3: Design Processes 1: Overview, Goals and Assessments
Design Process Overview
Clear Intentions: Articulating Your Gardening Goals
Basic Mapping for Landscape Design
Site Analysis and Assessment
Feature Article 2: Reading Your Soil Horizons
Box 3.1: Designing Your Design Process
Box 3.2: Tools of the Designer's Trade
Box 3.3: Bubble Diagramming
Box 3.4: The Scale of Permanence
This chapter is much dryer than the previous ones, but it's not one you can skip, dealing as it does with the keys to the actual operations required to create a functioning forest garden. It builds logically on previous material. I suppose you can get away with not reading Volume 1, but you will lack the grasp of ecology you need to do the job properly.
The chapter starts with an overview of the design process. It's not about teaching you how to design, but about connecting you with your own ability to design, by breaking the process down and substituting error (preferably on paper) for chance (based on the frequent but, to my mind, bad advice “just to get on with it”), using the pattern language described in the previous chapter. Partially this is about observation, but it's important to learn from these observations.
You will still make mistakes. There is too much we don't know about forest garden ecosystems, and lessons that may be learned from one forest garden may not be applicable to a different garden in a different climate on different soil growing different plants. This is part of the process of discovery, and is key to our growing understanding of these ecosystems. It's also about achieving your goals in spite of your mistakes.
Just as with pattern languages, and just as with forests, the design process always has certain things in common, but each journey will be unique. In most design processes there are three major inputs – the client, the site and the designer, but when I finally get the opportunity to do this I would expect me and my SO to be both client and designer. In this case, the site analysis is not just about its physical properties, but about ecological niche analysis – both the life forms already present, but the ones you expect to introduce or move in of their own accord. The design is then an emergent property from these factors.
If you are not careful you analyse endlessly (a real pitfall for someone like me – there is a limit to the observation phase). The analysis needs to be limited by the specified goals. Remember the goals may change as you analyse the site.
A box covers the process of designing the design process, taking into account goals, mapping and assessment, the design concept and schematic, detailed and patch designs. Even on a small site this will take a couple of days: on a big site, over perhaps a quarter of a hectare, this process may take weeks, not hours. This sounds overwhelming, but it's an important part of getting to know the habitat you inherit, and the habitat you want to create. With luck it will be interesting and fun.
The first step is to articulate your goals.
For a simple habitat, goal articulation can be a relatively simple process. A goals articulation summary will explain your purposes, needs and wants. There is a useful set of Forest Garden Questions that may help you to develop your thoughts on this. With a bigger site, you will probably want to think about long-term uses. You will certainly want to conduct a niche analysis for the plants you want to grow and for the nonhuman animals, both wild and domesticated, you expect to live there.
More robust goals articulation is suited for larger sites. With my penchant for being thorough, this process appeals to me, and I would hope would help create a garden more suited to my needs and those of my partner. This is going to vary not only from site to site, but from person to person. Someone highly pragmatic may want to maximise production. Someone with a more spiritual bent may want to live in something approaching their vision of a Garden of Eden or Garden of the Hesperides. Many of us will be working with a partner or group with conflicting or intermeshing goals, which will need to be compromised on.
The authors emphasise the need to conduct this process in writing in the present tense. I know from experience that this is a risky process. When I did this with my proposed partner, it crystallised what I wanted to do. She realised the whole thing was not what she wanted to do after all. She bottled out and sought the “freedom” and “independence” of mainstream society. It's not something I want to happen again. The result was one of the worst evenings of my life: be careful!
There are also useful guidelines here for mimicking natural habitats, of the kind that existed before European colonisation or, in my most likely case, simply the native flora.
A large section takes you through the basic mapping process, covering what looks to me like everything you need to know. This is going to be simpler for a smaller plot like a domestic back garden, but would be a project on its own for a larger habitat of the kind I want to work on. I did some of this when I studied habitat surveying but this is more detailed, and would be an important aspect of getting to know a site: it would also feed back into the goals articulation process, and the process of Site Analysis and Assessment, which constitutes another section in its own right.
There is a certain amount of theory here, and I think this could have been stronger (I sense the perhaps overly heavy hand of an editor here, as if much that might have been valuable has been taken out), before getting on to the practicalities. The practical section is much more detailed. There is material on basic site assessment, and more on the kind of detailed assessment you might need for a larger plot. As with all these things, this is not a simple process, and will need to be analysed in the context of the wider landscape.
There is also useful material on the scale of permanence, following Yeoman (another author whose work is invaluable) and Mollison and Holmgren, authors you are more likely to be familiar with.
A whole range of issues will emerge from this process and from your specified goals (which may have to be revisited). The work you conduct based on this chapter will not be a linear process.
One of my, and by the sound of it their, parts of this chapter was the material on undirected and thematic observation. Anyone who loves Nature will be familiar with at least the first, and quite possibly the second. Undirected observation asks one simple question: what's interesting? What features draw your eye? What's going on?
Thematic observation is more complicated. It takes a theme, such as water in the landscape, and bases observations around it: what is the rainfall like; where does it run; where does it puddle or pool; where are the pipes, wells and springs? You will gain important insights into your habitat from both of these. One of the most interesting aspects of this, to me, is that it's not a one-off exercise, but will be repeated as you live in your habitat. As a designer, you need to examine this in the context of the scale of permanence.
My favourite part will almost certainly involve the niche analysis of the existing plants (which will inform the species you grow) and wildlife and any that move in. One of the most exciting aspects is that it's an opportunity to really geek out on the plants and animals, not only those that live there, but how that changes as the community matures – this is years and years of fun!
This is also the section that discusses reading soil horizons and the main types of soil, which is invaluable information when analysing your site.
This is a long-haul process I've had to summarise in less than 1500 words. This is about really getting to know your site. Much of it is likely to be fun on the ground, other aspects simply time consuming but necessary to get right before you move on to the more interesting process of actually putting a design together.
This is most of the goals summary that would have headlined a longer document as we bought and investigated our new habitat. Note the present tense intended to reify the primary goals.
As our garden matures we approach self-sufficiency, with food for ourselves and for trade and barter, our impact declines and we create a positive example for others. Space given to annual crops declines as the perennials mature. The habitat becomes a sanctuary for us, for our friends, for the rare and new plant strains we grow, for the rescued animals we give a home to and for the wildlife that comes to live with us or to pass through on their journeys.
Of course, once we had a site identified and bought, there would have been more on things like desired species, successional stages and the way the garden would relate to the broader landscape. I'd expect this and the addressing of other questions to run to several pages. There was a spiritual component that I've taken out as well
Incidentally, if this doesn't scare the living yzma out of you, and you think this might be what you want to spend the rest of your life doing, I'd like to hear from you.