Herb wheel was created after a large tree was removed from the from lawn.
The space was then turned into a productive and beneficial space for both humans,birds and insects.
After having felled a diseased Lawsons cypress in the middle of our front garden, that was planted in the late 1970’s, I started to design a useable growing space to replace the tree and the large patch of lawn that surrounded it.
Using the tried and tested permaculture design technique of SADIMET I set about creating a design that would be both an aesthetically pleasing and productive.
Survey and Analysis:
The area I had to work was a fairly substantial size. The location faced a south easterly aspect, and in our part of the world which is Southern Brittany, France this meant that it had full sun from morning through to late afternoon during summer. In winter it was one of the few areas that was not a frost pocket.
The location in the front garden with a low box hedge to the road, meant that for passers-by, it could be a showcase to our Permaculture demonstration and education site that we are busy developing.
We had very little money to spend on this project, and allocated only €150.00 to the project in total. With a very constrained budget I knew I had to be creative in my use of materials to turn this space into something eye catching.One of the key criteria we agreed on was that most elements need to come directly from the property.
January and February was taken up with surveying, and then I started sketching out some designs. By March 2018 the paper design had been completed and final layout selected. A herb wheel design really resonated and the theme of a wheel of life also spoke to where we found ourselves.
The herb wheel would consist of 4 quadrants with pathways roughly a half a meter wide leading between each quadrant to the centre point (which centred on the stump of the old tree). Each quadrant would be filled with different herbs
Quadrant 1 – edible, everyday kitchen herbs, Quadrant 2 – medicinal and healing herbs. Quadrant 3 – unusual herbs and experiments Quadrant 4 – herbs for teas and infusions (mints etc)
At the further edge of the garden closest to the tree line I planned to create a strip of wild flowers for pollinating insects. The existing flower border along the driveway would be replanted with lavender, which would eventually grow to provide colour and a lovely scent.
One of our criteria was that the design needed to be implemented over winter and spring that year, and hoped we would see tangible results within the first year.
a. we wanted to be able to harvest our own herbs for cooking, soaps and balms
b. The project would showcase how to implement a permaculture design. This therefore needed to be “operational” before our first Open Days in August 2018.
I had already started laying down paper animal feed bags along the outer perimeter of the lawn to supress the grass. Wood chip that we had from the cypress tree was placed it on top of the bags. The plan was to eradicate the grass in the long term, and have the area surrounding the herb wheel mulched.
We spent a few Saturday mornings skip diving at a local farm equipment store, and pulled out all their usable cardboard which we lay out in the planting quadrants, and on top of this we placed trailer loads of horse manure that we got for free from friends.
I tried my hand at making a large tepee trellis, using our own willow and hazel and positioned it in the centre of the wheel over the tree stump. This would later form a support for climbing plants.
We found 2 old tractor tyres and used them in the garden. One fitted under the tepee trellis, and the other was placed at the far end of the herb wheel to create a water feature. This was lined it with off cuts of pond liner, and then filled the bottom with clay from the local river, this was then filled with potted aquatic plants. The water feature would be great for attracting insects and birds and also creating a microclimate.
By recycling the hundreds of bottles we had been collecting over the years, we started to add tumbled glass mulch along the central walkway. Bag by bag I tumbled glass in a cement mixer, cleaning them and laying them on top of the weed suppressing fabric. If tumbled correctly the glass is smooth edged and can be walked over by humans and animals without causing harm. What I liked about this is that the glass sparkles and shines like water when it rains.
By June we had all 4 quadrants ready for planting, and a layer of straw pulled out from the deep mulch system that we had been using in the chicken runs was the final touch. My husband had generated off cuts from planks he had been milling, so we cut these to a uniform size digging them in about 3inches and overlapping each one for form the outer border. We also placed rounds of sliced logs 3 – 4 inches thick to act as “stepping stones” so that one didn’t have to walk on the soil whilst weeding or harvesting between the plants. The four main pathways had a thick layer of wood chip over the weed suppressant fabric.
Planting for the first season was from seed propagated in the polytunnel. The 1st quadrant for culinary herbs was very productive and we had basil, thyme, rosemary, marjoram, coriander, tarragon, chives and sage most which lasted well into November.
The 2nd quadrant had borage, Echinacea purpurea (coneflower), purple mallow and Calendula officinalis (marigold). I allowed an opportunist pumpkin seedling to take over the rest of the bed. It was so prolific that we harvested over 20 squash. Next year this bed will be dedicated solely to growing medicinal and healing herbs.
The 3rd quadrant was largely untouched as it was the furthest away from the house, I planted Cape Gooseberry seedings and they thrived in the sunny, protected spot. These will be removed and replaced with other plants in the new growing season. The final quadrant had mints and purslane.
Maintenance, Evaluate and Tweak
By design this area was fairly low maintenance throughout the growing season. With its proximity to the house, I could do weeding as and when required. The soil was soft and loamy as the horse manure broken down and weeds were easy to pull by hand. The main tasks were to harvest and contain a rampant pumpkin plant. As we had not implemented any irrigation system and had taken care to mulch with straw, it would only be occasionally watered over the extremely dry and hot period in the summer.
Looking back over the first year of this project I am delighted at the yield, visual display and diversity this design has produced. From what was a near barren space with only grass and a large tree, it has turned into a haven for insects, birds and ourselves.
There are a few tweaks to the design that we will be implementing in Spring 2019.