Permaculture Garden Design

By Barry Voeten,  “Max” and Ernest D. Oduro Amoah. Thanks Ernest, for your corrections to my English and the translation of many plant names..


Last weekend we spent in Twello, The Netherlands, with our new friends Taco, Ishi and Sarah. They  maintain a permaculture garden at the Hof van Twello.  Hof van Twello is a wonderful place, I mean, the permaculture garden itself. They only started in the spring of 2006  and already (autumn 2007) they grow more on an acre than commercial industrial gardeners there is a superfluous garden which yields more than they can sell in the shop. Go and see for yourself.

Taco and Ishi know all about Permaculture gardening. They make their living working in these gardens. They run the website and a permaculture gardening school. We went to school for a weekend, to prepare for the garden of our next home. This page is to memorise and publish what counts most.

The Course barn. TWorking together is not so hard. Permaculture is not done in straight lines Nice!
The course barn Working together is
not so hard
Permaculture is not
done in straight lines


All Pictures taken this weekend are on this page.

Ethics of Permaculture: why you do it!

  • Care for the planet
  • Care for the people
  • Give, re-invest and fair-share

These 3 ethic rules reinforce one another. If you care for the planet, you give. Re-invest and take a fair share. You don’t take everything for yourself. It’s not caring for the planet nor the people either.

The Circle of Life

In the handout booklet is a nice picture: Producers (trees, plants), Consumers (human, animals, insects) and Decomposers (funghi, micro organisms and worms). In the Circle of Life, the three go hand in hand.

In every case, you should make sure that for everything that you bring in, all 3 functions are fulfilled. Otherwise you’ll get an in-balance and in-that  attracts diseases.

Start from the Soil

Permaculture is built from the ground: the soil. There are 2 ways to make the soil ready:

Covering with straw

The most common method of soil preparation is to cover it with straw. Take a piece of land and put paperboard on it. Cover everything. Then use EM to clean up the paperboard. Take some bundles of straw and spread it out in a 10-15 cm thick layer over the paperboard. Done in a minute!

This method will bring you the following:

  • Keep the moist where you need it
  • Slow issuing of nutritiens.
  • Low light, low growth of ‘voluntary plants’
  • binds nitrogen

Taco recommends the use of this method…

  • only once, maximum twice
  • to get rid of ground-elder (Aegopodium podagraria, zevenblad) and stinging nettle (Urtica dioica)

There are gardens where this method has been used several years in a row and there forms a thick layer of straw. The birds of prey can’t see the mice any more. Sooner or later a mice plague will be on it’s way.

Put the cardboard around the plants to keep them alive Use EM to improve micro-life and remove toxins Spread out the paperboard Done!
To keep a plant, put the
paperboard around them
Use EM to remove toxins
and get a micro life
Spread out the
paperboard to
cover the soil.
Spread the straw to
cover the paperboard
10-15 cm thick. Done!

Use Green manure to fertilise the soil

A better way to improve the soil is to use green manure plants – thanx Max for the translation -. Lupins, Lucerne, Mustard, Spinach and others [dutch list: lupine, luzerne, mosterd, facelia, tuinkers, radijs, spinazie] can work for you. First, dig up the soil and take out grass roots and other plant roots such as saltbush or orache – the one with the thick, long, white root. Then, use EM to improve micro-life. Now, sow the seeds of your favourite fertilising plants.

Depending on the soil type, you may go for different types. On lighter sands, use lupins or alfalfa. On heavy clay, go with one of the many others such as spinach, phacelia, garden cress or radish.

If you grow Lupins, don’t pull it out once grown.

because the root nodules which contains nitrogen will be removed too.

Dig up the soil and get out grass roots. Don't take the grass away but make a mini compost box. Be lazy, let the organisms do it!. Sow the seeds Mixing seeds is speeding up a natural process Right: 4 weeks ago. Below: 2 weeks ago. Top: just done.
Dig up the soil and
get out grass roots
Don’t take the grass away
but make a mini compost
box. Be lazy, let the
organisms do it!
Sow the seeds Mixing seeds is speeding
up a natural process
Right: 4 weeks ago.
Below: 2 weeks ago.
Top: just done.

Principles of Permaculture design

The questi0n that comes to mins is What to do on that improved soil? There should always a design first. But which design is permaculture and which isn’t?

  1. Take care of the correct placing of elements
    • Closer to home (the center) or further away
    • On the sunny side, the windy side or the cold side. On the borders of in the middle
    • Close to other members of it’s guild (read:team)
  2. In a permaculture garden, we are placing elements (plants, animals,humans, water, whatever) to perform several functions.
  3. Also, you should use several elements to cover the same function. This brings redundancy in your system. If something fails, you have a backup.
  4. Make an efficient energy planning. Borders and zones can be used for this.
  5. Use organic and sustainable resources
  6. Recycle your energy: keep it in the place. Don’t let it go away.
  7. Use energy 3-D: a lot of plants, different in height and over time on the same piece of land.
  8. Speed up the process of evolution and succession
  9. Diversification is of prime importance as plants and animals live in guilds, ie collectives with a close life cycle.
  10. The effect of edges and passages: more diversity. The implication is to use circles and spirals instead of lines and blocks. Make plant beds by digging out a path on the sides and throwing the soil on the plant bed. Make sure the smallest gardener has enough arm reach to maintain the whole bed. The use of key hole paths is another way to obtain a better reach.
  11. Generally, put berries and smaller trees on the edges of circles. In the next ring, put pioneer-plants that live for 1 year. In the centre of the circle, put staying plants or trees.
Keyhole-shaped plant bed. Rows of trees are used as border. This plant is a  popular, fast-growing border (aardpeer). Chickens are willing workers Herb Spiral
plant bed
Rows of trees are
used as border.
This plant is a popular,
fast-growing border
Chickens are willing
A Herb Sipral

Plant Beds, Paths and Key Holes

Plant Beds, Paths and Key Holes

Plant beds covered with paperboard, straw and manure

Plant beds covered with paperboard, straw and manure

Rules of thumb

Now all of this is far to complicated to use at once. It’s much more convenient to stick to this:

  • Everything works both ways. To quote with Johan Cruyff: every advantage has it’s disadvantage.
  • Permaculture is information-rich and has a strong imagination. Edges of possibility can only be in your head.


Taco has a favour for only those plants that survive even when he’s not there. Plants that propagate by seed. Or stay through winter. If a plant has to be re-planted year, Taco is not using it. I’m lazy too and will take this advice. He’s come up with this plant list. We’re still working on english translations.

Multi-year plants

English Name Dutch Name Description Pic
Wild Mustard Splijtkool – Eeuwige moes
Broccoli Broccoli Nine Star is the usable one
Spring or Welsh Onion Sint-Jans ui
Eternal Leek Eeuwige Prei Leave 1 plant for 8 plants next year
Cardoon or Artichoke Thistle Kardoen Looks like artichoke
Almond Aard Amandel
Jerusalem Artichoke Aardpeer Topinamboer. Grows a huge plant quickly, up to 3 meters
Rhubarb or Rheum Rabarber Likes the shade is fine unlike what others say.
Wrinkled Sorrel Tuinzuring

Single-year plants, from seed

As you can see, these tables are still under construction.

English Name Dutch Name Description
Garden Orache Tuinmelde
Rocket or Arugula Wilde Rucola
Radish Radijs Anti-“kweek’
Garden beet Rode bieten
Red-Violet beet Rood-witte bieten
Yellow beet Gele bieten
Black or Spanish Salsify Schorseneren
Carrot Wortelen
The Beet Snijbiet
Pumpkin Pompoen Grow under the berries
Lettuce Snij sla
Red Lettuce Rode sla
Oak Leef Lettuce Eikenbladsla
Sweet Corn Suikermais Not F1
Amaranth Amaranth
Hardy Wheat Spelt
Rye Winter-rogge

Generally, when going for new plants:

  • you don’t want the modern types.
  • you really really don’t want types with the F1 sign. These don’t live really yet. They’re freshborn from the laboratory. They’re called Hybrids.
  • Taco says: Best Dutch seed store: De Bolster. Alternative: De Nieuwe Tuin in Belgium. Get your fruit trees at De Batterijen in Ochten (Betuwe). Final escape: Vreeken in Dordrecht. Avoid the F1’s and Vreeken may sometimes give you something else…

‘Forbidden’ Plants

Even more fun is to grow plants hat the EU has banned. These may be the plants we love most.  The King of Spain banished Quinoa, the staple diet of the Incas after his conquest of South-America, just to subdue them.  Thankfully, the Incas did not listen and continued to thrive the plant at higher altitude.

Note: we are not talking protected plants. Finally governments are doing a bit to protect plants and we respect that.

English Dutch Remarks
Stevia Rebaudiana Stevia Rebaudiana Not allowed in EU for food (yet)
Smeerwortel More research needed on this one.


Save Energy

Usually the topic Energy comes down to

  • isolation of windows, maybe roofs
  • build a solar panel

We try to look further than that. Look at a house with 100% energy income. Where is the energy spent? These figures I found in the hand-out.

  • roof: 30%
  • windows: 25%
  • walls: 20%
  • floor: 15%

Conclusion: don’t just replace the window panes to save half  of the 25% energy loss. The roof and the floor are usually the primary concerns.

Make Energy

Solar panels are getting more and more popular. The panel system gives electric energy at 12V. Usually, this is transformed to 220V/240V for home usage. But have you seen how many electrical devices are already running at 12V? A look around my desk.

12V/230V with transformer 230V only
Cell Phone charger Desktop Computer, Monitor, Printer
External Hard-Drive Audio set
Network switch Lights
ADSL Modem
Notebook Computer
Camera Chargers

All this equipment could easily run on a 12V system. I believe many new parts will be 12V and include a transformer. The left column is growing. Taco says: transforming energy from 12V to 220V costs 50%. And back: another 50%. The remaining power is only 50% of 50%, equals 25%. And the transfomrer is the most expensive part in the system. So, I might just build a nice 12V solar system in our next house… I found this link as a start.

Designing A Permaculture Garden

In the course we followed in Twello, we hours on our own designs. Susan and I brought maps and pictures of our future garden and house. We’ll take it as an example case here. Copying this design for your own good will not bring you a permaculture garden at all!

1. Observe

We did bring maps and pictures. Here are some. Note the following


  • The garden is 150 m2
  • It has 3 terraces, of which one is under the huge vine
  • Orientation is southeast. The surrounding buildings are low on the garden’s side. The sun will hardly be blocked, but the western wind is.
  • May neighbours surround the house and they have a great view on our activities in the garden. The window panes suck energy, I believe.
  • The back garden has a gate on the side (not shown on the map
  • In the outer left corner is a 2 x 2.50m garden house for bikes etc.
Left corner of the garden Garden over the left-right axis Garden from the right corner

Map of the garden, 400px

Garden and House layout
Left corner of the garden Garden over the left-right axis Garden from the right corner Map of the garden Garden and house layout


After the observation, you should imagine the future garden. Stick to ecological / organic principles. What can the place give us? What does it need? What are it’s resources and shortcomings?  Maybe we should improve this to the usual ‘strengths-weakness’ analysis?

  • This place is 150 m2 on a southeast orientation. It gets sunlight all day.
  • It is located in a quiet neighbourhood. Closed fences dominate the gardens. How can animals live here when they are not birds?
  • In Maassluis Steendijkpolder has been a large waste affair. In the 1980’s, the area was cleared and sealed with a 120cm deep plastic sheet. We can’t go deeper than that. Underneath is toxic waste.


A. Functional List

A list of wants, personal aspects, ecological aspects and estethic aspects. What needs to be corrected?

  • We want a quiet place to sit and relax. Enjoy. For this purpose the garden is already appropriate.
  • We want to eat from the garden to become self-sustainable as far as possible.
  • We need parking place for the bikes, in the garden house and in front of it. Need the tiles there.
  • There is a large pond we want to get rid of.
  • We want to keep the vine
  • We want a nice view when sitting indoors.
  • How about those windows of the neighbours? Can I run around naked?
  • How many animals can the garden attract? Hedgehogs! Butterflies! Birds! Let the garden be a feats for all!
  • The many tiles available can be re-arranged vertically to make something nicer than a space filler.

B. Element List

Here we put down all elements we want to see in the future garden to fulfill the Functional List.

— I’ll write down this section some other day —

C. Lay-Out

Make a new map with everything in it. Here it is! Note that is has been drawn upside-down when looking at it from the house.

Design of the permaculture Garden

One thought on “Permaculture Garden Design

  1. Good evening.

    I hope you still remember me. How are you doing?


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