I'll try to describe our project, in part to clarify my own thoughts, in part to have some starting point before asking anything. Perhaps in part hoping that someone would find this interesting... although this indeed no fancy homestead or the like, on the contrary lol! I thought of putting this on the Scandinavian section, but decided not to, as comments from elsewhere are very welcome as well. So here we go...
The starting point:
The location is stated on the left. Finnish zone 4 (US hardiness zone 3-4, but this somewhere between coastal and continental climate, so the US zones don't work that well). In the middle of a windy field (it nearly always blows), some 9m of clay beneath (in some places replaced by sand, e.g. under the old shuttle, long since demolished). Flat except for the steep slopes to the creek on the north-eastern side. Ditches on other sides, running to the creek - summer & fall 2012 was extremely rainy, and the southern ditches were full of water (10-20cm from the ground level on the side), but the creek could still handle everything. No flooding, although the soil was very wet then and one rowan actually drowned. Normally the summer is not that moist, but no difficult droughts either.
As you can see in the aerial photo (2 years old), we have a long narrow area - the field on the south-eastern side is not ours. The house in the northern end, country road on the western side, driveways (sand + gravel) to the garage separate the house from the part where the garden shall be. The southern end is a former field, mostly forgotten and full of permanent weeds. The fertile soil layer is rather thin, but worms have been busy there. Last year we dug most of it up while installing geothermal heating. Between that and the driveways there isn't much else than a lawn. Here the soil layer is anything between 6-30cm. The electrical wires go to a neighbour across our land, limiting what we can plant on the edge of driveway and lawn. The shades on the lawn are birches and on their southern side is a ditch before the fields. Also birches (& some rowans) along the creek, making it rather shady but protecting the house from winds and stabilising the soil.
The house is my husbands childhood home. I'll describe here just what affects the garden. The house was built in the 60's-70's, still needing lots of renovation as you can see in the photo. 400m2 car repair shop /garage in the ground level. (The car service history extends longer than the current building, and we intend to put that space earning its upkeep once again.) It has doors to the road and to the southern side, which dictates what I can do with the garden. During the winter the driveway to these doors is kept clear with a tractor - that specific garage can take in a bus, after all. Our living quarters upstairs is less than ½ of the ground level - the part under the pitched roof. On the southern end we have a roof terrace, around 35-40m2 - this is one of the few things I really like here! The only private door is the one behind the car in the photo, limiting access to the garden. In the big, high garage, near the doors facing south, I have a place for potting and for taking certain perennials indoors for winter. The water outlet is also there. (Water is cheap here, no serious shortages. We have a local water cooperative and the nearby water source is more abundant than the use that has actually dropped. So, while I rather use rainwater & try to conserve, I'm not feeling very guilty for occasional watering from the tap.)
Restrictions: only 2 adults, day jobs, health issues, limited & fluctuating energy levels (=a major reason for uncertainty ). Very little experience in gardening (another reason for uncertainty). The house sucks up most of the budget, and time, too. Let's face it: There are times when I have more energy and get excited very easily, but I can never know how long it lasts. It never lasts a whole summer, though. One whole month is extremely lucky.
Dreams: A nice, cosy, sheltered place - my mind needs somewhere to rest, to calm down, to make my personal life sustainable. Privacy and wind shield (!!!). Beauty. A micro climate warmer and easier than the surroundings.
Connection between the house and the garden (how on earth do I make it happen in this plot???) - otherwise I find myself sitting inside all too much.
Herb garden - my use is limited, but I put value on having them available. Besides, many of them are beautiful. Fancying a herb spiral, among other things...
Probably an edible forest garden. In the same time it must be a very easily maintained garden, otherwise it will fall apart... This limits my abstract dreams of semi-self-sufficiency. I can't handle that much. (Birds will have lots to eat when I'm done with harvesting.) Anyway, even without permacultural interest I would have lots of perennials.
Some aspects of a traditional garden - no modern style here.
A small sauna in the garden, perhaps a pool. (An organic pool, if you ask me.) A summer kitchen. A greenhouse, having place for a table & chairs as well. All these combined, perhaps.
We have agreed on transforming most of the old field to a meadow to make it beautiful to look at and to attract some butterflies back. My husband says he hasn't seen many of them for a few decades. No hedgehogs either, unfortunately - I'd love to have some. We do have moles, so some ermines or weasels - or owls (just love them) would be welcome. Our neighbours cats are welcome too, but the road takes it toll (which is why we keep our own cats inside). Last winter we got proof of rabbit residence, so I wouldn't mind some foxes either... And of course I'd like to have some more bird song around here. (Magpies are no good singers.) Just hoping this isn't too isolated an island in the middle of monocultures!
I love trees with a broad shape, like oaks, mountain elm or maple. Luckily these are possible here, too - not just the birches we currently have.
Dreaming of extending my corner in the garage for keeping more fragile plants over winter.
Hmm, this starts to get quite lengthy, I guess I'll have to continue with my plans later. Besides, I think I really need to finally make proper analysis of this all. Zones etc.
Description: Our plot from the air (2012), scale 1:750 on A4-paper
I'd start with a low maintenance edible/fast growing/nitro fixing hedgerow to form a sun trap facing the south to gather heat and blocking the prevailing wind.
Planting something like that can be pretty easy, just stick a spade in lift the soil and put in a tree/bush/plant. You'll have to figure out what's easily available and what is useful but things like hawethorne, siberian pea, moutain ash, wild plum, willow, etc.
You'll have to gauge your cost benetfit to the amount of protection from wildlife you'll need and what kind of mulch/support you can handle. I'd recommend some of both but maybe you can figure out a way to use the drainage ditches for watering/
After that I'd start with a garden and small orchard/food forest, build it up slowly as your energy level and budget dictates.
The structures like a connection to the garden, sauna, etc are going to be pretty major undertakings so I'd start by building up the soil and resources on the property and jumping on available help or cheap materials when the opportunity presents itself.
Do what you can, when you can. As long as each step is well thought out in a permicultural way the amount of total energy spent should be limited to the initial setup, then let nature help grow it for you.
Well, I've actually started with the hedgerow along the road. I'm afraid lilacs aren't nitrogen fixing, but I must think of the appearance as well (and to smell them flowering is a big benefit), and their growth rate is not bad. Besides, I can get saplings for free. However, they do need some more compost around them, of course. There isn't much fertile layer below the lawn (except where the old huge compost heaps used to be, which can still be seen in how the lawn grows). On the opposite side I've planned on a more divers hedgerow: siberian pea shrub and aronia to start with, other bushes, perhaps some trees as well, but have not started with this yet. Rowans (mountain ashes?) we already have at some points (very common in this area, which is easy to see with this autumns abundant berryload), and I'd like to find a variety with sweeter berries.
I have also made a few raised beds for perennials. I suppose I will move at least some of them later, but I just need to have SOMETHING pretty around here... The beds are not very high, just a layer of newspapers on the lawn + 15-30cm of mulch. If the photo would be from last year, this first few plantings would show up on the edge of lawn close to the road/ditch.
The need for protection from the wildlife isn't huge. I got some used fence material from my sister, and will use that to protect the hedgerows from the rabbits in the beginning. I think the moles will not be of great concern at this stage - and I really hope I manage to increase the local diversity enough to attract some appropriate predators before they get the chance of making greater harm. (Without that killing road I'd let our cats roam free, one of them is a first class experienced furry mouse trap on 4 feet.)
What comes to the ditches, they are also keeping our neighbours properties dry, so they start to be a bit deep at this point, and we can't affect them much. The only one we can control is the one between the tree line and the field, as it is on our own land. I've some obscure ideas of wetland there, although it needs to work as drainage too. But luckily the Finnish summers are such, that on this soil at least perennials shouldn't need much irrigation after they have settled well, meaning 1-2 years. The terrace & pots is of course another story.
Sauna & pool... yes, that has to wait 5-10 years, but I'd like to know where they will be placed. I hate moving things around in any greater amount. What comes to the connection between the house and the garden, I don't know if there's anything realistic to do. At least we won't start to construct anything for that. It's just that dream of being able to just open the door and walk out the door barefooted to a garden, instead of having to cross 15m of gravel beside cars. I don't like cars dominating the plot, but how do you avoid that with the car repair shop... (If I'd have the chance, I'd re-plan this whole layout completely - both the plot and the house!)
I'm trying figure out GIMP to make nice layered plans based on that aerial photo...
BTW, just this summer I realised I'd really want a big tree (oak/maple/elm) close to the road by the drive way. It would bend over the drive way and make it feel smaller. I was extremely annoyed at that moment, as that is exactly where I can't have one, due to that power line. The old power lines here are not placed as it would be done today...
Found a "wind rose" for a nearby site. The exact local situation may of course vary, and this is made for wind mills (i.e. concentrating on winds above the trees), but it should give at least some idea.
And one more - a draft with existing plants. With the exception of birches & rowans everything is still young, planted at most 2 years ago. Lilacs may measure more than a meter, but they are very thin. Any conifers are at most knee high.
What is missing in all these pictures is indication of hight. The reason is simple: the ditches and creek have steep banks, otherwise this is very flat. So flat that I can barely say in which direction the water should flow. (If you know the South Osthrobothnia in Finland - well this is the same!)
Description: A draft with existing plants. Sizes may not be acurate.
Oh dear. Just noticed that a few things in these pictures don't match. Will have to measure them and correct. The aerial photo is too soggy in places, and I'm not sure whether it has been taken before or after we redraw the line between gravel and lawn. So few points to start measuring to put everything in place... But the main idea should stay the same.
So, some challenges:
- In practice all the space is on one side of the house, and there is the huge area of gravel, used for parking and for driving to the high garage (big enough for buses). In addition only one way from living quarters to garden (the stairs up is where it says front door). -> extremely poor connection between house & garden
- Add to that the fact that I am not the one walking around frequently -> tiny zone 1, small zone 2 (zone 2 might be even smaller in practice, but probably would need a bigger one???)
- Zone 1 can only have containers, and it becomes hot when the sun shines.
- Gap between zones 1 & 2.
- Need windshield FAST
- How to shield the garden from cold northern winds and still have a nice view from the house? (At the moment there's not much to see in the garden, but there needs to be)
- ... and without making zone 2 even smaller? (count on me being lazy when wandering there - or even in getting myself to wander there!)
- That damn air line affects this same line too. Also prevents me having a nice big tree where close to the ditch, on the edge of road & gravel. NOTE: eastern end of air line is not accurate. (Haven't measured it yet)
- Also need some shade on that gravel area / parking place, especially close to the north side of the wind shield discussed above (again). Shade not needed upstairs (I am missing the sunlight indoors, it doesn't get inside much).
- The high garage also would benefit from some shade summertime, but that one is easy - a row of trees between it and the ditch. (More about that later.)
- The distance between the lilac fence & ditch / road. There's some 4m of space at max. Need visibility when exiting the yard -> plantings max 1m. Don't want to mow here -> want perennials instead of the existing lawn. Road -> nothing edible. Need a lot more soil. I mean, some 16 m3 of soil. To get enough mulch to build the soil up... That's more of an issue than the plants! I've thought of buying some heirloom mixture in big quantities (this one to be exact). Among the existing perennial plantings there is also a few low bushes & perennials that I expect to spread over time.
- Geothermal field restricts the use of former field. The pipes are about 1,2m deep. There's room for one row of trees on the south-east edge there, but that's about it. Most of the field will be transformed to a meadow, but any other plantings (situated closer to the existing birches) would probably need some protection from the south-west winds, and that cannot be higher than berry bushes.
- On a rainy period the field may also be more easily waterlogged than before, as the we lost the drainage (salaojat) in the process of installing geothermal field, and the soil is heavy with clay. I suspect no big terrain alterations can be done due the geothermal pipes...
- The snowheaps will be done with big machinery -> not even perennials in most cases, just lawn. The one closest to the road is an exception (it is the last one to be used). But even the others are in central places. Especially the one opposite to garage doors bothers me (it needs to be lawn also just in case the gravel area is not enough for some bigger vehicle to turn). I'd like to have some bushes there to make a boundary, but I can't.
Gonna need a break and continue later. But that's a start, finally. What do you think?