Thoughts on Applying Permaculture Principles in Scotland

Permaculture has been around for a long time. The movement originated in Australia and now influences sustainable gardening practice all over the world. Whether you believe in it wholesale or pick and choose the applicable elements from it as I am doing, there is no doubt that there is much to learn in this field. We should all be thinking holistically and sustainably about our lives and those of others around us.

Being a mindless adherent to any system is in my mind a foolish thing though. I have been thinking a lot recently about the problems inherent in applying exactly the same gardening techniques around the world, in places where the climate and challenges differ considerably. Of course this is not what those initial proponents of permaculture had in mind at all.

In Scotland, for example, we do not have the water shortages that have lead to certain typical permaculture practices. In fact, we often have more than enough of the stuff! Forest gardening can be very successful here and there are a few excellent examples already established across the country – but without a hot tropical sun, most of it is to do with planting in clearings and on the edges of habitat. Much has been done but more has yet to be learned about the sorts of plants that can thrive in forest gardens here.

Even within Scotland, the climate and challenges faced by gardeners can be very different. We are lucky enough to live in East Fife, where we have a larger number of sunshine hours than most other places in the UK. We are not as wet as the West, nor as cold as the Highlands. I hope our permaculture experiments will pay off, though I am very much a novice and there is very little data available on what does and doesn’t work in our exact area.

So far, we are still very much at the planning stage, though we have already applied permaculture ‘zoning’ to our house and land. We are working with a piece of land that is only around 1/3 of an acre in size in total and with some limitations and fixed points determined by what was done here before we arrived a few months ago.

What we have to work with:

– An established walled orchard of around 20mx10m, further from the house beyond the parking area. (There are several apple trees, a plum tree, a rowan in a raised circular bed at the centre and a cherry – though that does not really fruit, according to the previous owners.) There are gravel paths and edging beds filled with shrubs. The rest under the trees is currently given over to grass. We have cleared some of an edge bed to grow raspberries up against the stone wall, and planted garlic at the feet of the bare-root canes. I have also made some layered ‘lasagna’ beds beneath the trees to start the work of turning this into something more along the lines of forest garden. Later in the year we hope to also introduce some chickens and a couple of ducks to this area.

The orchard - a work in progress.
The orchard – a work in progress.
Raspberries and garlic in the orchard.
Raspberries and garlic in the orchard.

– An area of grass closer to the house than the orchard, which will be a more traditional ‘cottage garden’ type area for annual vegetables and their companion plants. The work of turning over the turf and creating the eight beds is ongoing. We will see this area every time we come and go from the property.

Future Vegetable Beds
The area for vegetable beds. Lots more digging to do!

– The garden on the other side of the house. Much of this, with mature trees, is given over to the dogs and will be a recreational area.

– To the south of this section of garden we have the polytunnel, separated by a fence from the dogs. We cleared some huge non-native conifers from this section to give space for the tunnel and allow more sunlight to reach the rest of the garden.

Thought has been given to the positioning of certain areas. The areas most often visited are largely closer to the house. I am sure that we will learn more about what works and what does not. Certainly, we will continue to apply permaculture principles as we go along.

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