Is it all about the timing when planting seeds? continued…

A few people lately have asked me ‘why permaculture?’ or ‘what brought me to permaculture’ and their questions as well as my own reflections have prompted me to think of just when the seeds were planted to bring me to this point of study..

As far as I can remember or I am aware, the first time I heard the word permaculture was probably about three years ago, when a close friend of mine decided to go and volunteer at a project and do a Permaculture Design Course. The seeds were planted. Or were they already sown prior to that?

She described to me what the course was about and the kind of things she would be learning, it sounded fascinating, exciting and interesting to me (the content) but I think the word ‘permaculture’ was secondary to all this information, I just loved the idea of a course where you could study nature and learn about being more self-sufficient. However, I think the word ‘permaculture’ lodged itself in my brain and then attracted more and more people into my life who mentioned it. At this stage I never asked too many questions as to what the word meant, people always talked to me as if I would know what it meant. And, I suspect, so as not to show my ignorance I never came right out and asked “what is permaculture exactly?” That came later, a couple of years later.

When my friend went off to do her course/volunteering I was learning in other ways; about being self-sufficient, being creative with my gifts/skills, trying to work out another kind of economy that didn’t just rely on money, the art of survival, living with little or no money and I would say, desperately seeking some kind of ‘salvation’ and different way of life. I was learning through circumstance and my life situation, not because I had consciously chosen to learn this lesson (although I am eternally grateful that I did learn, and I don’t believe anything comes into our lives without us ‘inviting’ it in, but that is another story…)

Visual depiction describing permaculture by James Chapman, who is now my tutor on the Diploma

Maybe for all of us the ‘seeds’ of permaculture were sown a while back, maybe even before we were born (we probably came into being as part of some sort of ‘design’). I can certainly think of many situations in my life where I ‘designed’ something; a career move, a new relationship, an old relationship, a friendship, a house move, moving to another country, learning a new language, having a burning ambition, dreaming of a different future. Some of these designs I have ‘implemented’, some have stayed in my head the seeds still lying low waiting for the frost to pass, some have gone terribly wrong (or seem to have), some have turned out wonderfully and eventually morphed into another follow up design, some have taken a completely different direction from what I had originally imagined and yet worked even better than I could have hoped, some have bolted before even taking root, others have flowered majestically only to wither later when something else came into bloom and some are a work in progress…

I like to think that we are always planting seeds, nurturing the seedlings, cultivating dreams, watching things grow to be something other than we expected or dreamed of, enjoying the yield or sometimes finding it is not quite to our taste and then continuing our ‘designs’  in our heads and our hearts. If I look at it this way I find it easier to continue with the permaculture studies and just see it as an extension of my life, already lived, and what has still to come to fruition.

The timing of course is always ‘right’ and nature will usually find a way to help things grow if that is what is intended, or we may find that the seeds will sprout, much later, and grow into something much more sustainable. And if not, then we can always learn from our mistakes, and something else will grow in it’s place…

Which brings me back to the Design thinking Guidelines…and hopefully planting more seeds…

design thinking guidelines – Permaculture Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability ~ David Holmgren


Is it all about the timing when planting seeds?

Pumpkin & squash seedlings planted only 15 days ago!!!


Today I have been thinking about timing in terms of planting seeds, in all the senses. It is exactly one year today since I left Spain after living there for a very long time. A lot of seeds have been planted since then, and on reflection the seeds were planted a long time ago…

But first back to my garden..

I planted the seeds out around my apple trees (see design for apple tree guild) on the 14/4/2012 and so far there is not much to report. I thought the overgrown nettles were shading the patch from light, so I removed them. There are a few things sprouting but not sure if they are weeds, existing plants/flowers – this is where a one year observation of your land would come in handy, as this is my first spring-summer here I don’t know what is already in the patch. I went ahead anyway and planted after only having been here since October 2011. My thinking was that the trees could do with some support and that the land below was bare. I could have been wrong, maybe all the plants below were just hiding until the last frosts passed. Or, some of the seedlings that I have planted are starting to sprout!! Again, time will tell. I realize that gardening is a test in patience (which is a lovely thing for me to be practicing)and that it is true that an apple tree guild can’t be ‘built’ in a day or even a few months, that nature will take it’s course and I may have jumped the gun and planted seeds where they were not wanted/needed or planted them too soon.. My very definite impatient side!! But with a little bit of observation over the last few weeks I definitely think the apple trees are not planted in the best place. They are shaded out by a very large sycamore tree (guild 2) which has just started to leaf in the last few weeks and on the other side (guild 1) there is a mini-forrest of all things not edible!! But in an ode to  my ignorance I decided that for this year anyway it was best not to move the trees and to just do a design from the book and watch to see what happens.

Apple tree guilds to right and left of picture with large trees shading them

My vegetable patch on the other hand was planted out on the 4/05/2012 and for the first few weeks after I planted it was frosty, windy and with torrential rains, after two weeks there were no signs of life from my poor seeds. I had nearly resigned myself to starting all over again and re-planting the whole lot, and then… we had some sunshine, a few days actually and so once more I went to take a look at my pride and joy on 20/05/2012, whilst calculating in my head when exactly would be the best time to re-plant, and I found seedlings!!! Lots of them, springing up all over the place. I couldn’t identify any of them, and for all I knew they were weeds, but I checked it out with some more knowledgeable gardeners via photos on internet and folk confirmed that it did indeed look like edible crops sprouting… I was sooooo happy, I am so happy. Another lesson in patience..just when I thought I had been defeated by nature (and what it says on the packets of seeds) I learned that the seedlings were smarter than me and biding their time.

First signs of seedlings, what a joy!!

Since the 20/05/2012  we have had almost non-stop sunshine, unheard of in Britain and the seedlings are lapping it all up, and so am I.

Seedlings flourishing, looking more like something edible or identifiable?

Whilst spending more time in the garden I have been observing all sorts that I hadn’t really taken in before, for instance, even when it is quite windy my garden is very well shaded, and when we have sun then it shines directly onto the decking in front of the summer house from 12 mid-day until the sun goes down. So a perfect spot for all my sun loving plants, which I have decided to grow in pots for this year (as they don’t fit into the veg-plot design and I am told they don’t grow in the ground around here, but I had planted seeds indoors way back in February, and they came on great, so I have some fine looking young plants: tomatoes, chilis, peppers, cucumber, tomatillos and trying my hand at some aubergine, even although everyone tells me it it wont grow in these parts of Scotland!!

Just look at my ‘achocha’ planted on 4/5/2012 indoors

So, back to timing… I felt so laid back and happy in my garden today that I decided to start off lots of other seedlings, some things that it is recommended you sow at intervals: lettuce, radish, peas, rocket, carrots, things you can plant repeatedly  so that you spread your pickings out over a longer period and don’t have a glut all at once. I started them in seed boxes and left them out in the sun all day, this was good… But then I got adventurous and in reading a book called No-Work Gardening by Ruth Stout I learned all about sowing onion seeds and beetroot densely , so that you get baby produce and they are sweeter.. or something along those lines, don’t quote me, best to read the book. Now I know, from what it says on the packet that it is too late to plant onion seeds!!! Don’t ask me why, but that’s what the packet says. Next planting should not be done until after the 18th August so that you get onions early next year.. so what did I do? Planted onion seeds densely in little pots, which if they work (!?!?!) then I shall plant out…. I liked the ideas of small bunches of tiny sweet onions… and I like to experiment… Is it all about the timing when planting seeds??

And then I got to reflecting more on when the ‘seeds’ and idea of permaculture were planted in my head.. but that should be another post, as this one is getting long, and it’s thoughts I have in my head about me, and my journey, and not really about my garden, although everything is connected, in my opinion…

Visions of my dream garden ;-)) and some more seedlings

Some of my thoughts on doing the Diploma

Notes taken from my contributions to the diploma facebook page

My thoughts are that we just have to start exactly where we are and work from there. And when we feel ready to present our stuff (designs), that will be the point when we know we are satisfied with what we have done. Given that we all start from different points, some with lots of hands on experience, some who have actually been practising permaculture for years, some who are completely new to it all (like myself in terms of land based stuff) and others who are just so enthusiastic and full of energy that they just go ahead and get on with it – it would be difficult to set the bar.

How high a ‘level’ we achieve and how in-depth we go will depend on individuals and what they are actually doing with/in their lives and however deep they go will be enough…We do need to be gentle on ourselves, no-one is putting the pressure on us apart from ourselves. We will know when; we have learned enough, taken it to our right level, achieved what we set out to do, taken ourselves where we wanted to go, feel satisfied, AND even after we have the diploma we will continue learning…. The diploma appeals to me because it doesn’t adhere to any strict guidelines within the academic world, it calls for creativity, individuality, uniqueness, courage, inspiration, experimentation and best of all sees that we can learn from our ‘errors’.

I was terrified at the beginning especially when reading all the stuff here (on the Diploma facebook page, contributions from other students), thinking I had to learn as much and feeling like I never would.

Now I just think, this is my journey and I have the freedom to travel in a way that suits me; at my leisure, sometimes accompanied, around in circles, off the map and planet at times, outside of the box, with some simple and wonderful ethics as my constant travel companion whilst I take as long as I want to get to my ‘destination’…. AND if I were someone who liked to go in a straight line, have the whole road mapped out, read every travel guide available, talk to every tour guide and mingle with all my fellow travellers then I’d also have it made on this diploma. Even the word Diploma can be a hindrance for some if they are not accustomed to formal education (like myself) but if we can see that it is just a word.. then we can even have fun with that ;-)) and then hopefully we can celebrate all the wild, varied, creative, wonderful, intelligent and some wacky layers of the word!!

May 1st 2012

I was wary for a while about doing the Diploma before I signed up, mostly due to the things mentioned above, I didn’t want to enter into something academic or make what I already had learned more formal. In fact many times I have asked myself why I am doing the Diploma, I don’t want to be a designer, I can’t imagine making it my living to teach permaculture and I really don’t want to get caught up in a academic mindset or even start using language which is exclusive (like acronyms) but in the end I decided to give it a go as I wanted to learn more in depth about permaculture, to put it into action, to feel it, to walk the talk, and as I find it hard to motivate myself or even organize myself then I thought having the framework of the diploma would help me, which is why I chose the supported route (someone to guide me). However, initially I was totally paralyzed by the ‘constraints’ and expectations of producing 10 designs, leading to a total block of ideas, energy, creativity and self-permission to just try something….. then I decided that I would just do…. and sometimes record… or not… as the mood takes me…. And I also decided that if at the end of the day I did not present my ‘designs’ to be accredited then so be it, if they can even help in keeping me focused then they will serve their purpose… and I will learn… and because I am not that interested in academic acknowledgement of my work, nor even having a certificate then I am just using the ‘format’ as a road map, helping me get to my destination. Now, if at the end of the day my designs do manage to clearly show what I have learned and applied then I shall present them. If not they are just for me…;-)) but nothing lost, and hopefully much gained. I suppose it depends WHY you are doing the Diploma, and what you want to use it for, or what significance or bearing it has on your life and work? That was a really good question for me to ask myself. And my answer was I didn’t NEED it, so that freed me up immediately. Not being dependent on the outcome of the studies helped me to get through my blockages. This helped me anyway…

The posts above are taken from my comments in the Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design  facebook page

So, the seeds are growing – indoors!! And the path well-trodden..

Nearly two months down the line and I’ve not written another blog, so maybe I should regress a bit from the present date.

I have gone through all sorts of trauma (internally) in starting this Diploma, from feeling great excitement and enthusiasm to feeling like just quitting and gardening on my own, without the pressure of a course. I was living and breathing permaculture 24 hours a day. reading every book I could get my hands on, getting more and more confused and overloaded, and not really finding others to speak to or relate to apart from the Facebook page of other Diploma students. Which is in itself very helpful but at times felt daunting and I felt like a fish out of water.

I feel like I have learned a lot since last writing this blog, but as I am trying to convey what it feels like for a complete newcomer to permaculture I should say that it has not been easy. Or maybe I should say I have not made it easy on myself. I became too immersed in the ‘subject’ which made me fearful of just getting out there or getting things down in writing. I became almost paralysed by fear.

I don’t know what advice I could give to anyone just starting, as we all have different methods and styles for learning, but I would say, go easy on yourself. Small and slow solutions really is the answer, and it is also one of the permaculture principles, so that should keep you on the right track.

I decided, after trying to read several books at the one time, both on permaculture and gardening techniques, to pick one book that I particularly felt in tune with and start to ‘work’ just using that as a reference. My chosen book on gardening was/is Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway and I have chosen Permaculture, Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability by David Holmgren (co-founder of permaculture) as my guide book. I will write a reading list later as I have also read some other fantastic books, but to make it easier on myself I chose to practise and experiment with just these two books. It felt the easiest solution all considered.

So, the seeds in my pots indoors are growing fantastically well, every single seed sprouted and has given me lovely seedlings. To date all doing really well, indoors.

just starting out, seedlings in first few weeks of Feb


Outside I planted two small apple guilds (the trees were already there so I just chose to plant around them) My design for these can be seen as a separate document/design. I did this over a month ago and to date I have no visible signs of sprouts or seedlings outside!!


Later I also planted a small vegetable patch, which can also be seen as another document (design) and nothing to report on these either.

Getting used to (which is hard) the british weather. Of course the books I have settled on have been written by authors living in much warmer climates!! But from what I gather from those living around the British Isles then it is poly-tunnels, green-houses or hot-beds which seem to work here. Either that or I am just so innocent that I am getting it wrong!! David Holmgren says Failure is useful, so long as we learn and The problem is the solution. I still have to work those out and see what the solution is whilst learning about the British spring/summer weather!!!

Re-tracing my steps!!!

photo of the far end of my south facing garden

overgrown small veg patch inherited from previous tenants


Having completed my Permaculture Design Course (PDC) in August 2011 with TreeYo Permaculture in the beautiful Escola de Terra, Sintra, Portugal, I have decided to go ahead with the Diploma in Permculture, based here in the UK.

Now, where to start… I should say I start here as a complete novice of all things land-based. I have never had the pleasure of tending a garden, I have dreamed of it, I have even lived in houses with land, but I have never gotten my hands dirty, so to speak.

So I come at this whole Permaculture concept a virgen, and I have much to learn!! I only recently learned or re-learned that the sun always rises in the east… and finding my north is a big problem for me… I am hoping by sharing my journey as a newcomer then I shall help or inspire others who are afraid to even dip their toe in for fear of appearing ignorant or out of their depth, something I can relate to at this moment in time.

So we travel together and see just what comes from a seed??

The sun always rises in the east.. first lesson…

Sunrise and view from my window

Photo from my bedroom window..

Yes, believe it or not I had to ask someone about that, and then try to figure out which way my garden faces. It is south facing, which I have learned is good, more sunshine, all day. Apart from the fact that I live in Scotland, so maybe sunshine for some ten days in the whole year. This makes me wonder as well what will grow from my seeds!! Don’t we/seeds need sunshine to grow and develop? And yet I have seen some fantastic community garden’s here in Scotland growing some fantastic produce and abundantly at that, so having a south facing garden should help. Let the sun shine on my seeds…

What grows from a seed???

First plantings on 27/02/2012

Lets see what happens here, I have no idea!!


I have just signed up to do my Diploma in Permaculture, based here in the UK. After having lived for nine years in southern Spain I am in a bit of a transition, returning to my mother land, starting a new life in a little village unknown to me, starting a new course and starting to think about planning and planting a vegetable garden for the first time in my life!!!

Having visualized myself into this new stage of my life (for a few years I didn’t know what I wanted to do, where I wanted to live or how I could get there, wherever there was!!) I now find I have the garden of my long held dreams. I pictured being near the sea, having views of the sea from my window (which I have, from my bedroom and kitchen) and having a garden. All of this I pictured, all of this I wanted, all of this I dreamed of, and now the realisation has hit me that I have never gardened before and I don’t know where to start!!!

Similarly, ten years ago I visualized myself living ‘off the grid’ on a grand farm in Andalucia, surrounded by nature and living ‘the good life’ I managed to get there as well but I never managed to take care of the land… Isolation, lack of transport, public or otherwise, lack of knowledge and experience, soon drove me back to living in a city, which I don’t regret, I had many great years living in Granada and I learned a lot about myself, about the spanish culture, about survival and about living out our dreams, but NOT about gardening…

So here I am again, fortunate enough to have manifested the life of my dreams, or at least the place of one of my dreams. I should say I have a really lovely, large, lush, south facing garden. For someone who doesn’t know about gardening, who is relatively new to permaculture I have really stepped off  the deep end..

However, lack of hands-on gardening experience, lack of land-based planning design, lack of understanding of plants and natural systems does not stop me wondering, and getting excited about, what exactly will grow from a seed!!!

Last night I planted my first seeds, indoors, with great trepidation and excitement. As I was working away following the text books (no other way to do it at this stage) I thought, ‘I just do not know what will grow from these seeds’, with that I mean amounts, what will mature, what each plant will look like, how I will recognise them (apart from the obvious if they get to full fruition) how much is enough?? That is a big question for me, how much is enough? I imagined at least being able to feed myself, hopefully having enough to give bags away to visitors, even having enough to start my own catering business (another design plan) but that is probably stage two.. but when I ask the question, how much is enough? It is two-fold, or maybe many-fold, how much seed do I need to grow enough food to feed myself and within that what is enough food to feed myself and for how long? But the question of what will grow from a seed, and the question of how much is enough led me to all sorts of musings on the bigger picture: world hunger, food production, waste, what is enough, why do some people have more than enough if all it takes to feed us are a handful of seeds?

A sobering thought and a sad reflection of our times. But a spark ignited in me, and I know I am not the first to have had this spark, and I have probably arrived very late at it, but none the less a spark was ignited, that is, if I can grow vegetables from these wonderful little seeds, anyone can. From that I thought, if I can learn about permaculture, understand it, put it in practice and grow vegetables then I can plant more seeds and grow more, and I am not just talking about produce…

And so I start on the journey of recording my observations, my trials and errors and my musings.

I hope I will be joined by others along the way, those with lots of experience, those wishing to learn also, those who are taking their first steps like myself and those who are out their sowing the seeds and caring for the land and our future.

Lets see what can grow from a seed!!!