April 17

The biggest bang for your buck with bees (and other pollinators)

I have been looking a lot at lists of plants for bees and butterflies because I made myself a promise that this year I would add plants to the wildlife plot so that  there would at least one more that flowers each month.

So many people have lists and they each have different plants on them which I think suggests that actually it is quite site specific and what bees in one part of the country go for is not always the same across the country. Lists that I use are:

  • RHS – very good list of loads of plants classified according to when they flower. I am using the plants for gardens list but they also have a wildflower list and a plants of the world list. The wildflower list has plants for ponds so that will be useful. They also have three research papers based around Plants for Bugs – bees and other pollinators, plant-dwelling invertebrates and ground-active invertebrates with some interesting findings which I will talk about in a separate post.
  • The Wildlife Trust doesn’t have the biggest list but almost everything that is on it is in the wildlife garden – not surprising because the whole plot was set up by the Devon branch.
  • The Bumblebee Conservation Trust has plants divided into groups according to whether they are shade or sun-loving.
  • The Butterfly Conservation trust has a list of plants for butterflies, many of which are on the RHS list but also has a caterpillar food plant list.
  • Goulson Lab created by Dave Goulson, an expert on bees and other insects in the garden, has a list with stars for their desirability by pollinators.

Bang for your buck!

So, what has proved most popular on the Exmouth Hamilton Lane wildlife garden? In March and April, the plants that have had the most pollinators are:

Red-tailed bumble bee on Vinca major

Buff or white-tailed bumble bee on Symphytum ‘Hidcote Pink’.

Something unidentified yet on the grape hyacinth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Vinca major – this has been full of a range of bumble bees and other pollinators (Western bee-fly) and yet is not a plant on any of the lists!
  • Skimmia japonica – this plant hums with pollinators every time you walk past it and smells delicious
  • Symphytum ‘Hidcote Pink’ – this is a member of the comfrey family and drips with pollinators in both the sun and semi-shade. Again, this particular type of comfrey does not appear on the lists.
  • Grape hyacinths for pollinators other than bumble bees

 

April 4

Climate and weather

Module 5 of the online permaculture course is all about climate. It’s important because climate helps to refine a design. But how does it do this?

Knowledge of climate can help us:

  • choose the correct techniques, e.g. raised beds or beds dug into the soil that can be flooded
  • choose the right sort of plants and animals
  • choose the right sort of materials to use and whether we want to insulate or build in thermal mass, e.g. greenhouses in cold climates with insulating walls, the amount of ventilation needed in a house.

It is often said that Britain doesn’t have a climate, it has weather. Friends of mine from the centre of France only understood why the British were so interested in the weather when they lived here. In France where they lived, the weather was fairly consistent from day to day and over the seasons. In fact, the weather used to be set for day after day after day whereas here we can have rain, shine, snow and a storm all in one day.

So, what determines climate?  There are seven factors which affect climate: Latitude, ocean currents, elevation, topography, near by water, prevailing wind and vegetation.

Latitude

The nearer to the equator the the more sun  because the sun hits the equator more directly and in a more concentrated manor. The earth is tilted 23.5 degrees on its axis and this means that for half the year the north is tilted towards the sun and then away from the sun (and vice versa for the south) so the rays hit the earth at a different angle and intensity than they do at the equator. The latitude of the equator is 0° and for the Britain 50°  (Cornwall) to 60°  (Shetland Isles). Exmouth is 50.6°N.

Ocean currents

Ocean currents are a very important element for the climate of Britain. As a small island, in comparison with Europe, we are very affected by them. A line drawn from London around the globe would pass through southern Siberia and near Hudson Bay in Canada yet London is much milder in winter. The reason for this is the ocean current, specifically the Gulf Stream which brings warm water from the Caribbean.

Devon has the longest coastline of any region in the UK, having coastline on the north and south of the county.

Elevation

In general, for every 100m that you go up, the temperature drops by 1°. Air is less dense at altitude, the molecules are more dispersed than at sea level. As a result of this the molecules do not bump into each other so much and therefore produce less heat. In Exmouth we are at sea level so there is no reduction in the temperature due altitude.

Topography

Topography is how the geography of the place affects the weather and ultimately the climate. Hills or mountains can create rain and the weather can be different on the windward or leeward side. There can be a funneling of winds due to the shape of the land and a large body of water such as a lake or reservoir can also create milder temperatures.

The west of the UK is higher than the east through plate movements many, many years ago. The prevailing winds are south westerly and this means that there is a lot more rain in the west compared with the east. However, Exmouth is in the rain shadow of Dartmoor as evidenced by the comparison rainfall chart for Princetown on Dartmoor , windward side of the moor and Exmouth (leeward side of the moor). Our rainfall is about half or less of that in Princetown.

J F M A M J J A S
Princetown in mm 219 169 162 109 120 116 112 133 156
Exmouth in mm 88 69 62 63 64 61 59 67 60

We are in a temperate climate with cool, wet winters and warm, wet summers but that is not the same for the whole country. The south east is cold and dry in the winter and warm and dry in the summer. The north west has mild winters and cool summers with heavy rain all year round and the north east has cold winters and warm summers with steady rain all year.

The nearest place to Exmouth with a different climate is Gran Canaria which has a sub tropical climate with hot summers and mild winters and is a place many people from the UK visit in the winter.

The Koppen-Geiger Classification

This is a climate classification system based on the vegetation that grows in a place because plants depend on temperature and precipitation to grow. There are 5 climates – A. tropical, B. Dry, C. Temperate, D. Continental and E. Polar.  These are then divided into sub-categories according to level of precipitation and then the level of heat. The UK is Cfb which is temperate (or ocean), the f stands for no dry season and the b is the temperature of each of four warmest months 10 °C or above but warmest month less than 22 °C. Using maps based on this system from 1901 to 2010 it can be seen that there is an increase in aridity across the world and a decrease in polar regions.

The USDA hardiness zones are used world wide to denote the type of plants that will grow in that region. Most of the UK is zone 8 but here in Exmouth we are in zone 9 meaning that the lowest average temperature is -6.7°C.

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has its own hardiness classification but applies it to plants rather than locations. It works on the theory that we all have microclimates in our gardens and therefore can place a wider range of plants than one overall rate of hardiness might suggest.

March 26

Flow in permaculture

If you know the TV programme The Fast Show, you will be familiar with Jesse and his sayings “This week I have been mostly …” I am looking a bit like Jesse at the moment because I really need my hair cutting and we have very strong winds so

This week I have been mostly looking at flow and pattern!

We have already covered the flow pattern called succession and are now concentrating on the flow of energy in wind, water and I am also going to include people in this because they are relevant to my site. The main focus of our work has been what happens when the flow meets an object – how it moves around it and how that differs depending on the speed or velocity of the flow and applying that to our patch of land.

Because my patch of land is right by the sea, flow has had a very obvious impact on it, creating the dunes in the first place but wind, water and people continue to shape it. It starts at the eastern end at the entrance/exit to a temporary car park which is necessary for the influx of visitors in the summer. The beach, however, is the other side of the road so most people that come out of the carpark need to cross the road and the quickest way to do so is walk up the patch of land to get to the edge of the road. These shortcuts, known as desire lines,  usually show designers where they have got things wrong! They are the paths or flows of least resistance and the land can become quite eroded depending on the number of feet that pass by on them. The path also  doesn’t go straight up or down but comes in at an angle.

It would be quite possible to build a set of steps here that flare out at the bottom, mirroring the erosion but would what happened in this picture happen because we know it is just quicker to walk up. Actually, in this instance I would formalise that path as well so that people have a choice about which to use.

In fact, desire paths are so common, and in some instances so fascinating, that Reddit users document them.

 

I have talked about the wind and the impact it has on this patch of land and some of its edges before but this patch has one difficult, solid edge where a wall and pavement meet. In a southerly blow, the sand hits the wall and drops to the base where one of the road sweepers that keep the beach area looking neat and tidy sweeps up the sand and puts it in his cart to empty it else where I am presuming.  I have often wondered what would happen if they didn’t. Would that paved area fill up eventually and join up with the dune/land at the same level?

Contrary to most edges, I think this is one of those edges that does not increase yield or create a third space that is richer than either side of it.

Are there any lines or paths of desire on walks you do?

March 24

Perennial vegetables for the wildlife plot

I have two goals this year for the wildlife garden on the allotments. The first is to sort out the bed under the apple tree.  It has become overrun with vinca, which has run half way down the plot and will run down the other half if I don’t take action now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I was digging it up, I had the company of a red-tailed bumble bee proving that the flowers are very useful early in the season for insects. This helped me make the decision to leave a reasonable sized clump but to keep it strictly under control. Once some of the vinca was removed I found a gooseberry, 5 strawberry plants, potentilla, mock orange, acquilegia and a large clump of geranium.

The second action is to plant perennial vegetables on the plot. I haven’t got the time to sow and look after more annual crops but sow and plant perennials once and they are then there for good.  I have some cuttings from my perennial kale that I took in the autumn which have taken so one or two of those can go in but I need more than that.  Below is a list of veg that I will start to collect:

  • Asparagus – why wouldn’t you have this?!
  • 9 star perennial broccoli which is really a cauliflower, go figure
  • Globe artichokes – I have sown some of these and they are up but tiny
  • Jerusalem artichokes – an acquired taste but I do like them and I have lots of them already.
  • Sea beet – sometimes known as wild spinach and supposed to taste very good
  • Sea kale – there is a bit of a maritime theme going on here.
  • Narrow-leaved plantain, sometimes called a weed, with lots already on the plot!

On most of the sites that focus on perennial vegetables the flower day lilies appears with everyone saying how lovely the flowers taste.  I have day lilies in my garden so will divide them and bring some to the plot and try them this year.

Do you grow any perennial vegetables that you would recommend I grow?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 21

10 things I didn’t know about soil

I was given  a couple of books for Christmas about soil. I read the fun-looking one a while ago but left the more serious one, Teaming with Microbes by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis,  and have only just got round to it. It turns out that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. I learnt masses from the second book so here are my top 10 amazing facts.

  1. I have heard plants being called fast carbon pathways but haven’t ever really understood why. It turns out that as a result of photosynthesis, carbohydrates move back down a plant to the roots and then drip out of them. These carbohydrates and proteins that come out of the roots are known as exudates and are what attract the fungi and bacteria in the soil to them.  Bacteria and fungi are eaten by protozoa and nematodes and their waste is absorbed by the plants as nutrients all of which happens in the rhizosphere which which is about 1mm around the root system of a plant.  I like the analogy that is used in the book of bacteria and fungi being the small bags of fertilizer and the protozoa and nematodes act as fertilizer spreaders. All of this is controlled by the plant. Soil life provides the nutrients needed for plant life and plants initiate and fuel the cycle by producing exudates.
  2. Some plants prefer soil dominated by bacteria, others by fungi. I knew that there are organisms in the soil but I didn’t know that plants had preferences.
  3. Most vegetables, annuals and grasses prefer soil with more bacteria and their nitrogen in nitrate form.
  4. Most trees, shrubs and perennials prefer fungally dominated soils. In general, the longer a plant stays in the soil, the more it likes a fungally dominated soil. It make sense really. Annual plants are over in a year or less and that isn’t conducive to the hyphae on the fungi having enough time to grow and spread out.  In fact, the bacterial numbers in the soil stay the same, it is the fungal numbers that increase.
  5. The compost that we add to a soil inoculates it with the micro organisms in it. The aged brown material we add feeds the fungus and the green stuff provides the sugars for the bacteria. Kelp and rock dust can be added to compost heaps and they provide food for fungal growth.
  6. Worm compost is rich in bacteria with very little fungal activity. That makes sense. The worms eat the scraps we put in and the microbes in their digestive system break them down. It is therefore best used on annual vegetables.
  7. Bacteria need more moisture than fungi and work quicker if the materials are ground up or shredded. This fits in with making the 18 day compost using the Berkeley method (which I still haven’t mastered yet!).
  8. The best way to support fungi is to spread a compost made with more brown material than green with the addition of rock dust if you have it. After this has been spread you could then mulch with wood chippings which will break down more slowly. I was thinking about raspberry canes when I read this.
  9. There are two types of mycorrhizae: ectomycorrhizea and endomycorrhizae and plants prefer one rather than the other. Ectomycorrhizea grow around the roots of a plant and surround them, endomycorrhizae  grow into the cells of the roots of a plant. Some mycorrhizae can act as ecto with one plant and endo with another. Fascinating and very flexible!
  10. It is worth using mycorrhizal fungi when transplanting all plants other than brassicas and chenopodia (spinach, beetroot etc). They do not utilise mycorrhizae.

There are a variety of actions that can develop bacteria and fungi in the soil – adding compost, mulching (or combine the two and mulch with compost!) and using actively aerated compost teas. I am still getting my head around these teas – they involve an air pump or being stirred for hours and so are not for the faint-hearted.  What is easier to understand are the actions can damage the soil food web.

  • Digging the soil will break up the rhizosphere, the hyphae on the fungi and destroy the structure of the soil created by the micro-organisms.
  • Chemical fertilisers, insecticides, pesticides and fungicides affect the soil food web being toxic to some organisms, warding off others and changing the environment. When plants are fed chemically, the bacterial and fungal relationships with the plant are not formed, the microbial populations reduce as a result and the plant then needs constant chemical feeding.

If you are interested in the soil food web, Dr Elaine Ingham is the queen of this science and her How it Works videos explain the processes much more clearly than I can.

I am going to have to read the other book written by Lowenfel and Lewis – Teaming with Nutrients.

March 18

Patterns on a plot of land

We’ve been studying patterns and all of a sudden, they are everywhere. It really is about looking through a filter and although I am not very good at it yet, I am definitely noticing more than I did before.

The plot, outlined in red here, is across the road from the beach and is part of a big pattern of sand dunes created many years ago. From the 1880s onwards the land was used as as a links golf course and some of the bunkers can still be seen.

A road then divided the course from the beach and with pavements and play centres built, the dunes became part of the built environment, parts often becoming separated from each other.

But whilst the sand dunes no longer have access to the sea, they are still building and being blown away in minature on the plot of land.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sand dune that constitutes this plot of land is at the end of the yellow dune and the start of the grey dune phase. It is definitely no longer mobile but the main plant growing on it is grass which is stabilising it.

The first pattern obvious when you move down onto the lower pavement is one of a wave alongside the edge where the sand meets the pavement. Whilst edges are some of the most productive places, this one doesn’t seem to be but I think that is probably because people walk on it because the pavement is not wide enough for groups.

 

 

 

In order for sand dunes to be made, you need two media, sand and wind, where the wind  blows sand, deposits it and then blows it away again. In geographic terms, deposition and erosion. Whilst the dunes behind the beach are quite stable, this piece of land has mini dunes on it. The wind blows the sand which gets trapped by the grass on the land and is then eventually blown off, hitting the wall opposite it and deposited at the base of the wall. The ripples in the sand come from the patterns on the base of trainers rather than anything nature has created. Although hard to see, the pattern is again a wave pattern.

Here, the sea beet is moving out from the fence post which offers some protection from the wind in a scatter pattern relating to how the seed has fallen, almost in an explosion pattern.

A book I am reading to gain more knowledge about reading the land is How to Read the Landscape by Patrick Whitefield.

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 14

Using nature’s patterns

In nature there are a limited number of patterns but an infinite number of variations. Take a snowflake: there are no two snowflakes that are the same although they are all formed in a similar way.

The air temperature and the humidity, to some degree, determine the basic shape of the snowflake. We get needle-like crystals at -1.6°C and flat, plate-like crystals at -15°C. The shape of one arm of a snowflake is determined by the atmospheric conditions as it falls; the temperature or humidity might change as it falls and this affects how the water crystal grows and also explains why the six arms are identical. They all experience the same conditions at the same point. Anyway, these patterns are symmetrical and fascinating, so what about others.

In nature we can find waves, lobes, spirals, clouds, branching patterns and scatters all of which are patterns of growth, and nets which are patterns of lateral tension, distribution of weight, storage of energy and shrinkage.

I am going to look at three patterns in a bit more detail: branching patterns, explosion patterns and spirals.

Branching patterns

Orchid flower

Alocasia sanderiana

Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’

 

 

 

 

 

 

With thanks to Meghan Rocktopus

Branching patterns (sometimes called dendritic or fractal patterns) can be one of the easiest patterns to spot. They can be found in leaves, roots, rivers and our circulatory and nervous systems to name but a few places. Looking closely at the three photos taken of plants inside and outside my house, I can see that they have slightly different ways of branching. A little research on the internet suggests that there might be 19 different branching patterns. The Alocasia looks more like a distichous or pinnate branching with the orchid more of a dichotomous branching and the Cornus a trichotomous. This isn’t really important knowledge for permaculture purposes, just of interest to me.

Branching patterns are found where there is a gathering and dispersal of materials or energy. At a micro level they are essential for the efficient exchange of  gases and fluids with the environment due to the maximised surface area.

So how could we use these as permaculture designers? Branching patterns are well-suited to roads and paths where something needs to be distributed across a wide area. Branching patterns can also relate to the organisation of people such as a large, hierarchical company where who line manages who is depicted. For an example of a branching pathway (cervicorn – branching like antlers) used in a permaculture design see p11 of Mobile home garden design by Aranya. Look on the right-hand side of the design next to the decking.

Exploding patterns

Weeds in my garden!

Back to the snowflake patterns which would fit into this category. The image shows two weeds in my garden that both have an exploding pattern in 2d with the leaves lying flat on the ground. You can see how they layer over each other in the weed on the right (I’m not sure what it is called) and in fact it is almost symmetrical with 10 leaves on the lower layer. It is obvious how the arrangement of leaves allows it to gain maximum sunshine and I do wonder if it does well in slightly shady spots where this photo was taken. There is a very direct route between the central point and each external point  in complete contrast to a spiral where the central point is a long way away from the end point if you follow the spiral around.

This explosion, however, is the dried flower of Allium x ‘Globemaster’ with some seeds left in the seedheads. The flowerhead is made up of hundreds of little flowers in a beautiful purple during late May early June.  It is an excellent example of a pattern within a pattern within a pattern because it is an explosion making a sphere with some branching at the end of each individual flowerhead. You get a really clear picture of how the seeds are dispersed all around the plant, some near and some slightly further away.

 

Some towns and cities have an explosion pattern built up over time. They may well have started off as a nucleated settlement but then have grown over time, spread out along main roads finishing with some isolated housing which eventually becomes part of the main settlement. Lisbon is one city that shows an explosion pattern of settlement.

 

So, how can we use this pattern in design? This is an image of La Ferme du Bec Hellouin in Normandy, France. Below the polytunnels can clearly be seen an exploding pattern set of beds all coming off a central point. Often in walled gardens there would be a well or water store in the centre of this type of pattern, making it quicker and easier to water the beds – or nowadays a tap on a standpipe from a gravity-fed reservoir on higher land. This link gives a closer view of the bed.

And finally, spiral patterns.

These are another type of fractal pattern frequently demonstrated through a snail shell, sunflower head, climbing tendrils on sweet peas and in weather systems.

Euphorbia myrsinites

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The euphorbia above has a spiral in a spiral. First the leaves spiral around each stem and then each stem spirals out of a central point. I did wonder if the whole plant was an example of an explosion but the stems curl round rather than being straight so I am putting it in the spiral group, not unlike weather patterns. The spiral arrangement of leaves on a plant is to ensure maximum exposure to sunlight and for the seeds. Spirals are able to capture and slow down energy such as in a herb spiral, that ubiquitous permaculture plant bed. To be fair, they are space-saving and allow for different types of herb to be grown, making use of the different amounts of moisture in different parts of the bed.

 

Photo from Olds College, Flickr

https://www.tomatocages.org/tomatocage/tomato-spirals.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So how else can we use spirals?

I have a number of spiral plant supports which I use for tomatoes in particular. They are tall, narrow spirals which you can twist the stems around as they grow. But there are also other spirals that can be used as plant supports. The third image shows a support that allows climbers to go up and the final one supports flower heads. I use one of these on a peony.

A vortex is a spiral where the air or water swirls around and anything caught in the motion is pulled into the centre. One place where this can be used in the garden is in free flow water features to aerate the water. They are based on an idea from Rudolf Steiner and shown through Drop Test Pictures developed by Theodore Schwenk. Water moves in patterns down a river and creates patterns when a drop is released. Pollution in the water will change the patterns formed so tap water gives a different and lower quality pattern to water fresh from an unpolluted stream. The free form fountains mix water and oxygen together providing support for organisms to break down pollutants and is reported to increase and stimulate plant growth.

Do you use any patterns from nature in your garden?

A book I have bought to read as a result of this module on patterns in nature is Patterns in Nature: Why the natural world looks the way it does by Philip Ball.

March 7

Where does it come from and where does it go?

Whatever we take, we must return.

Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual by Bill Mollison p12

Everything we use comes from somewhere and goes somewhere after we have finished with it.  The permaculture ethic, Earth Care, demands that we consider how we live and the impact that we have on the planet. If we eat food that we grow, it is easy to say where it has come from and where it goes afterwards. There seems to be a saying in permaculture that in nature there is no such thing as waste; the leaves that fall break down and provide nutrients for the micro-organisms in the soil, broken branches eventually rot and do the same, bird droppings provide fertiliser for nearby plants. Everything is in a large and sometimes complex loop where nothing is wasted. And in permaculture, we are using nature’s systems to learn from and replicate where appropriate. We know that we need to reduce our waste and so this task is about making me more aware of the issues involved in every day products that I use. Just the sort of activity for a wet afternoon.

I have chosen bubble bath to look at in more detail because I do love bubble bath and it does make cleaning out the bath after use much easier. In fact, if I think about the water, I should be having short showers rather than a bath but will leave that aside for now. I won’t name the bubble bath because it is not about the manufacturer but more about me, my behaviours and what I know about products that I regularly use. I have chosen to use Milkwood’s Life Cycle Analysis Tool to guide me through this process.

What are the ingredients of the product?

Aqua (do they  mean water?), sodium laureth sulfate, sodium chloride, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Parfum, styrene/acrylates copolymer, DMDM hydantoin, Glycerin, Disodium EDTA, Citric acid, sodium hydroxide, polyquarternium-7 

Cosmeticsinfo.org has really good information about many of these ingredients as well as the individual sites I have linked to.

All of the ingredients are chemically made and many of the websites I looked at said that they were safe in the quantities allowed in cosmetics. Something to think about.  Because they are made chemically, there will be waste products as a result of manufacture of each item and then the bubble bath itself.

The bubble bath is made in the UK so whilst there will be quite a few miles before it gets to me, it isn’t as bad as some items.

There is waste produced as a result of using it – contaminated water that will need more cleaning than if I hadn’t used it. The packaging is recyclable and contains 25% recycled plastic. I did read that the supermarket’s own brands are cruelty-free and this blog provides excellent lists about products sold in the said shop that are all cruelty-free. Bubble bath isn’t included but many other hair and skin products are if you wanting to make a more informed choice.

So, on reflection do I think I should be using bubble bath – I don’t. I have looked around for products that are more ethical and the best I found is this from a company that is very transparent about ingredients, how they are made and with reduced packaging but now I think it is a product I should refuse. Blimey! I expected to go through this process and come out the other end changing the product to a ‘better’ one but still using it. Not the case!

Give the process a go yourself.

And finally, should ‘Repair’ be on the diagram used at the start of the post?

March 5

What’s in the local environment – permaculture activity

Having finally decided on the space for my online Permaculture Design Course activities, today on my walk I focused on the plants, including the big trees that I missed.

I have already mentioned the grass that is growing on the land which is doing a sterling job of preventing erosion and stabilising the soil but there are a couple of other things as well.

 

 

The first plant is yarrow, Achillea millefolium, wrapped around one of the fence posts at the west end of the land. The picture of it demonstrates how it creates more soil as the leaves that blow around and get caught in it rot down along with the plant stems. The Wildlife Trust website states that this is a plant that can help to restore arable land to grassland which it is doing here as well as stabilising the soil.

This next plant I am less sure about.

Again, its clumping form helps trap soil/sand, leaves etc. At first I thought it was a crambe which edible seaside plants but the leaves don’t look quite as kale like as most crambes do.  I wondered about dock, it looks like horse radish that has gone wild on the allotment next to mine. As there are no flowers it is hard to say. However, after using PlantNet I think I agree with them that it is Sea Beet, and edible coastal plant.  I will be more secure with the identification when it flowers.

On the other side of the road around the new development, there has been some planting and I thought it might be worthwhile noting what has been put in and look at how they do over time – you never know. There might be something that would do well on the bit of land I am looking at.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First we have a cistus and what I think is a cotton lavender, Santolina chamaecyparissus. I’ll be able to tell more when they flower but here the landscapers have dipped into Mediterranean plants. They are planted someway behind the buildings and so are probably somewhat sheltered from the southerly winds. The santolina can be used to create low hedges and that might be useful on my plot to trap leaves etc to build up the soil.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is also an eleagnus and a sisyrinchium which likes hot, dry conditions but will also tolerate some shade and damp and our winters are damp.

One plant has already died – probably the Beast from the East saw if off with desiccating, cold winds. It was some sort of fastigiate small tree – yew/pine.

It is still behind the buildings but at the edge and probably is just not protected enough.

As more plants appear, I will add them to this list.

 

March 3

Permaculture Learning Activities 1 – Exmouth seafront

Part of the the online permaculture design course I am taking are the activities to embed learning. We have been asked to choose a piece of land, probably not the one that we will use for our final design, to explore and develop the skills that we need.  I have finally chosen my piece of land – a strip of sand on the seafront opposite a new development of cafes, shops and a watersports centre. I pass it two or three times a week depending on the route I take for my morning walk so can track it regularly throughout the seasons. It isn’t a place of peace and quiet but it is a place that looks a bit sad and unloved and I have often thought that it needs a design to improve it rather than just planting.

Observation and reading the land are key skills in permaculture design. They are what we use as the basis for our work and these activities are designed to start to develop those skills.

What follows are my answers to the questions about the place, firstly using Google Earth.

What about this place stands out or draws your attention?

Mostly what stands out is the fact that it looks so uncared for. It is a scruffy bit of land sandwiched between two pavements, one lower down and one level with the road. It appears at the end of the fencing for a carpark. Parts of it are walked on frequently enough to stop anything growing and where plants do grow, they are not very tall.  As they start to landscape the new water sports centre across the road, this forgotten scrap of land looks more and more unloved and yet has the potential to be quite exciting and a visual attraction for what is a key tourist spot for the town.

The land is quite steeply sloped down to the pavement and the pavement has a slight slope towards the land. What this means is that when it rains, a large puddle builds up because the one and only drain fills up with sand over time. I am also pretty sure that the drain leads straight through to the beach and the water is not spread throughout the patch of land ready to be used by the plants that are there.

What doesn’t stand out when you are there is the large tree that is so obvious in the Google Earth images. I need to go and look at it next time I walk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are there plants and animals in this place that you recognise?

There are plants although at the beginning of March, not a lot (apart from a great big tree I missed when I was there!).  One thing that has colonised the land where it is not walked on is grass which has probably stabilised the area due to the matting roots of the plant.  Where there is a fence at the end of the land, presumably to stop people walking on it, there are a cluster of plants around the posts. Soil/sand will have built up around the posts and so plants have found their way there and I suspect the posts also offer a modicum of protection from the wind. One of the things that I intend to do over time is look closely at the plants growing there, on the nearby car park and those that are being planted in the new development.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What yields is this system generating already that most people walking by would never notice?

The yields are so invisible at the moment that I can’t see them! What I see in the land is a potential for yield but I am struggling with this one. At a stretch I could say:

  • Because the pavements aren’t wide enough, it provides extra space for people to walk side by side.
  • It is a water-collecting system even though that does get in the way of people.
  • I am not sure if you can have such a thing as a negative yield but one I think we have here is that it is a barrier to where people want to walk and there is nothing to stop them trampling all over it.

How is the system acting in ways today that will help it survive and thrive tomorrow?

This is really about succession, the idea that all land really wants to move towards a stable ecology, that is often a forest, and that there are steps to get there.

First of all there are the annual weeds that cover the land which when they die back, provide organic matter for the soil. This then encourages plants with net-like roots to establish, grass, to stabilise the soil and prevent erosion. This is the stage that we are at and is one that the patch of land may never really move away from because it is trodden on and because of the wind from the south and south west which blow through particularly in the autumn and spring. Other plants are colonising around the posts of the fence where there is more protection and build up of growing matter and this may prove to be one way in which we can support plants to survive and move out. They are creating their own windbreak which then allows other plants to succeed.

Design by map overlays

Design requires mapping as a way to share what you know about the land and what might have an effect on what you want to do. Below are a series of maps that show information about my chosen site.

First we have windy.com which shows the way the wind is blowing in real time. The plot being right on the seafront, wind is a real issue for the site.

This small chart shows that the wind we get is not just south westerly but can be from all directions, although the south and west make up the majority and October to the start of March is when it is the windiest.

Using Verge’s Contour map generator is not totally helpful because although it shows the contours, the slope of the land is against the contours.

The best mapping for the site is to draw it by hand because it is too small to map using apps.