Echo Earth Care

Project 3: Mill Lane

SADIMET was used to design this family garden in a rural setting. The garden is highly prone to flooding and the over-riding principle throughout the design and implementation was Designing for Catastrophe and trying to turn problems into solutions,, i.e., how could we turn the flood-prone ground to our advantage. This was achieved by using water-loving plants, raising beds off the ground, and also using hugel beds which absorb the water during the floods and release it slowly to the plants. Zoning was used to identify the patterns for the garden, followed by detailed designing and locating of the individual elements. Zero waste was created during the implementation of the design as fencing was repurposed to make raised beds, and rotten wood from previous prunings was used to make the hugel beds. Diversity and edge were significantly increased by adding a variety of types of planting to the garden, which have combined to deliver great yields of food, both for the family living here, and for the abundant wildlife that is now attracted to the garden.

This project has increased the biodiversity of the garden significantly with increased habitats and edges, and accompanying wildlife to enjoy them (Earth Care). From a People Care perspective the family are now able to enjoy the garden more and are benefiting from eating home grown organic produce. The children are now contributing more to the garden and doing their fair share of the work with regard to growing food... which the parents ensure is shared fairly as the children love it so much they fight over who gets the last carrot!

The Brief

The McCafferys are a family of five, living in a 4 bedroom semi detached house in Thankerton, South Lanarkshire in Scotland. They have a large, flat, north facing garden which was laid entirely to lawn to provide ample play space for their children. When the youngest child turned 13 they decided that they would like to do something more interesting with the garden.

Must haves
clothes line (not a rotary drier), somewhere to sit in the sun, social space, more colour, access to the septic tank.
Would like to haves
somewhere to grow some food, more wildlife, less grass to cut, tidy garden, remove the trampoline, mushrooms, fruit and veg
Could have
cold frame or green house for extending the growing season,compost heaps
Must not have
pond or any other water feature

Survey

Location

The property is located in Thankerton, South Lanarkshire, 55°N 3°W, 199m elevation.The garden is very flat, located at the bottom of the valley, immediately bordered by a burn and the ground is often wet and prone to flooding, particularly in the North West corner.It is subject to the prevailing Westerly wind, and reasonably sheltered from Easterly winds by an evergreen hedge and large crimson king maple tree.The property is rural and therefore not subject to much pollution, other than passing trains from the train line to the West of the property, and a tractor passing immediately to the North of the property. There is a sceptic tank located in the North East corner of the garden which requires emptying on an annual basis.

Flood risk

The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) have produced a series of flood maps for the whole of Scotland in order to help householders understand how they could be affected by flooding.They have been developed using the most up to date modelling techniques and geological data to provide the most accurate predictions possible regarding potential flood risks from rivers, the sea and surface water.

The flood map shows the location of the property in red. Clearly, the property is located in an area of high flood risk. Given this risk, it would be advisable for the family to sign up for free, advance notice of flooding from Floodline, who will phone or text, advising that a Flood Warning or Flood Alert has been issued in their area and where to go to find out more about the flooding situation. The Floodline website also contains advice, useful tools and information on how to prepare for flooding and information on how to cope after flooding happens.

Location of property in high risk flood zone.
Location of property (red) in high risk flood zone (blue area).
Zoomed in section of map focused on the house.

Climate

Thankerton has a cool temperate climate, with a monthly average of 13 days (75mm) rain, 11knots wind. The average minimum temperature in winter is 0C, and average maximum in summer is 18C (average 1981-2010). The lowest temperature in Scotland recorded in recent years was nearby Carnwath with -23C.

How is the garden being used?

Plants
Mainly grass;conifers provide hedge on Eastern edge of garden; very large crimson king maple tree in NW corner;very small annual flower border on Eastern edge garden. Snowberry hedge along north edge
Animals
Slugs; mice; bats; midges; frogs; birds; bees; cats
Structures
There are patios surrounding the house and on the Eastern edge of the garden, which is fenced off from the rest of the garden.There is double garage at the front of the house.Play equipment (slides, see saw, football goals). The garden is fenced on the East and Western edges.
Tools
Lawn mower; chain saw; typical garden tools
Events
BBQs are held in the patio area; children's parties (including bouncy castle) used to be held on the lawn but this is no longer the case.

Analysis

An analysis of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Constraints was performed.

Strengths
  • Mainly laid to lawn so blank canvas
  • Snowberries at north border along river bank helps stabilise soil to prevent soil erosion
  • Reasonably sheltered from Easterly winds
  • Safe from drought!
Weaknesses
  • High risk of flooding
  • Ground often water logged
  • North facing – area that gets most sun is also most likely to flood as nearest the river
  • Area with most sun is furthest from the house so difficult to apply zoning system
  • Need to ensure access to septic tank in NE corner of garden
  • Prone to snow and frost
Opportunities
  • Potential to use fencing that is currently used to segregate the patio area for making raised beds
  • Use wicking materials in raised beds to bring water up from wet ground level to growing level to reduce amount of watering required
  • raised growing mounds for fruit trees & shrubs
  • Potential to use edible wetland plants
  • Use front garden for fruit trees to avoid flooding
Challenges
  • Need to find way of growing food in these conditions without roots rotting

An input-output analysis was performed to allow related elements to be colocated in the garden, such as annual vegetables, herbs, teas, kitchen, greenhouse and compost bins.

Design

A base map of the property was created along with scale models of elements that would meet the required functionality. The map and models were used with the client to review different layouts, along with zoning principles. This session allowed the overall pattern of the garden to be designed, which was then followed later by detailed design and planting schemes.

Wetland design experts Living Water Ecosystems Ltd were consulted for ideas in managing the extremely wet garden, and they suggested incorporating a wetland scrape as the client was explicit in not wanting a pond.

A completed design was agreed in June 2016 to include the following parameters:

Zone 1 closest to house:

  • Remove fencing around the patio and reuse the wood to make raised beds for annual vegetables production (produce no waste). This will also open the space between patio and the rest of the garden.
  • Any greenhouse would be best sited on the patio to achieve maximum sunlight and easy accessibility from the utility room door (catch and store energy)
  • A composting area to be sited next to the patio to allow access from kitchen door without crossing the wet grass. A comfrey patch to be located next to the compost bin. (integrate)
  • Herbs and teas to be located in the bed along the edge of the patio (Integrate) to allow access from utility room door.
  • Water butts to be located at drainpipes on the walls of the house to capture rainwater for the raised beds (catch and store energy)
Zones
Mill road zones

Zone 2 will cover the garden from the fence at the West across to the start of the herb & tea bed next to the patio in Zone 1. Zone 2 will include:

  • Use of the East facing fence along the Western edge of the garden for growing climbers for food and wildlife (Integrate)
  • Use of Hügelkultur beds to use up waste wood whilst also raising the level of the beds away from the waterlogged ground. (produce no waste). These beds will be used for growing perennial vegetables, incorporating ground cover plants to minimise weeding.
  • All areas visible from the living room and kitchen windows should look pretty as well as be productive (Obtain a yield).

Zone 3 will cover the Northern most section of the garden, furthest away from the house. This area contains the wettest part of the garden that is very prone to flooding. Wetland experts, Living Water Ltd, were consulted for advice on how to best utilise this space. Zone 3 will include:

  • A "scrape" at the wettest part of the garden, making the most of the flood areas to maximise diversity of planting (value the marginal, use and value diversity)
  • Additional riparian and soil stabilising plants along the northern edge closest to the burn that runs along the edge of the garden. This should given additional stability should the burn flood.
Agreed design

Implementation

The design is being implemented over the course of several years, using local resources.

Phase 1 (spring 2016) involved dismantling the fence around the patio and using the wood to create raised beds.

A small plastic greenhouse was bought and installed on the patio.

A second hand compost bin was acquired and installed next to the raised beds and patio so that kitchen scraps can be added easily.

Raised beds

Phase 2 (Autumn 2016) of the implementation involved designing and planting a scrape. A Scrape is where a shallow layer of soil is "scraped" to the side, giving a low and high section of ground, with the low section taking plants that like wetter conditions. Inkscape software was used to design the layout of the scrape, and plants were bought from Puddle Plants.

In reality, when it came to dig and plant the scrape I found that the wettest section was to the West, and not the East as I had previously thought, so the plant layout was reversed from the design.

All of the plants in the scrape are multifunctional, being either edible, medicinal or providing forage for pollinators as well as being stabilising the soil and adding beauty to the garden.

Design of scrape
Scrape as planted

A full plant list for the scrape can be found here.

Hügelkultur beds were created as part of Phase 3 (spring 2017) of the design implementation. The beds were created by removing a layer of turf, and then a further layer of soil, the depth of a spade. Rotten pieces of wood were added to the pit, and then the turf was replaced, upturned so that the grass was facing downwards and the sod facing upwards, in order to minimise the chance of the grass regrowing. A layer of sticks and leaves was then added, followed by a layer of grass clippings. The soil that had been removed at the start of the process was then added back on top. This soil was very poor quality, with very little signs of soil life such as worms or other insects, so a layer of compost was added on top prior to planting.

Base layer of logs
Base layer of logs
Layer of upturned turf on top of logs then grass clippings on top
Layer of upturned turf on top of logs then grass clippings on top
Layer of sticks then another layer of grass clippings
Layer of sticks then another layer of grass clippings
Layer of compost on top
Layer of compost on top
Planted up hugel bed
Planted up hugel bed

The hugel bed along the Western fence was firstly planted with edible climbers, such as grapes and 5-flavoured berries. Then a shrub layer of perennial fruits and vegetables was added, included raspberries, currant, Daubenton Kale, etc. Lastly a layer of edible ground cover plants and flowers was added to minimise weeding.

Another hugel bed was created to the West of the scrape and this was planted with rhubarb, gooseberries and other perennials. It is intended that as these beds fill out and become crowded that further hugel beds will be made and some of the plants transplanted to the new beds.

Another hugel bed was created to the West of the scrape and this was planted with rhubarb, gooseberries and other perennials. It is intended that as these beds fill out and become crowded that further hugel beds will be made and some of the plants transplanted to the new beds.

The plants for these beds were bought from Echo Earth Care, the Red Shed nursery and Plants with Purpose. A full plant list for the garden can be found here.

The existing flower border along the edge of the patio was interplanted with herbs and tea plants, such as feverfew, chamomile, lungwort and mint. These herbs were chosen specifically to help with ailments that are suffered by family members.

Phase 4 of the project will include planting a comfrey patch beside the compost bin to aid the composting process and for preparing comfrey fertiliser for the annual raised beds. In addition, more soil stabilising plants will be added along the rear edge of the garden to minimise damage to the garden in case of flood. Water butts will be added to the drains to provide rainwater for the vegetables.

Maintain

The garden was originally completely covered in grass which was very low maintenance. The new design involves more maintenance which can be done whilst harvesting. The family did plan on being more involved in garden and are not finding the extra maintenance activities to be a burden.

New maintenance activities

  • weeding perennial beds
  • harvesting crops
  • turning compost heap
  • watering raised beds
  • cutting herbaceous shrubs as they get bigger.

Evaluate

Overall the design of the garden has been successful with very positive feedback from the family.

  • Removal of the fence has opened the garden and made it a more pleasant place to sit.
  • The family are really enjoying the taste and satisfaction of eating their homegrown vegetables, which has increased their vegetable intake.
  • The hugel beds have been highly abundant with minimum input and the family are adjusting their cooking to accommodate the harvest from the perennial vegetables. This is very rewarding given how poor quality the soil was at the start of the project.
  • The family really appreciate the enhanced beauty of the garden, both outside and from the living room and kitchen windows.
  • With so many more flowers, the garden is attracting many more insects and birds than had been there before.

Some elements of the garden have been less successful and will need remedial action.

  • 2017 has been an incredibly wet year and the lower part of the scrape, which was intended as a bog garden has been permanently flooded becoming more of a pond, which is what the family explicitly did not want. Many of the plants have drowned as they were not designed for such deep water.
  • The scrape was designed based on plants that have grown to their full width, and therefore was relatively sparsely planted. This allowed for weeds to grow in the spaces between the plants which created extra work.

Tweak

Having really loved the produce from the raised beds the family intend to expand this area next year and add in more raised beds. They also plan more hugel beds as the existing ones fill up.

The lower part of the scrape will have more soil added to raise the level and reduce flooding. More flood tolerant plants will also be added, and succession planting will be taken into account to minimise bare soil.

Learnings

The main thing that I've learned from this garden design is to include succession planting in my designs and not to underestimate flood potential. The time spent mastering map-making in the Secret Garden design came in very useful in this design, making the map preparation much easier. Using Inkscape to create the scrape planting scheme was a very useful learning experience that is already proving useful in other design work.

The time spent on analysis (zones, SWOC, input/output) was very constructive as it highlighted conflicts between zoning and sectors that could then be discussed with the client to find the optimum solution. For example the sunniest spot which would be ideal for sitting and socialising is at the furthest point from the house. Having discussed this the client decided that closer to the house would be better. Working with a client with very clear ideas of what they did and didn't want made preparing the brief simpler than when working with the school on the secret garden, where the brief was very open and there was much to-ing and fro-ing before agreeing a design.

This is the first time I have worked with wetland plants and it was very interesting to learn how multifunctional many of them can be (edible, pollinators, basketry, medicinal etc). In future I will be more aware of the optimum depths for these plants and also of how long it takes them to establish so that I can fill the spaces with annuals to prevent excessive weeds from occupying the spaces. I will also be more cautious of using scrapes in gardens that are prone to flooding as they can easily become ponds.

Of all the elements that were added to this garden I would say that the hugel beds have been the most successful due to the incredible abundance of produce and improvement in soil quality for the minimal effort that was put in. Whilst the annual beds are productive they require significantly more inputs, including fresh compost and seeds every year and regular watering.

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Jane Shields of Living Water Ecosystems Ltd for advice in dealing with very wet land.