Book Notes: Introduction to Permaculture :: Chapter Five

Continuing my notes on the book Introduction to Permaculture (1991/2009) by Bill Mollison, here is Chapter Five: Home Garden Design.  (Intro and Chapter One)  I am relying mainly on my sketchy notes here, without a book in hand to check quotes, accuracy, etc. (there is a version of the book online, with lots of illustrations by Reny Mia Slay). Any misrepresentations of Mollison’s words or work are mine alone and completely unintentional.

CHAPTER FIVE: Home Garden Design

5.1 Intro

Zone 1 (near house): Annual vegetable garden, small important perennials, small fruit trees, seedlings, small quiet animals. Also perhaps greenhouse, potting sheds, composting area, clothesline, barbeque, tool shed.

Look at climate, aspect, structures, access, water source, animals. “Size and shape of Zone 1 depends mainly on site acreage, access, schedules, and time available.”

Start at doorstep, “as the house provides a central focus and an edge from which to work outwards. If you need to, first make a layout map of the house, trees, fences, pathways, and any other existing structures or features.”

5.2 Garden Layout

Mollison’s vision: “The garden is fully mulched, with its soils aerated and humus-rich. Plants are constantly being recycled; crops are eaten, leaves discarded; green manures are turned into the soil to provide nutrients or a summer crop; some dill, carrots, and fennel are allowed to go to flower to attract parasitic wasps and volunteer tomatoes and cucumbers from the compost heap are planted out along the fence. There is no attempt to form the garden into strict neat rows; it is a riot of shrubs, vines, garden beds, flowers, herbs, a few small trees…, and even a small pond. Paths are sinuous, and garden beds might be round, key-holed, raised, spiraled, or sunken.”

He says it doesn’t matter how you make the garden, even advising that double-digging is OK, or you can sheet-mulch with newspapers and straw: “It’s a matter of what suits you. I’m lazy — full mulch suits me. You are vigorous — double-digging suits you. Double-digging suits you now because you may be young. Full mulching, you will grow into! Technique is not a fixed thing (nor is permaculture generally); it is something appropriate to occasion, age, inclination, and conviction.”

It’s important to lay out the garden based on the frequency of visits and the size of the crop, and allow a range of plants for greater insect control.

Kitchen Door Culinary Herbs: maybe in a raised herb spiral. Parsley.
Salad Clipping Beds: Narrow beds, close to house, for fast-growing small salad herbs and greens that can be cut with scissors (gardencress, chives, garlic chives, scallions, shallots, mustard greens).

Idealised kitchen garden layout (illustration by Reny Mia Slay, at Scribd)

Pathside Plucking: Long-bearing veggies that can be cut or leaves plucked: swiss chard, spinach, celery, onions, kale, fennel, zucchini, broccoli. Usually the whole plant is not harvested at once.

Narrow Plant Beds: Those that need a long season: beans, tomatoes, zucchini, carrots, peas, eggplant, salsify (like parsnip but skinnier), some herbs. Tomato plants need narrow beds to be easily picked; they dislike wind.

Broad Beds: Potatoes, corn, melons, onions, leeks, beets, turnips, rutabaga (aka swedes)

Barrier Hedges: A living barrier, used as wind/seed/animal barriers. Can also be mulch sources, nitrogen-fixers, an edible crop. Can also have small hedges inside gardens, e.g., of rosemary.

Raised Keyhole Bed: Sunflower as windbreak. Siberian pea shrub. Wormwood (artemesia).

Reny Mia Slay’s illustration (Scribd)

Vine and Trellis Crop: Trellis or shed, carport, walls, fences, patio, free-standing support for vine crops. Permanent barrier hedges: hops, vanilla, passion fruit. A trellis for annual and perennial crops is the single most important space-saving device for gardens. Annual vines: cucumber, melon, squash, beans, peas, tomatoes. Use trellis that suits the plant’s climbing mechanism.

Reny Mia Slay’s illustration (Scribd)

[Longwood Gardens grows some melons and gourds on trellises:

hanging melon, Longwood’s conservatory, June 2013

And also espaliers nectarines, figs, and other fruits, which is another way of reconfiguring space and making harvesting easier:

espaliered nectarines, Longwood’s conservatory, June 2013
espaliered figs, Longwood’s conservatory, June 2013

Garden Pond: To grow water lilies as a haven for insect-eating frogs [also as a spot for dragonflies]. You can make a pond with an old truck or tractor tire (not steel-belted).

Seedling Beds/Nursery: Usually need only cold frames and a shade cloth structure.

Garlic bulbs give a constant crop if allowed to multiply for a few years.

5.3 The Instant Gardener

Sheet mulching: Important to fill the area with plants and totally cover the area in mulch. The first attempt should be very close to the house. Start small (about 4 square yards). This is his process:

    1. First, plant any trees and large shrubs
    2. Next, sprinkle the area with gypsum or ash and chicken manure or blood bone (nitrogen).
    3. Add a bucket or two of compost.
    4. Add hay or straw if you have it.
    5. Don’t dig, level, or weed.
    6. Tile and overlap with cardboard, newspaper, etc., leaving no slits or holes.
    7. Water well.
    8. Add 3″ straw, manure in sawdust, leaf mould, raked leaves, or seaweed.
    9. Add 6″ of dry weed-free pine needles, nut shells, leaves, bark, straw, wood chips, cocoa bean husks, etc.
    10. Water again.
    11. Taking large seeds, make a hole with your hand to the base of the loose mulch, then cut through paper/cardboard with a knife, place dirt in the hole, and push in the seed. (If you’re using seedlings, hold leaves gently in one hand and bring mulch up to the base of the seedling.)



“By the end of the first summer, the soil is revolutionised, and will contain hundreds of worms and soil bacteria. Just add a little top mulch to keep levels up, usually a mix of chips, bark, pine needles, and hay. Scatter some lime or blood and bone. … Worms are so active that the leaves and peelings disappear overnight. Leather boots take a little longer, old jeans a week or so, and dead ducks a few days.”

Root crops don’t do well in the the first year – soil too compacted. But daikon radish will help break up soil.

No need to rotate crops! Or to rest the ground. Plant in mixed beds, not a monocrop. Do frequent and random replanting. Don’t let the mulch mat — keep it loose.

5.4 The Urban and Suburban Permaculture Garden

Usually room only for zones 1 and 2. Need to intensify food production.

Urban: use windowsills, patio, narrow walkways, roofs, indoors in pots. Trees that have grafts of three types of fruit on one tree (e.g., peach tree that bears almonds, nectarines/apricots, and plums).

urban circle bed (Reny Mia Shay illustration)

Suburban: The American lawn is a resource hog. Phosphates, poisons, waste of manpower, fuel, energy. An American house with 2 cars, dog, and lawn uses more resources and energy than a village of 2,000 Africans (p. 111). Why is it considered low-status to make the front of your yard useful? Plant in front yards: gooseberry, blueberry, currant, rhubarb, borage, nasturtium, calendula, lily, thyme, lavender, rosemary, oregano, kale, eggplant, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, chamomile, alpine strawberries, fruit and nut trees.

suburban garden (Reny Mia Shay illustration)

5.5 Cold Area Garden Design

Extend season: plastic/glass, locally adapted shrubs/trees to shield wind, vegetable varieties developed for short season, stored vegetables for winter.

Style of greenhouse for New England p. 112-113. Needs no heat. Awning blades, fish-farming tanks. Attaches to house. Follows exact sun angles from southeast to southwest. Double-pane glass.

greenhouse adapted for New England (Reny Mia Shay illustration)

A 20-square-yard greenhouse can produce 70% of the fruit and salad needs for 3-4 people. Requires only one weekend of work for plantings and 20 mins watering and upkeep for day.


Mini-greenhouses: cloches, inverted glass jugs, plastic frames.

Root crops (carrot, turnip, leek), kale, and other vegetables that stand the most frost: cover with hay bales.

Cold-area fruits: apple, quince, blueberry, rosehip, grape, hardy kiwifruit, persimmons, walnut, chestnut.

5.6 Tropical Gardens
I skipped this as not pertinent for me. He talks about a banana-papaya circle, and mentions that problems include wild pigs, snails, rodents, and monkeys.

5.7 Dryland Gardens
I skipped this, too. “The desert garden is likely to suffer from light saturation and excess evaporation; the former reduces photosynthesis, hence leaf bulk,and the latter causes wilt and slowed growth. To overcome the problems of high pH, heat and light stress, risk of salting in soils, dry winds, and poor water supply, we need to create a special environment around the desert house and garden.”

Next up, Chapter Six: Orchards, Farm Forestry and Grain Crops

(* Featured photo is thyme in my front yard, June 2017. Also in my front yard are lots more thyme of various types, marjoram, blueberry shrubs, alpine strawberries, calendula, and various annual herbs and veggies.)


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