A design chez Perkin

I’m just back from a couple of days with my friend Perkin (supplier extraordinaire of apples… we’re still eating them after eight months). I am helping him to produce a design for his land. His background is in horticulture, and so he’s been taught to think about elements in his garden in certain ways. As an ecologist and permaculturalist, I have a different perspective – more systems-based. I certainly am able to think laterally about garden and land elements… and after a full day working on the design, Perkin is starting to enjoy this approach.

I realise that one of the most useful ‘tools’ I have now when I’m thinking about design is having visited lots of other sites where different people have found a wide range of solutions to common problems… what to grow… how to compost… how to use ‘waste’ as a resource. As we walked around Perkin’s land I found myself telling him about solutions I had seen in other people’s plots and thinking about how we might make some of those approaches work for him. But really, what we wanted to do was make the most of the resources he has and find uses for all features of the garden.

What to do with an old loo?

For example, up the corner of his garden is the old ‘thunderbox’ as he calls it. It’s a lovely little structure, now with a solid floor and surrounded by peonies and other garden flowers. It’s on a corner of his plot, so there are two immediate neighbours, both at a slightly lower level. If it had been in a different place, it would have been brilliant to return it to its original function (i.e. a compost toilet), but that is not appropriate. Now he wants a function for it. So, thinking outside the box (so to speak) we have settled on it becoming a bug house (a bigger version of the one here), with roosting spaces for a range of beneficial insects. Perkin is keen on the beauty of the garden – and this will give him a chance to create a beautiful piece of art that has a very valuable function.

Not the most attractive feature of the garden currently

Another example of a different use for an existing structure is the aluminium greenhouse. What a dull object this currently is… and not used as a growing space because Perkin has a much larger wooden greenhouse that he’s using at present. His first inclination was to get rid of the small one – it’s not attractive and he felt that it was unnecessary. My feeling was that he should keep it (as you know I’m a squirrel), but I had to think of something that would make it a useful object in the garden. And after much discussion of functions that he wanted the garden to deliver, we have settled on turning it into what will be called the Orangery. The plan is to have an apricot tree in there, a passionflower growing up it and perhaps a potted citrus or two (limes for the g&t seem appropriate) plus a seating area and Chinese lanterns. Mrs Perkin (aka Peppermint Patty) likes to be warm and outdoors at the same time (not easy in England for most of the year). Currently she sits in the large greenhouse, but once the tomatoes have grown up, it’s not going to be pleasant in there… so a special place will be created from a location that is currently a bit of an eyesore.

Watch this space to see how things develop…

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  1. I really enjoyed this post. I love the concepts of permaculture and would like to learn more about it, so being lead through part of your design process like that was really interesting. I love the idea of the Orangery! xx


    • Although the blog is not solely about my permaculture designs, I will be posting about some of them, and certainly more on Perkin’s land, so watch this space!
      The orangery is interesting to me in two ways – first we were able to find a use for something Perkin was thinking of disposing of and, second, it highlights the importance of language. What you call something can entirely alter people’s perceptions of it… what would we prefer in our garden – an aluminium greenhouse or an orangery?!


      • You’re so right about the power of language… A name has so much effect on people’s attitude to the named thing, whatever it is. When reading about your design I loved the fact you’d used the name ‘the orangery’…



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