Garden design 30/07/14

Over the weekend we headed down to Duffcarraig Camphill Community in Wexford for their annual open day. It’s a fascinating place and worth the visit. Then on Monday we headed on a tour to Mountusher and Kilmacurragh Botanical gardens in Wicklow. These trips got me thinking about garden design.

Below is the last updated drawing of my own garden in Dublin which started in 2011 and shows in detail all the elements to the garden.We are leaving quite soon so I,m going to start putting the beds to green manure for the winter in the hope that whoever lives here next might take it on.  It’s been a worthwhile exercise compiling this and taking stock as there are many lessons learned.

mulvey park 2014

Three years ago when we moved in, it was the potential of the space in the garden that excited me the most. It was by no means the perfect situation to garden in. ,North facing with tall Leyland cypress on the western boundary , long and narrow.

Here is a sketch from back in 2011 just after I had put in the small greenhouse. At the time I had an allotment in Beechhill where I spent weeks preparing the beds and covering with straw only to have most of my seedling  devoured by the slugs. I remember one night ringing laura at about 11.30 and explaining that my attempts to save the crops were futile as even the onions had 4 or 5 slugs per leaf. At this stage I had asked the landlord would it be ok to put in a raised bed or two to which he said sure work away do what you like, so I decided to focus my efforts at home where I could keep a closer eye on things. The allotment being 30minutes from home was,nt really working for me. I suppose my ambitions suited very much having the living and gardening spaces together even though I had notions that this could work separately.  It took some time to see the potential of the place.

the difficulties of an urban garden

The first thing I made was this greenhouse and it went from there.

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I was thinking there recently how would I go about making a new garden and what have I learned by going this one ? What are the elements of the design and how might they be arranged. In Permaculture layouts are always site specific and closely linked to Topography. After this the elements are arrange in proximity to habitation in order of most frequently visited to seldom visited. There are exceptions eg. composting area. Below is a little diagram to illustrate the idea of variety based on topography etc. One might imagine this as a cluster of habitation in a forest for example.

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The is no such thing as a blank canvas in design the wind direction, topography, frost pockets, soil type, plant species etc all provide a start point.. IPM/ICM is now proving that beetle banks and wildlife corridors are the most effective ways at creating balance in a system so why not use this as a design idea.

This little doodle of a small holding was something I was playing with. I was thinking about light , wind and proximity .The house and the heart ( fire) is the centre of the design and is curved to track the sun during the day. This is arrange around a pond and flower garden to bring the pollinators in.  Linked to the house a glasshouse for keeping a close eye on seedlings and tender plants. To the North of the house a 1/4 acre of food forest creating a buffer and then a series of gardens divided by hedges and wildlife corridors. To the south two large tunnels on a North south axis with outdoor crops grown between rows of top fruit and a few ponds and channels to keep the fowl moving about the place.

wildlife corridor garden

The next design Idea is for an urban garden and loosely based on the elements of my own garden. It’s 12metres wide allowing for 5 long veg beds and south facing.It’s for someone who wants to make a serious dent in the food bill with a mix of annual /perennial veg as well as a top, soft ,cane and bush fruit and a mini forest garden also. Compost making is celebrated here.(Eliot Coleman style). For home use you really don,t need much more space than this as there will be surplus.

South facing town garden

This little idea is for a long narrow garden packed full of interest and surprise. Its only 4.2 metres wide.

Narrow town garden


Park life

With this beautiful run of weather  the vegetables are doing quite well. The star of the show at the minute is these french pole beans.



There is plenty of fresh fruit and veg now. Some of the plums are ripe and delicious. The first of the tomatoes have started to ripen in the past week or so also.Ready now we have, potatoes, tomatoes, basil, rocket, french beans, beetroot, turnips, kale, green peppers, radish, lettuce, courgette and carrots which are for sale.


These Brandywine tomatoes will I hope be the taste highlight of the year. Have a selection of heritage tomatoes.





A big effort is underway to water and weed regularly and to keep production up by replanting/sowing when beds are cleared. Here max has prepared the ground and sown runner beans 2 per cane. These should fly up.



The seed savers mix pepper seeds have turned into very healthy plants.




The bed in the foreground was direct sown with Brassica salad crops including radish and various leafy greens. The use of a little compost to cover the drills lightly is working well. These can be thinned depending on plant.


Here Brendan has prepared and sown a bed of salad crops using the same technique. The rounded handle of a rake is perfect for making a shallow drill. I,m delight with the enthusiasm for growing vegetables with many of the lads now wanting to grow at home.



The sweetcorn cobs are a decent size and we have shaken the plants to help pollination


The pumpkins are doing well.


A Minnesota Midge Mellon.


To control the movement of the chickens on the site we decided to try this low step over fence to discourage them from entering the tunnel. Here joe is fitting a gate to allow for wheelbarrows etc. The chickens love taking a dust bath in the tunnel but with recent sowings we wanted to keep them out.


In the past week since clearing the corner heap to keep things tidy we are introducing some new systems into our gardening. One of these is a system for the cycling of organic matter and how to deal with materials produced on site. A rota system is now in place to give everyone some responsibility in managing and learning how to keep the composting going.

Grass clippings: When possible leave to rot back into the lawn ( Cut while short). These can be used thinly for mulching veg beds inside and out as they release nitrogen when fresh and also reduce evaporation and  watering . Can also be layed as greens in the compost heap.

Branches (without many leaves) :up to 25mm to be passed through the woodchipper and spread on the paths between beds.

Branches above 25 mm to be cut into 12 inch lengths bagged and taken away for drying and use as fuel.

Thin branches ( soft wood /semi harwood with leaves) : cut with secateurs and used for aeration in the brown layer.  These can be passed through the chipper if done so combined with a few dry branches to drag them through. De leafing can be a quick job for some types the branch then be cut with secateurs.

Pine cones: stored in bags for christmas wreath

Pine needles: perfect mulch material for under fruit bushes such as gooseberries which need a low ph. Do not put in compost.

Veg waste: This can be added to the compost heap

Wildflowers / weeds: Can be added to the heap or placed underwater if problematic (bindweed)

We recently removed the top layers from the bays and were able to harvest a few cubic metres of good compost. To further refine this we made a simple riddle 540 x 800mm to fit over a wheelbarrow with handles for shaking. What passed through was some very nice compost full of life. I think its useful to keep a covered bin near the compost heap for any bits of plastic such as plant labels and pots etc that are found while turning the bays.


Gus is making off with some of the good stuff for a brassica bed.


Ben adding a layer to the compost.


Paddy preparing the ground for some Brassicas.


Ben preparing a bed also.


The potatoe beds with some rhubarb.


Squash and beans


A 20 foot bed of peas a few days from the first harvest.


Carrots and parsnips weeded and thinned with environet protection


A nice crop of beetroot


Some leeks coming on.



3rd week in July

 The bed of  first earlies are now eaten and so I recently cut the Holms on the second earlies. I used a very rough mulch on these once the were establised and here I,m removing some mulch to reveal some of the potatoes. Won,t be lifting any of these just yet so i,m just gonna cover them again for another few days untill they are needed.



The bed with the first earlies is now cleared so I transplanted a few Brassicas from pots. To do this I scraped back the surface layer of dry mulch material, Using a trowel to make  a hole, added some compost, watered well , planted the watered  plant and returned the mulch. In one section of this bed I had piled some rough compost a few weeks ago. I removed the top layers of this to find the lower levels were much more broken down and the soil was firm moist and full of life.


This bed of onions was planted in March and is now nearly ready for harvest. These are the storage onions that when dried should keep over the winter.


There are still lots of autumn planted onions and garlic to get through I have found drying these in the little greenhouses works well on the racks with good ventilation. It’s about all they are good for if you can manage to keep them from blowing away.


Picked the first of the cucumbers recently


The celery in the tunnel is ready for eating.


Think I will be lucky to get one small cob per sweetcorn plant in the small tunnel. They simply don,t have the height or full sun they need to flourish. By contrast the cobs in the work tunnel are monsters.


Apart from the challenges of shading that the garden offers, the beautiful bindweed is something that should be monitored. I say monitored because it has and will have its place in an urban garden.  In so far as is possible I cut this at the base and leave it to rot in possition. Since the neighbour had his trees topped the additional light has seen the plant scaling the trees and it  will soon seed. I think one of the greatest challenges in urban gardening is dealing with boundaries. Plants along hedge boudaries in the city are typically fast growing dense non native and are sometimes  poorly maintained. We tend to have access to one side only, so while I pull of cut or whatever my neighbour might spray. Growing vegetables in close proximity to others whose methods may vary is fine but I do wonder about the effect this might have on the food. Luckily the air quality around here seems ok as my neighbours sycamore has tarspot a good air quality indicator. I think some of what are termed  ‘weeds’  are the most beautiful of plants and all the more beautiful for their ability to outsmart our efforts to supress them. 


This is Zoe Devlins new book ‘The Wildflowers of Ireland’  with colour photos. It’s a lovely fit in the pocket field guide. What comes accross in this book and on the website http://www.wildflowersof is a love for plants. I,m very much enjoying looking about with this one in the bag. 


The other book I,ve been looking at this week is ‘Biological control in Plant Protection’. Fascinating stuff but what’s very encouraging in IPM/ICM is how many of the techniques employed by Organic growers and gardeners like beetle banks for example and the encouragement of diversity are the best and cheapest way to create a balance within a system. This balance is afterall what is needed whereby pest and predator are both present. The future of farming is in deepening our understanding of the dramas playing out between plants and animals under our noses.


A nice plantain by the pond ( think balance when ‘weeding’)


This lily flowered today


Poppies just coming into flower.


A little flower arranging


The pumpkin heading out the back door of the tunnel.


Broccoli Spears. If you cut the main head this encourages more spears


I,m thinking the garden is now at its peak for this season.





The menu is quite good at the minute but we are eagerly antisipating the first of the tomatoes at home, it wont be long now. I suppose the ripening of the tomato and those first mouth watering bites is one of those great moments in the gardening year. But for the lack of an olive tree we can pretend we are dining in provence with basil, garlic, Tomato




Mid July 2014

In the home garden annual Mallow (Lavatera trimestris) has started to flower.


The sunflowers(Helianthus annuus) also starting to flower these were grown from seed save from the best head from last year.


By the small pond the angels fishing rod (Dierama pulcherrimum) is also starting to flower.


The Marigolds (Calendula officinalis) now in flower.


The cucumbers are starting to swell now, I just remove the side shoots and on this variety (market more) it is recommended to remove the male flowers to prevent bitterness.


The Jerusalem Artichokes are heading for 7 feet tall (relative of the sunflower). They produce a tuber which can be boiled and eaten like potato. Retain the least bumpy tubers  for replanting next year at 2 foot apart. They dont required strict rotation.


The second crop of peas are now ready


With the ducks gone the space in the dome is being used to grow on plants for a mates wedding as gifts for the guests. As we will be giving up the house in the autumn I figured it would be nice to use up the remain compost and pots by also giving away plants to friends.


The outdoor bush tomatoes are covered in flowers and are well worth having. The only downside is that they crop over a short period of perhaps 2 weeks. Tomatoes can be frozen without peeling or blanching . Freese on trays then into freezer bags, this prevents sticking.


I,ve become quite keen on the idea of Polyculture, thats growing a range of different plant  families together. I base this around a main family that is being rotated as this is still important especially for Onions, Brassicas and Potatoes peas not so much but more for nitrogen building. For example below this area will in time be taken over by raspberry canes, untill they have establised im using the space for Brassicas flowers and herbs etc. Not that I will be about to see this but thats the plan anyway.


The bed in the foreground has Cucurbita (pumpkin and a courgette) as its main rotation in terms of yearly planning but there is also some sweetcorn and runnerbeans , nasturtiams, leaf beet, Evening primrose etc in there. The trick is to judge the spacings and remove/ harvest the faster growing plants as the others require more room. The increased diversity mimics something closer to a more natural system where a whole range of plants grow together. Interestingly there has,nt been any damage to the Brocolli or other brassica leaves growing among many other plants. Last year there was a lot of Mealy cabbage aphids.


Trays of salads which will be transplanted later.


In work the carrots and parsnips got a weeding and thinning to 1 Inch apart. We replaced the environet afterward to protect against carrot root fly. Cover the thinnings in the compost heap.

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Here we are direct sowing a bed of brassica salads. The bed was cleared, raked and watered. Then the shallow drills were made using the handle of a rake. The seed is then placed at the correct spacing in the drill.

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Instead of raking accross the top of the drills we sprinkled a little compost. This is much finer material and makes it easy to control the depth of cover and contact between seed and sowing medium. This is watered gently with a fine rose can. The germination rate was good picks to follow next week.

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The hedgerows are looking great at the moment. Below are a few plants seen in Newcastle west Demesne last Saturday. This is meadow sweet (Filipendula ulmaria) it can be found in damp places in ditches and near streams. The flowering heads brewed in boiling water makes a tea which is good for Heartburn and nausea.


This is a meadowsweet leaf.


This is Enchanters nightshade  (Circaea spp)


This is Tufted Vetch ( Vicia cracca) a member of the pea family and fixes atmospheric nitrogen. Its blue flowers are very attractive to bees and has been used as a fodder for cattle.


This is figwort (Scrophularia nodosa) uses include the treatment of piles and ulcers.


This is Great Willowherb (Epilobium hirsutum)

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This is Black Medick (Medicago Lupulina) note the needle like tip on leaves and yellow flower looking like clover. It is another member of the pea family and its seeds can be sprouted like alfalfa( Lucerne).


This is knapweed (Centaurea nigra) It looks a bit like a thistle without the prickles and is a good butterfly plant . It is a food plant of Painted Lady, Small Tortoiseshell, Meadow Brown, , Common Blue, Large White.


This plant is Nipplewort (Lapsana communis) In the 16th century the “Doctrine of signatures” says that god gave clues to the uses of plants in their structures. The flower heads looking like nipples meant this one was used to help treat soar nipples. Must take a closer look at liverwort and lungwort.


As a gardener I would encourage anyone who wants to get a better understanding of how to grow vegetables etc or how permaculture works to start looking much more carefully at natural systems and test thing out yourself. I,m barely scratching the surface of what I would like to investigate test and tryout. The world around us is our garden and we can garden if we choose to.








Veg box

The pumpkins in the tunnels were starting to go a bit crazy rambling a bit too much so we have started to stop the main leaders and keep an eye on the side shoots. Within a few days of doing this the fruit that had set started to fly. Here we are using bits of slate to help prevent rotting.

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This pumpkin at home has been partly covered in compost to allow for additional rooting at the node. It will be out the door soon. Amazing plants you can nearly watch them growing.


This is Danny and myself gathering  some veggies including , carrots , Tomatoes , Courgette, Garlic, Broadbeans. We have started preparing a veg box twice a week for onsite staff with whatever we have ready.

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Some fresh garlic

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Some fresh carrots.

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A veg box heading of to the day centre with all of the above and some Nero di Toscana kale ,fresh basil  Courgettes and Rocket.

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The courgettes are producing well , just have to keep an eye out for potential marrows and remove to keep the plants going.

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The peas at home doing well these past 2 weeks.


With the hot weather it has proven difficult to keep the trays watered in work, especially over the weekend when no one is about. It’s simply too long to leave them unattended and the germination in a recent batch was terrible. It’s easier to do this at home and bring in healthy plants. I use a 2 litre mister from fruithill farm when its not been raining.


Here  Brendan giives a sense of scale to the sweetcorn. They are now at the roof. They were block planted, have been shaken for pollination and most have 2 cobs forming.

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This little patch of basil is now ready for its first cut. When harvesting one is supposed to cut right back to about an inch or so above ground leaving a few leaves from which it will re grow. It’s not good for the plants to pick individual leaves.

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I love this, it’s roberts runnerbean wigwam with nasturtiams and sweetpeas.

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Sprouting peas, Cress and Alfalfa(Lucerne) at home.


The Chillies are just starting on this plant.

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The french beans on 10 foot canes.

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With the wet weather recently the polytunnel got a weeding blitz hopefully it can be kept clean. The tomatoes have been side shooted, lower leaves pruned and trained up their strings so hopefully they will pick up a little. The stinky nettle tea is great for feeding once the fruit have set.

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The corner heap being cleared with paddy on the digger.

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It’s been lovely seeing it all come together.



Garden walks near Bandon


On Wednesday I  headed for Bandon and join some fellow D.L. students from the Organic College. The weather was perfect and there was plenty of interest with three very different approaches to growing vegetables and lifestyle choices. Our First stop was Thyme cottage a small enterprise on 1.2 acres developed by Stan Pasley over the past 35 years or so. This is a must see place for what can be done in a relatively small back garden sized space.

The site is a long retangular strip running east west with 2 large tunnels and stretch limo style raised beds orientatated in this direction. To the rear of the cottage the image below shows a small but wonderfully organised lean too glass house where seeds are sown. Every detail of this operation has been carefully considered. Below garlic can be seen drying upside down in slatted rows. In the foreground compost is stored in a shallow box with lid preventing drying out. Seeds are placed in a woodturned bowl with heavy base to prevent them spilling and when transplanting dibbers have been made to match the exact size of the modules being used. Stan carefully waters the soil then literally pops the transplant straight in the perfectly sized hole.


These are the dibbers used for transplanting, beautifully made objects with brass handles.


The view below shows approx the first 1/3 of the garden planted with fruit and nut trees (Hazel cob nuts). The apple tree varieties include Ardcurran  Russet, Katie, Beauty of Bath and ashes from the wood stove are used to promote fruiting.


Beyond the apple trees moving away from the house there are a number of homemade fruit cages. This one had some redcurrants and cultivated blackberries. The gound is covered with the blue lined mypex(.twice the thickness of the green stuff). Pyrethrum is used to to help against sawfly. Liquid seaweed is used when berries are starting. The cage is made from tubular steel and the netting is sized slightly bigger on top as birds don’t tend to dive bomb , this allows snow through. The side netting is smaller to prevents birds getting in.


Here we are looking at a row maker  tool. Stan sows carrot varieties resistafly,  Flyaway and Laguna at 15cm stations, two seeds per station by hand and does,nt use netting inside for carrot root fly. To sow carrots he makes the drill then smooths with a metal bar. Next a fine rose watering with added seaweed sloution, sowing and raking over. The overhead sprinklers are used untill the carrots have establised and then the drip feed is used.


The tunnel follows a B.A.S.L. rotation plan with 4 main beds of 1.2 metres. These run the lenth of the tunnel 22.5 metres. Paths are about 13 or 14 inches and marked out with baler twine. The slightly narrower side beds are on rotation with the side beds from the second tunnel. Below lower growing chillies are  in the Solanacea part of the rotation around the edges. The attention to detail in the planning of all this is quite something.



Some singularly sown lettuce with drip feed irrigation. The bed marking string can be seen along the edge of the path. Ideally stan recommends a third run of leaky pipe for a 1.2 metre bed width. At the moment the overhead is helping out a little. The tunnel is 22.5x 9 metres and uses a clip rail system. Electric has been installed from the main house. Each 22.5x 1.2 bed has been estimated at producing about 300 of veg and 600 euro if cropped twice in a year.


This year stan is growing about 50 tomato plants (Red Cherry ans Shirley) in a double row. He uses a light misting with water to help polination. Generally he cuts out all second leaders and sideshoots and uses twine overhead to support any heavily laiden limbs that may break judgeing the support point to balance the weight.  Well rotted manure is added to the soil in the B and S parts of the rotation using a tiller.


Stan talked about the low humidity recently and how he stops his french beans when they get too close to the polythene. This prevents condensation driping and potential grey mould. The soil here is a heavy clay.  Below we walk past a bed of onions grown from seed varieties include Sturon, Golden Bear and Ailsa craig (very large ) The spring onion variety growing is ramrod sown sucessionally. A euro is charged for 8 stems.


The cucumber varieties include Bella Cumlaude (Garden Organic) and Sticks (Suffolk Herbs).When planting the cucumbers he makes little monds such that the roots are level with the surrounding soil surface. He also recommends growing celeriac and parsnips inside.

Stan grows Parthenon courgettes which are F1 and are self fertile meaning they do not rely on insects to polinate them.

Watering is fully automated in the tunnels with the ability for drip and overhead. At the moment the timer allows for 9 minutes drip feed 4 times a day. Both ends of the tunnel completely open as well as a slit that can be opened on the tunnel roof.


Fans have been installed should additional airflow be required. Humidity is monitored closely.


Outside all vegetables are grown in long raised beds a sort of stretch limo style. Weeding is done by hand to prevent root disturbance. This is an example of a very carefully planned system of growing and you gotta take your hat off to what has been realised here. The system is not reliant on wooofers and when fully running can produce a good part time income.


Our next stop was Agnes Organic Farm run by Brenda and Eugene Walsh. The style of growing is in complete contrast to stans. Here again crops are grown using the B.A.S.L. rotation. This is interpreted in years rather than one crop following another meaning that leeks could be followed by onion for example while potatoes would only need a few months of their year. The 4 main families are grown in separate fields in long beds with wide spacing to accomadate a tractor moving between them.They look like this.

A typical field with veg


A bed within the field


This system of growing has been done here for about 7 years and simply involves cutting grass from nearby fields  which includes ‘weeds’ and mulching a strip of ground such that the grass undeneat is killed of and in about 4 weeks can be scratched back and transplanted  into. Once the crops are in, the grass is then placed around them to act as a mulch retaining moisture breaking down and feeding the beds. Below Eugene is dealing with a Dock by Crimping it. This is a very interesting idea indeed where the weed is,nt pulled out but instead folded over a little and injured with a punch. The idea is that the roots try to repair the plant in vain but continue to pump up moisture. Not cutting or pulling means new weed growth is not encouraged and makes a lot of sense. This system is both no dig and does,nt require outside imputs like F.Y.M. etc.


Slugs can be a problem and as Eugene says “they are in there” Potatoes are planted near the surface and mulched to prevent light greening the tubers. Throught the growing season more grass is applied. Much of the work involved with this system is in the cutting and spreading of the mulch around the plants and Eugene says there never seems to be enough material to spread. Interestingly the profile of the beds seems to have a concave profile even though material is being added. I wonder if this is due to the removal of dry material (harvesting) The ground here is good and fertility tests have shown the indeces have been improved dramatically using this method so it’s not the case that it’s the land alone without the mulch !

What’s really good about this is the simplicity of the method that could be used on any farm.  It’s a slow process where one literally teams up with microbes just like in the book Teaming with Microbes. The weeds especially those with tap roots are the dynamic accumulators bring up the nutrients. One of the things that struck me with this method was the large amount of land needed for grass cutting verses the amount planted with veg and yet there was never enough grass available and  I wonder if perhaps alley croping and incorporating trees, shrubs and elements of agro foresty / permaculture design with all those different layers might remove even more work from the method and need for moving nutrients about manually. By no means is this a lazy mans system of growing its just that the work to be done is different.

Here we lifted a garlic which is a good size for market and will fetch a euro.


The last stop after luch was to the Hollies community where Selvi Iyilikci gave us a tour of the gardens and site. I have wanted to visit for a long time but never made it. Inside one of the polytunnels with a jungle feel. The teaching/market gardens are near the entrance on what was stony marginal land. The soil was improved by mulching with cardboard and covering with F.Y.M.


Inside the tunnel are figs, vines, peaches and nectarines as well as annual vegetable. Below runner beans are doing well with calendula planted near the doors.


The garden is layed out with access paths and curving beds and is looking really beautiful


Alliums interplanted with oakleaf lettuce





The sauna near the wildlife and bathing pond


A cob structure


The surrounding countryside


This is indeed a beautiful place and a living example of what can be achieved when we work together.. As yet I have not experience what it is like to live and work within a community like this but I look forward to this when we  travel later in the year. I think there is a real skill in learning to live and work with others that is lost in todays world. A great day out!