Permaculture for Easier Gardening: Zones

As many of my regular clients, friend and fans will know. I am somewhat obsessed with my garden. It’s my sanctuary. My own little patch of fresh air and nature. This is especially true now that I’m practicing social distancing for the foreseeable future! In light of this I’m trying to get back into blogging semi-regularly and this seemed like a good place to start.

Since I’m wildlife obsessed but also want to grow food I was immediately drawn to Permaculture. Permaculture is all about creating sustainable environments that work with nature rather than fighting against it. Look after the earth and the creatures on it, sustainability should always come before short term profits.

Often when you read information on permaculture it seems geared towards those with an acre of virgin land and the funds needed to build a zero waste, carbon neutral dream home and small-holding with rare breed sheep! If you’re sitting at home in your mid-terrace suburban home with a mid size garden, don’t be put off just yet.

Much of the theory used by permaculturists can be scaled down for much smaller spaces and you may be surprised to hear that often, applying these principles can make gardening much more accessible too. I’ll be going over a few of these in this blog series.

Today we’re going to look at Zoning. Think of your land (home and garden) in a series of zones. Some of these are more geared towards big spaces but stick with me!

  • Zone 0 is your home base. In suburbia this is usually your house. You eat, sleep, cook and live here.
  • Zone 1 is your most frequently visited. Here’s where you put your kitchen garden bits, your tender plants that need a lot of care and anything you’re likely to pick daily in the summer. To make it easier to look after these plants you might also have a tap or water-butt. If you’ve got hutches or pens for small animals that need daily care you can pop these here too. This is a very human dominated space and will often be the most cultivated part of the garden with neat pots and patio furniture.
  • Zone 2 is usually pretty cultivated too, it’s a space for perennial food plants and veggies with a long growing season that don’t require daily care. Fruiting shrubs, hardy herbs and maybe even a pond and a few chickens too.
  • Zone 3 is for more traditional farming and pasture. Geared towards larger scale crop production.
  • Zone 4 is where things start to get a little more wild, you do still manage this area but much less intensively. Wildlife can forage, trees can grow naturally, you can let wild plants self-seed and maybe forage a few of these if you get a good variety.
  • Zone 5 is completely wild. Its a place to observe not mange. You can let nature take it’s own path and simply sit back and watch. Enjoy the wildness.

When you see diagrams explaining this it’s often laid out like a bulls-eye with your home in the middle but in reality it isn’t often that structured. Your zones might vary depending on the layout of the land, what features you want to include in your garden and how much space you have.

This might seem very technical and daunting to start with but lets break this down simply. What we’re basically doing is moving all of the hard-work closest to the house and all of the ‘wild’ stuff further away. Last year I had fruit and veggies crammed in all over the place, since I don’t have a massive amount of space I figured it wouldn’t matter where my plants were.

Raised planters on a patio, viewed from above.

I very quickly realized my mistake when I had to haul the watering can from one end of the garden to the other 20 times a day during a heatwave. This year, I’m planning on having my thirsty veggies and tender plants on the patio, much much closer to the water-butt! My plants get cared for better and I’ve cut down on my walking and carrying distance. Better cared for plants means a better yield and a better cared for me means less pain.

The decreased distance also works well if you’re cooking what you’re growing. It’s a much shorter distance from the kitchen to the food plants you’re using most frequently.

From a pacing perspective, having your most intensive gardening work next to your patio furniture makes it much easier to take rest breaks. Gardening in pots or raised planters means you can actually work sat down too. If your most intensive work is nice and close it also means you can pop out and weed one plant pot before popping back indoors to do a few more emails.

Now have a think about wildlife, many folks (like myself) who spend long periods of time at home enjoy watching wildlife in their gardens. Enticing wildlife in with bird feeders, ponds and wildlife friendly plants. However, if you’re lucky enough to have wildlife, it can be difficult to use your garden without disturbing it. Having your wildlife a little further from the house means you’re less likely to disturb it. It also means you might get wildlife visiting while you’re actually out on the patio in the ‘human’ area.

Raised planters with log piles and hedgehog houses underneath.

If you’re attempting to make a garden that balances wildlife and food production taking a look at the different zones can probably help you create areas for all things. Even if those areas are in a slightly less structured order! In my own garden I’ve aimed to connect the wild and cultivated areas throughout the garden to bring wildlife closer to the house. My raised planters on the patio have wildlife habitats built underneath them to make best use of all the available space.

Birds and hedgehogs are natural predators for common garden ‘pests’ like caterpillars. Frogs are natural predators of slugs. Having wild areas and shelter in the form of trees and shrubs can help to encourage these in. What’s easier? picking caterpillars off your brassicas or watching the birds to it for you?

A strip of un-mown lawn filled with wildflowers.

Adding little bits of wildness can also make gardening easier. Leaving bits of the lawn to grow long can help encourage flowers for pollinators and long grass is great for insects. You can even go a step further and convert to a mini-meadow or flowering lawn. The less often you mow those the better! Plants like clover will even flower if you do mow them short. A stepping stone path or mowed strip still allows for access further down the garden. Working with native/ and locally found plant species (or garden variations of those) can mean you spend less time caring for picky plants and can simply sit back and watch them thrive because they’re well adapted for the local conditions.

Anyway, I think that’s a long enough ramble for now. I’m hopeful some of you will find this useful when planning your spring planting. It seems like the ‘dig for victory’ style garden is really making a comeback and I’m really glad it is. Strawberries always taste better when fresh-picked and warmed by the sun.

If you’d like to follow my gardening progress please check out my Instagram profile!

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