
  • It’s been interesting to use OBREDIMET, I prefer this framework because of the more explicit early stages allowing the evolution of the design to come together nicely (compared to SADIM).
  • I feel as though I could actually do a design for someone else now – I didn’t think that before I started to write this up!
  • I probably used too many different media – notepads, Sketchup, base map.  This was a lot to do with my lack of confidence because I wasn’t quite sure what my final ‘design’ ought to look like.
  • I tried to present this design at the last intro course we taught and my presentation wasn’t brilliant.  Having written this up in this way I feel a lot more confident about doing it again.
  • I would like to try this process again with the knowledge I have in a more condensed way to design my front garden.
  • I am getting better at making observations.  To improve further I need to be more logical and regular about making my observations.  My observations were quite ad hoc.

And finally some pictures from Sept 2014 showing elements of the implemented design

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11 07 2012

Criteria 1; Holmgren principles, zones, patterns, base map. Criteria 2; applying permaculture in my home. Criteria 3; site development. Criteria 4; writing articles]

Through my overall garden design I defined a zone 3 of the garden which was to be primarily a wildlife area.  I also defined a need for a pond in the garden.  Ponds attract wildlife and add diversity.  Therefore this design is for a pond in the zone 3 area of my garden.  This design began in April 2012.  A lot of the survey and analysis work is extracted from the overall garden design.


Site conditions

The site conditions are sketched on this plan and summarised in words below.

Site conditions for zone 3

Site conditions for zone 3

Sun/shade.  I marked out where the shade fell on the site at different times of day at different times of the year for the whole garden, and looked at the zone 3 area for this design.

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    • Soil analysis. I dug a couple of trial holes.  Outcome: silty/sand/clay.  The soil was very dry and lacking in soil life in the east 2m from the fence line.
    • Species on site.
      • Rose bushes – one tall with two different flowers grafted onto it.  4 short.
      • Grass.
      • Big pink flowering bush – loved by bees and other insects.  Flowers in April/May
      • Cats (ours plus a couple of other neighbourhood cats) – the neighbourhood cats use this area of the garden as a thoroughfare.
      • Pigeons nest in next door but one’s pear tree
    • Wind.  I have found really hard to observe.  Above the fence line it blows NE-SW.  Mostly from the NE.  Observed through the direction of drying washing being blown.  I am not yet sure I know what the impact of wind is below the fenceline, occasionally (especially in winter) it swirls and blows around.  Wind tunnel along the alleyway beside the house.
    • Microclimates.
      • Warm and sunny on the north side.
      • Dank right beside the south side fence (i.e. north facing)
      • Where the run off from the roof gathers there is a boggy patch with very large dandelion like plants growing extremely tall – much taller than anywhere else in the garden.
    • Structures.
      • Fence surrounding three sides of the area
    • Other
      • Land is flat
      • No pooling of water observed
      • Access from house (side and back door) and via side gate.
      • No existing desire lines (but we created a few once we started walking about on the space)


Physical boundaries shown on the site conditions plan.  There is a wooden fence on 3 sides, the exact position of the west boundary (i.e. the zone 2/3 boundary) is not defined.

Time boundary:  no real boundary it would be great to have the pond designed and implemented in 2012.


Consider the resources mandala – natural, physical, social, personal and financial resources available to us for this design

  • Ourselves (Liz and Catherine) and our energy (N, Ph, Pe, So).
  • Pallets/local skips for wood, stone etc available for free (Ph, Fi)
  • Local stables with well rotted manure available for free (Ph, Fi)
  • Tree surgery waste – wood chippings and logs for free (Ph, Fi)
  • Waste concrete dug up from another part of the garden (Ph, Fi)
  • Liz’s attendance on a Permaculture Design Course, particularly the hugel bed session (So, Pe, N)
  • Key books: Gaia’s Garden, Hemenway, Creating a forest garden, Martin Crawford.  Plus lots of others (Ph)
  • Web resources on pond design (Pe)
  • Previous growing experience from allotment and garden since 2006 (Pe)

We didn’t set a budget, but have kept a record of money spent on the design implementation.  This design seems low on social resources, is this a problem, or simply a reflection of the nature of who we are and how we are designing?


Consider the ethics to help with the evaluation:

Earth Care People Care Fair shares
Pond done well can increase biodiversity in the garden can we attract frogs? How can I incorporate techniques I have learnt about into this design, so I can try them out practically? Reuse site won materials
Techniques to minimise resource use:
Reduce/eliminate removal of spoil from site (transport/reprocessing etc)
Locally available materials/resources
Look after the workers – and let them have fun! Provide space in the garden for wildlife as well as people and crops
Place for bees and other insects to drink

I asked myself lots of questions in the evaluation phase including:

  • How much space for the pond?  How big should the pond be?
    • Dig a hole
    • Use a sink/bathtub
  • How will we fill it?
  • If we dig, what will happen to the waste materials?
  • What happens in a drought?
  • What techniques are there for making a hole in the ground hold water in it?
  • What other elements of the garden design are interesting/relevant to the pond?
  • How to make it aesthetically pleasing and child safe?

I did an input-output analysis to help to think of any wider unthought of pond elements.

Pond input output analysis

Pond input output analysis

I extracted the relevant items from my overall garden PASE into a zone 3 PASE.

Zone 3 PASE

Zone 3 PASE

Looking at these two tools I was able to make some links between PASE desires and outputs from the pond as the following overlay shows.

I-O with relevant PASE elements overlay

I-O with relevant PASE elements overlay

Pond requirements that I gleaned and wanted to use in the design from my web research into wildlife ponds:

  • Some sun, some shade, not deep shade
  • A deep bit (at least 1m) to prevent drying out in drought times
  • Various depth shallow bits for different types of wildlife
  • Access for wildlife – gently sloping, protected areas on the banks, different materials/plants around the bank
  • A waterproof lining options are puddling with clay or bought liners.
  • Native species planted in the pond


How big and where?

I used my overall garden basemap and a number of cut out pond shapes with diameters of 1.5, 3 and 4.5m to assess size.  I cut out round

Base map with shapes cut out to move around (note this picture is NOT only pond shapes it is also trees for other areas of the garden)

Base map with shapes cut out to move around (note this picture is NOT only pond shapes it is also trees for other areas of the garden)

shapes for ease although I knew that I wanted to maximise edge so the final implemented pond would not be a perfect circle.  4.5m was too big, 1.5m was too small so approx 3m seemed just right.

I also looked at the zone 3 area and eliminated certain areas that were unsuitable as the following plan shows.  This gave a large area within which we could place the pond.

Zone 3 site conditions with overlay showing excluded areas

Zone 3 site conditions with overlay showing excluded areas

Lining the pond?

The soil analysis shows that puddling is not going to work for this site as there is not enough clay in the soil, we will have to buy a liner.  This seemed a shame as puddling feels like a small and slow solution compared with using liners.  We chose a butyl liner because it is longer lasting, less likely to get holes or degrade than other materials on the market (futurecasting to produce no or less waste in the long term).  We also decided to lay soft sand underneath to protect the liner.

Edges and what to do with the soil?

The issue of what to do with the soil once we had removed it was an important one, we didn’t want to remove it from site so we decided to incorporate it into the pond border in some way (produce no waste).

We wanted an aesthetic where the pond was a bit hidden in the garden – create some height so you couldn’t necessarily see it from the house.  And we wanted there to be an abundance of bee and insect friendly plants near to the pond to encourage more biodiversity into our garden (multiple functions from one element).

Pallets are a locally available abundant and renewable resource – so we thought to make a raised curved bed out of pallets that we could plant up to give us the height and intrigue we were looking for and the insect friendly plants on top.

So the west side would have the pallet raised bed and the east side would be the side accessible to wildlife, the design for this side included:

  1. integrate waste concrete from a path we’d recently broken up in the garden into some sort of rockery effect that could provide shelter for wildlife on the bankx – making it look less concrete-ish but still making it useful (integrate rather than segregate, produce no waste),
  2. making sure that we had some gentle slopes and easy access areas for wildlife to get in

What to plant?

This element of the design wasn’t planned in detail before the implementation.

  1. In the pond: I observed what’s growing in local ponds to see whether we might be able to harvest some cuttings of local pond species that could go into our new pond to get it thriving with the local species.  I took lots of photos to identify what’s growing.
  2. In the raised bed:  we have a lot of lavenders in pots that are bee friendly, other plants on my garden perennials that I like (see overall garden design) list that might be good to include sweet cicely, salad burnett, lemon balm and chives.


The design was roughly in place when we experienced the wettest drought on record in mid June 2012.  I observed that we had brimming full water butts and the ground was easy to dig.  It felt like I had gone far enough on paper even though I hadn’t drawn it out in full.

We got ourselves a length of hose and roughly draped it on the ground (the pattern) – and then we started digging.  As the digging got deeper we evolved our specific plan for edges and depth gradients within the pond (the detail – designing from patterns to details) – there’ll be a deep bit (roughly 1m) and then a middle bit (40cm) and then lots of shallows (5 – 10cm) and we sort of mixed up how the different depth areas met the pond edge and made a sort of oval-ish shaped hole in the ground.

Digging was easy peasy because of it being the wettest drought on record – mindful of the catch and store energy principle it made sense to dig when the ground was soft and crumbly due to all the heavy rain.

With the pond dug and lined we siphoned from our water butts the water flowed and the pond began to fill.

 It was quite clear that though there was a big mound of earth on a tarp beside the raised bed site it wasn’t going to be enough to fill the length, width and height of our pallet bed.  And I didn’t want us to have to import soil from offsite as right now I don’t know of any free local sources.  So we had to come up with another plan during the implementation phase.

Design alteration

I’ve been wanting to build a hugel bed in the garden – but thus far there had been nowhere to fit it in the design.  It suddenly dawned on me that our pallet raised bed could be a hugelkulur inside.  Hugelkultur is a technique for building raised beds with large pieces of wood covered with soil and upturned turf.  Ok so we won’t get the benefits of the microclimates and varied planting conditions generated on the sides of a more traditional hugel bed with our straight sided pallet sides – but instead we will get more control which makes for happy gardeners!  And we get to fill up the raised pallet beds with large pieces of wood and other organic matter that can rot down over time to create the very soil we need in the bed and create a fantastic growing medium with lots of air pockets, water storage and warmth as it decomposes.  This was a chance to try out hugelkultur within a pallet raised bed.  We can over time observe and see what happens to it (observe and interact).  So we decided to try it out.

Implementation (again)

We sourced free wood from a local tree surgeon to fill up the base of the pallet bed covered this with the mounded soil and for good measure we threw in some cardboard, shredded paper and some other bits of organic matter waiting to go into the compost bin.  And in this photo the bed is ready to be planted up.



The pond should be relatively self maintaining.  I know from previous experience that pond weed can grow vigorously and needs regular removal.  With the raised bed design we can remove it and use it as a mulch on the bed adjacent.

Planting up the raised bed with perennials will also be relatively self maintaining.

The maintenance plan is to include this area in the garden maintenance with regular inspections and work done as needed.

Evaluation – Sept 2014

  • This last spring our pond nursed frog spawn, tadpoles and finally quite a few frogs.  It has been an absolute joy to watch their development (it took a LOT longer than I thought it would).  I am pleased to have new frogs in our garden to eat through some of the massive slug population that is resident.
  • The system which includes pond, soft fruit hedge and pallet hugel is becoming more and more self regulating I have done very little work this year, the plants are becoming established, wildlife is in abundance and the roots of the soft fruits must be tapping into the pond to keep them flourishing (apply self regulation).
  • The main work is clearing the green algae from the pond – although with the hugel right beside this provides an excellent location to dump this organic matter.
  • I was also amazed at the abundance of life in the pond as witnessed by my nieces and nephews who pond dipped for many happy hours when they came to visit over the summer.
  • We have achieved our desires – place for family, calm and beauty and abundant wildlife!

Reflections on the design process

  • This was an early design and one of the challenges was aligning my desire to have the overall garden design ‘finished’ with a desire to make use of the great digging opportunity the wet summer provided.  I realise now that in terms of the overall garden design this was a small and slow approach tackling one small area and implementing an element we definitely wanted/needed in the design.  I realise now that the overall garden design will continually evolve, and that for this project the level of design that I had reached was entirely adequate for delivering a successful project.
  • I enjoyed the mini design cycles that came up as the implementation evolved and how many design principles and tools etc came into my mind as I thought through a mental permaculture checklist about the challenges we were thinking about.  That mental checklist has only got stronger and better throughout the course of my diploma work and the application of the design process.

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Adventures in pallet shed building

31 05 2012

[Criteria 1; Holmgren principles. Criteria 2; permaculture in my home. Criteria 4; writing articles]

We needed a shed, we had no money. What we did have was 2 hammers, a drill, a saw and a large tin brimming with odd screws and nails. All we needed now was wood – free wood.  The most abundant source of free wood scavangable in an urban environment is the prolific pallet!  Our goal – to build a shed, out of pallets using permaculture principles to guide us.

For years we had toyed with the idea of a reduced commute and a more sustainable way of life, but had been too squashed down by work pressures, and too constricted by our little flat to make any major changes.  Until a year sabbatical gave us the opportunity to breathe, we simply decided that we needed time out to reflect, so we got on our bikes and off we cycled. 9 months later we returned to the UK with clear heads and clear hearts and vowed that henceforth we would place quality of life at the heart of all our choices.  So when setting up house, we looked for a reduced commute = more time, and as big a garden as we could find in London = crop potential.  Living sustainably in an urban environment meant we had to ensure we made the most of what we had.  So while my partner went back to ‘work’ I set about finding ways to make life work for us!  Fresh from my permaculture design course and with a highly restricted budget, I set to designing, planning, thinking about our new 100ft garden.

Hovering to the side of the garden, quite close to the house, there was a small, dank, breeze-block shed resplendent with an asbestos roof.  The shed was on its last legs and rather than have it fall and release all that asbestos into our precious lungs, we decided to take it down carefully and dispose of it appropriately.  This left us with a concrete hard-standing 8mx3m, situated in the best growing spot of the site; a little south facing sun trap.  There was an instinctive part of me that wanted to take up all that concrete, improve the soil below and grow kiwis and lemons!  But working with the principles of efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and finding the route of least resistance (least change greatest effect) and after numerous scale doodles we decided to turn the problem into a solution and opt for a combination shed / greenhouse, and with the hard-standing in place already, why not keep it there.  While kiwis and lemons are delicious a needs survey quickly highlighted that our preference was for accessible abundant salads and a handy seedling crèche. Since we are also renovating and retrofitting our house storage close to the house is also essential (multiple functions from one element).

Let’s not be under any illusions here – neither of us are trained builders, we are two smallish women who are well aware of our limitations but confident in our ability to problem-solve.  And quite frankly, we are confident in us.

Calling out to all intrepid pallet builders… here’s how we did it.

Step 1: Foundations and damp proof course

I started by observing the concrete hard-standing (not massively exciting but certainly informative!). I noticed how the water pools in certain places and placing the pallets directly on the ground would see them rotting over time. Since our goal was resilience we decided to base the structure on a row of brick; this would also offer a level (ish) base to stack our walls on. In our old flat we used bricks as shelving support and rather fortuitously had decided to bring them with us, just in case! (observe and interact)

Step 2: Pallet prep

Pallet sourcing was no problem, first we identified our nearest industrial estate, knocked on a few doors and asked if we could help them deal with their rubbish problem (produce no waste)!  (Note- it’s important to ask as some companies recollect pallets– so simply taking them could turn out to be theft!).  A few simple calculations ensured we got enough to make our basic wall structure. Identical big pallets for the back wall and identical medium sized pallets to make the front wall, and a mix of both to see what happened at the sides! Once we’d sourced a decent range we decided to ‘thin them out’ by removing some of the lengths –enough to lighten, not too many to weaken the structural integrity.

Step 3: Walls

According to numerous DIY books and the great Web, corners are the place to start. Balancing 2 pallets precariously around the back corner, Catherine clung on to them whilst I screwed in our ‘cross members’.  We used wood off-cuts to provide diagonal strength across the corner, hold the pallets together and ensure maximum use of resources.  In a heart-in-mouth moment, Catherine let go and we stepped away… and – oh yes – nothing fell over, we gave it a shake and it all seemed to be holding together.  Hoorah- robustness!

The sides consisted of medium pallets to match the front line, with diagonally cut pallets to make the link between the back height and the front – while a good level of weather proofing is important air-tightness isn’t, in fact those mismatch gaps provide excellent ventilation!

Step 4:  Making windows

We had a couple of old pieces of weirdly shaped clear plastic and a small rectangle of glass lying around – ideal for windows (as the story unfolds, the observant reader might notice just how much we will need this lovely shed – based on the number of items we have ‘lying around’ – the ultimate re-user needs some place to store all their valuable ‘stuff’! (produce no waste)).  So we cut out corresponding holes in the pallet walls before erecting. We used the cladding (coming next) to hold the windows in place from the outside, and more of our trusty wood off-cuts to hold them in place on the inside.

Step 5: Cladding

Any spare moment in the build was deemed a cladding moment – to ensure structural cohesion and protection we decided to horizontally clad the whole structure (apart from the back that was covered with a tough plastic sheet – it is not subject to weather and would be impossible to access for cladding as it butts up against the neighbours wall – give or take a 10 cm gap). To clad the shed we needed a large supply of single pallet slats. If there is any part of this project that was the most laborious this was it – I’m sure there is a more efficient way to finish this type of build – but we were working with what we had – pallets! Rather nerdily we’ve learned a thing or two about pallets.  It’s about trial and error and finding your own technique – some slats just won’t budge, and others practically fall apart with the slightest hammer blow.  We developed a bit of a technique using a hammer and crow bar, youtube clips on pallet dismantling  (yes they exist!) suggest that others just bash the slats off with a mallet.  But some of those nails run so deep there is no way of getting them out – in which case I cut the wood!

We then simply jigsawed them up each wall to produce a rather pleasing rustic effect.

Step 6: The roof

We went through a few design ideas here, we wanted to make the roof out of plastic bottles – so we had a fun evening collecting bottles out of people’s recycling, followed by a trip to the local tip.  We tried corrugating the bottles – stapling strips of bottle together; we also tried making tiles by flattening the bottles.  All to no avail – the problem came in trying to fix them down to something on the roof and with water tightness.  Luckily for us it rained during our building process so we could observe roof leakage (observe and interact). There was lots of it.  There are many examples of plastic bottles successfully used to make roofing, but we simply didn’t have a way to make the bottles flat enough for tiles – and we also started to run out of energy and patience. And so we conceded to spend a bit of money to buy some plastic sheets so that we could have our growing space. We zoned the shed so that one section was darkened to store objects that light might cause to perish while keeping the main area light (multiple functions from one element).  For the darker side of the shed we managed to scavenge some aluminium from a skip- perfect favella style roofing(produce no waste)!

Step 7: The door

When we took down the old shed we made sure we kept the door, with a lick of paint, and rejigging of the locking device, somehow we made it work!

All in all the venture cost us a week’s solid labour (i.e. 14 person days) and about £45 in roofing and a resupply of mortar for the brick base.  It gained us a whole chest full of pride and satisfaction; a secure, watertight shed, and a super snugly crèche for our seedlings and salads – which are thriving!

One year on – there has been a small leak in the roof through one of the fixing points – which I have yet to fix and there is water ingress from the back – a much harder problem to solve.  So we have raised everything in the shed off the ground to prevent it from rotting.  The shed has stood up well to heavy winds.  Over the course of the last 12 months it has been a seedling sanctuary, a full on greenhouse, a bike and junk store and now it has reached its (hopefully final) use as a wood store and workshop!  The natural light through the roof is one of the best things we did!  Ooh and it’s also being featured in our upcoming ‘Green Open Homes’ event in Kingston and I’m planning a trip to visit the shed for Kingston Permaculture Network folk!

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