Veg Patch design – Full

Read the Design Summary first


In early June 2013 I moved house and was given free rein on a large and weedy vegetable patch. Living further out from town I did not have the access to fresh, local, organic food that I was used to and wanted. Growing my own seemed a good solution.

I have dabbled in food growing in the past, but I would not say I am very experienced. I did however, have a lot of enthusiasm and had read a fair few books and articles that had inspired me in different methods I could try. I also wanted to build on my learnings from the allotment design that I did for my mum.

The Design


As it was already well into the growing season when I started, I decided to use 2013 primarily as observation time and aim for a design for the 2014 growing season. To this end I took some photos and recorded the success of my small scale growing that year.

It was pretty rampant, but my housemate James did a grand job of clearing it all. I did, however, have lots of Earthcare guilt about the exposed and disrupted soil ecosystems.

Houlston Veg Patch 2013 - Houlston Veg Patch 2013

Clearing in progress

Houlston Veg Patch - Growing in 2013

Growing in 2013

Houlston Veg Patch 2013 - Rather a lot of thistles...

Rather a lot of thistles…

Houlston Veg Patch - We discovered some wonderful soft fruit!

We discovered some wonderful soft fruit!

In the meantime I was reading through Aranya’s book Permaculture Design – a step by step guide and reflecting on my previous land-based design. This gave me lots of ideas for taking forwards. So I started by taking measurements to put together a basemap and discovered string and a short tape measure is no substitute for a proper surveying tape measure! Nevertheless I did my best using my smart phone to take bearings too. When it came to drawing it up there was definitely  a bit of inaccuracy, but I concluded that for what I was doing that level of inaccuracy wasn’t a big problem.

Sketch map

Sketch map

I also surveyed the plants already there and rated their frequency with the DAFOR scale. It was really interesting to actually identify all of the ‘weeds’ that were growing. I could not deduce a clear pattern from them though in terms of where they like to grow, apart from disturbed ground! It would have been interesting to have done this before it was cleared too, when the plant communities were more established.

I also did an inventory of all of the seeds that I had gathered from various sources – some donated from my mum, some hanging around in the house and some spare ones of Bills. I sorted them into what time of year they needed planting so it was easy to find. I was introduced to James Wong’s book James Wong’s Homegrown Revolution and I got inspired so I bought some seeds for people for Christmas and to save on postage I bought some for myself as well, but as I did not have a plan by that point it was a little bit random which I chose.

Houlston Veg Patch Journal

Houlston Veg Patch Journal

I did a small amount of growing in 2013, mostly with spare plants that my mum bought up for me. I kept it all in a small patch and tried out a few techniques like mulching with the weeds I had just pulled up. I kept a record of everything that I did in a notebook, my housemate James also created a blog for recording our experiments, but I never got round to writing on it. I had mixed success, but I learnt things such as that mulching can increase the numbers of slugs and also did quite  a lot of unrecorded observation.

This is as far as I had got by the time the year turned and I was starting to get a bit anxious about getting a design together as I knew that I needed to start planting seeds soon.

So I continued with my information gathering by doing some soil tests in a few sites and discovered there was more clay than I had expected, however trying to do a more thorough jam jar soil test just confused me, because there was still so much suspended sediment when I was supposed to mark the boundary between sand and silt that I couldn’t see where the surface of the sediment was and then as the sediment settled over the next few days it ‘sunk’ and so the levels for clay were also inaccurate, although you could quite clearly see the clay layer.

soil testing sheet

Soil testing sheet

Site 1 Soil test

Site 1 Soil test

Site 2 soil test

Site 2 soil test

With this information I drew up my basemap and an overlay of existing plants and soils.

My original basemap

Existing plants overlay - top left

Existing plants overlay – top left

Existing plants overlay - top right

Existing plants overlay – top right

Existing plants overlay - bottom right

Existing plants overlay – bottom right

Existing plants overlay - bottom left

Existing plants overlay – bottom left

Trying to spot frost patternsI then came to sectors… I had a go at spotting frost patterns, where it lingered and where it melted; I went out in the pouring rain to see if water pooled anywhere or drained in any particular pattern; I chose a windy day and put out a load of plastic bags on sticks to try and discern patterns in the winds flow. I could not discern much variation across the patch from any of them, but there were a few site wide discoveries – the hedge provided a little shelter from frost underneath it; there was no pooling of water even during heavy rain, in fact the whole patch was raised up from the road where water did pool; and there was not enough wind at a metre height to blow the bags even when it was quite windy.

Observations of sectors and systems

Observations of sectors and systems

Observations of sectors and systems

Observations of sectors and systems

Now the sector where there was variation across the patch was in shading, but having not thought about it in advance I did not have observations from other times of year to use. So I decided to try out the sun compass. The instructions on it were not that clear, so although I had a go I was not sure whether I had done it right. When I tried to turn it into a sun sector overlay I was skeptical of the results, so I referred back to some photographs I had taken in the summer as well as an aerial photo taken around the autumn equinox and observations at the time which was the spring equinox to try and corroborate it. I concluded that I had too much shadow using the sun compass so I ended up using the accurate information from the photos and observations and then extrapolating and using my recordings to guesstimate the rest.

Sun Sector Overlay

Sun Sector Overlay

I also found the long term weather data for the area.

Consulting the house

Consulting the house

Client Interview

Client Interview

The remainder of the Survey stage was looking at what was wanted. So I did a consultation with everyone else in the house and then a much more detailed Client Interview with myself.




The process of putting together the basemap and looking through the results of all of the surveying started off the analysis in my head. I then considered all of this information and used it to identify the key functions of the design. I also set myself some SMART goals around these functions.

Key functions and SMART goals

Key functions and SMART goals

From these I attempted to start thinking about the systems that I would need to meet the functions, but I found this quite challenging as the space was quite simple and therefore did not need lots of systems in it beyond growing plants. So I ended up starting with a different tack of writing a list of the plants that I wanted to grow. As I did not already have the knowledge of the growing preferences of these plants I decided that I would create a database which I could then use to help me plan which plants I would grow where. So I created a comprehensive database which you can see a sample of below.

Plant Planner database

Plant Planner database

This helped me to see which seeds or plants I did not have and would like. Through this and discussing emerging ideas with other people, I got donations of more seeds as well as a gifts of lots of native wild flower seeds for my birthday.

I also did a wider sketch map of the location of the veg patch marking on the zones and the flows of people.

Sketch map of zones and flows

Sketch map of zones and flows


This where it started to get a bit mixed up, because the season was progressing and I was aware that I needed to start planting seeds and clearing ground now, but I did not have a design finished and so I tried to split my time between the two! For the ease of understanding I will still write about them as separate stages though.

I then went back to the functions and set about identifying elements that could meet them.



These ended up quite process orientated as the key features of water and composting etc were already fixed in location. So although they clarified the approach I would like to take they did not contribute too much to the physical layout, apart from the access side. That is therefore where I focused next, planning the network of paths. With not a great deal of variation across the patch to affect things I designed a network of paths which were visually appealing but gave good access to all beds. I divided the plot into areas so that I could work in small achievable steps. I then used my spreadsheet as well as further internet and book research to put together some polycultures to try out, aiming for a mix of heights and similar planting timings. I then assigned these to each of the areas, depending on how high they grew to minimise shading.

Design layout - whole

Design layout – whole

Design layout - top left

Design layout – top left

Design layout - bottom right

Design layout – bottom right

Design layout - bottom left

Design layout – bottom left


By the time I had  finished my design I had already got so far with actions and into the season that it was too late to put together an implementation plan, let alone a maintenance plan. I was essentially winging it trying to use my emerging design to inform my actions.

Growing seeds indoors

Growing seeds indoors

Planting seeds

Planting seeds

From necessity I created myself an indoor seed growing area with a giant bit of cardboard covered in foil to try and improve the amount of light there. My landlord had thrown away all of the plastic plant pots so I got inventive with recycled containers with mixed success! I did successive sowing of seeds and managed to keep on top of watering and weeding out the unwanted extras from the homemade compost.

board paths

Board paths

I did intend to start small and keep it achievable. I decided to try and think ahead a bit, so I cleared away some vegetation from one area & covered it in cardboard, compost and black plastic. I covered another area with carpet I found in part of the plot without clearing the vegetation. I realised that I had nothing to make paths out of! I found a few wooden planks, which I put to use as some rather more angular paths.

I then slowly started clearing areas, only removing surface growth though, not digging. My intention was to sow and plant the areas as I cleared them so that it would supress the weeds. Unfortunately I don’t think any of the seeds I planted straight into the soil grew! The weeds however, did!

I got a delivery of partially rotted cow poo from the farm which I spread over an area and it definitely stopped any weeds growing as it was quite acidic still. I planted tomatoes though it and they were fine.

I planted some of the plants out and nearly all of them slowly succumbed to slugs…

Weeded, raked and resown

Weeded, raked and resown

Blackcurrants cleared

Blackcurrants cleared & grass left on ground as a mulch

By mid June I was feeling a bit overwhelmed and disheartened. I sat and did a bit of a review and decided to just focus on tending and improving the areas that I had already cleared, giving myself a much more manageable focus.  This immediately gave me a much more positive outlook and so I went back to some of the areas in progress and weeded them and attempted to rake over the soil to make more of a seedbed and planted a salad polyculture. I also planted out all of the mint plants my mum had given me and James cleared all of the vegetation from around the blackcurrants. Collectively this had a big positive psychological impact.

Then at the end of June the context changed as I decided that I would be probably moving house before the next growing season. This vastly reduced my motivation for thinking longterm as I doubted that anyone else would care for any of it when I had left. So I set to encouraging the wildlife and supporting the plants that were already doing well (minimum input for maximum output), foraging from outside of the plot and harvesting my learnings from the process.


I never got to this point in either the designing or the doing.


I evaluated this design as an integral part of writing it up, going back through all of the documentation, reminding myself and reliving the process, capturing reflections and learnings as I went. In this section I will focus on the content of the design.

What went well?

  • A few things did well and gave me a yield:
    • I got a reasonable number of tomatoes before the blight got them
    • The spinach and chard survived the winter and then produced lots of seeds which I harvested
    • The mint and salad burnett were happy
    • The herb patch which I didn’t specifically include in my design but which I tended and used as it was outside the backdoor, flourished with my attention
    • I got a good crop of chilli peppers and a couple of little sweet bell peppers
    • A few purple beans!
    • Emergent bittercress and chickweed were great
    • Broad beans
  • Some other things thrived but I didn’t harvest them:
    • the cardoon
    • the jerusalem artichokes (too early)
    • the potatoes (because I left it until after the tops had gone and I couldn’t find them…
    • It got me outside and getting exercise!
    • I have a plant database for using in the future

What was challenging?

  • Having minimal practical growing experience and lots of theory
  • Growing seeds outside straight in the ground
  • Not having someone to ask for advice
  • Slug proofing
  • Keeping on top of weed growth in a large area
  • Fitting it in around everything else in life

What I would do differently next time? And have learnt.

  • Mulching can encourage slugs
  • Seeds like a seedbed, much better germination rate
  • Never underestimate nature, you might think something has died, but it may return!
  • Over winter manure before planting into it
  • Snapped off tomatoes regrow roots if you put them in water, a solution for straggly tomatoes?
  • Actually eat your harvest, don’t ‘save’ it as it will go off
  • Beans don’t like growing down a piece of string, pull it taught and up!
  • Squash loves growing directly into manure
  • Tell people if you are saving a ‘weed’, make sure everyone is clear – saves heart ache when they pull it out!
  • Clearing surface vegetation gets rid of quite a lot of weeds, but the persistent ones like dandelion and dock will be there a long time without digging them out
  • Exposed soil can form a hard crust on top – not great for seeds
  • Start collecting resources well in advance, eg. cardboard
  • I am passionate about foraging and nowhere near as motivated by growing, so maybe foraging could be my focus and supporting and tweaking my local ecosystem

Did I meet my SMART goals?

  • By the end of September 2014 food grown in the Veg patch will have replaced our veg box – I did not reach this SMART goal. Looking back it does not seem particularly realistic! I am not sure that I comprehended the time and effort it takes to establish & maintain a system that productive.
  • From June 2014 there will be salad leaves and fresh produce available year round – I had a year round supply of salad burnett and herbs! I did not really meet this SMART goal either.
  • The veg patch will be maintainable on half a day per week – I did not get to this stage, but I was not managing to give half a day to implementation so I am not sure if I would have been able to give half a day to maintenance even if I had achieved this. 
  • In Summer 2014 there will be over 15 species of insect in the Veg patch – I did not measure this.
  • By May 2014 rain water will be being captured and used – I did not manage to identify somewhere to capture it from. I was also aware that I was not planning on staying around and so I was less motivated towards longer term actions.
  • The Veg Patch will require watering less than once a week in summer 2014 – Well it got watered less than once a week, but I am not sure that that is the same thing!

I am surprised that I don’t have a SMART goal around my learning and experimenting as that was definitely one of my main reasons for doing the design and it had a big influence on the way I did things. I definitely got a substantial yield of learnings.

Overall Evaluation

Design Framework Evaluation: SADIMET

I am not sure that I fully did this design framework justice as I did not really get to the Implementation and maintenance plans, which I can see on reflection would have been very valuable. However, with the much more comprehensive guidance from Aranya’s book I felt that the SAD parts worked well for this land-based design and I feel like I have got much more of a feel for and understanding of it as a framework. The really comprehensive surveying was very useful, although I underestimated how long it would take!

A minor frustration I have come across before was the lack of capturing of ideas as you go along. I did in fact make myself an ideas sheet, but I still do not see a space for this in the framework before the Decisions stage and as I find that the process of Surveying and Analysis generates lots of ideas this is an energy leak in the framework.

I also did not follow the process very linearly, mainly this was due to time pressures meaning I needed to make decisions before I had finished surveying. However, there are also some aspects which I felt contributed to several of the stages, such as the plant planning database which although I have included it in Decisions it contributed to surveying, analysis and decisions. Having used the design web quite a lot I am used to a less fixed process and I am happy that as my confidence as a permaculture designer grows I am happy to make frameworks suit my designing style, by tweaking and adapting them. I also constantly tweaked the design as I was implementing it and doing further observation of the current context.

Tools used Evaluation

Design tools evaluation

Design Process Evaluation

What went well?

  • Trying lots of different tools and techniques that I was interested in
  • Really taking the time to observe and survey everything thoroughly, there was so much I discovered
  • Going through the design process really thoroughly, I now know what is involved and so will be able to be better prepared next time
  • Reviewing and tweaking the design as I went along
  • Lots of learning and observing throughout that has contributed a lot to my understanding

What was challenging?

  • Not having the right tools for the job, eg. not having a surveying tape
  • Working out shade mapping without proper observation
  • Trying to use tools out of a book, not having someone with practical experience with them to demonstrate
  • Not leaving enough time to do all the surveying and designing before implementing needed to begin
  • Not having the experience in growing to input into the design process
  • Trying to manage the entire Veg Patch

What would I do differently next time?

  • Really observing through the seasons, recording sectors, plants etc
  • Aim to finish the design in the autumn before,  so mulching etc can be done.
  • Go for quality rather than quantity focus on a small area and do it well, then build on that foundation
  • It is okay for you to have worked some things out in your head, it doesn’t all have to be a really thorough, conscious decision, your brain can be more powerful at solving complex situations than logical thought is!
  • Have regular check-ins on progress and vision, to allow for tweaking and momentum
  • Make sure I leave time to do the Implementation and Maintenance plans, they are important
  • Get more practical experience in growing to input into designing
  • Be honest about limits, it is better to assume you have less time to give than over burden yourself
  • Now I have a greater understanding of the tools I might need, trying to get hold of them for when I need them
  • Find a demonstration of someone using a sun compass

Learnings update

Since moving house I have had a few opportunities to move forwards from this design. I am lucky now to be in a situation where I live with lots of people growing food, which allows me to join in and learn without having overall responsibility for making it work.

We also have Anni Kelsey, author of Edible Perennial Gardening, who is going to be doing a couple of experimental beds on our land, which is a wonderful opportunity for me to get involved and learn about polycultures and perennials in a practical situation. I was also able to bring a bit of my experience to the situation in terms of suggesting that we put a ground cover over the whole beds to begin with so that we can put in the polycultures at our own pace. Also I am going to design the pathways for one of the beds using the same principles and ideas I used in this design, but this time we will properly wood chip them and be able to test them out properly. I also shared my plant database with Anni and others involved and as a result of this it has been used as a resource in an Intro to Permaculture course.

Finally I have done a mini design for the window box outside my bedroom window, really making use of my learning to keep it small and manageable! You can see the design in the mindmap below.

Window box design - SurveyWindow box design - AnalysisWindow box design - decisions, implementation and maintenance

Window box harvest

Window box harvest

Window box in August 2015

Window box in August 2015

Alumni Network design – Full

Read the design summary first

The Design

I would like to tell you a story, so pull up a chair, make yourself comfortable and I will begin…


It all began as a design task for a Sector39 PDC on designing an alumni network for the graduates of Sector39 permaculture courses.

Or, it all began in May 2012 on a farm in the Welsh borders with a 2 week PDC where our narrator, unsure of the next steps in her voyage of life, got inspired and empowered by the ability of permaculture to make things happen! To cut a long story short she ended up trying to set up a new life in that area and to continue her journey of permaculture discovery. She knew that there were lots of other people in the area who had done PDCs, but how to find them? She didn’t know, so she asked her PDC tutor Steve Jones. He told her a few people, but it all felt a bit awkward and difficult. Out of this confusion a seed of an idea emerged – there should be a way for people who have done Sector39 courses to get in touch with each other, so that they don’t finish their PDCs and feel a bit lost and alone when they go back home to ‘reality’.

So our narrator took this idea to Steve who could see its potential. As fate would have it, it coincided with another discussion about what design tasks could be set for the modular PDC Steve was running at the time, and the problem is the solution, so it began…


So the wheel of the year turns and we find ourselves in January 2013 on a PDC weekend. All the students were given the choice of two design tasks and three people chose to join our narrator in designing her vision. So let us meet the players.

  • Nia True wanted experience of people-based design and had been wondering whether this idea existed already.
  • Gemma Jerome already had lots of other experience of working with communities and this was where her interest was focused.
  • Paul Stocking is a community artist, although he was most used to working alone, he felt that connections and people were the edges which he needed to stretch next.
  • And then our narrator, Kerry, who had felt the lack of this network and wanted to make it a reality, which meant being closely involved in its designing and implementation, even though she wasn’t on this course.

Before the weekend drew to a close a plan of action was decided on. Using the SADIMET handout the surveying stage was sorted into four sections, with one person responsible for starting each:

  • defining an alumni network & researching existing ones
  • surveying Sector39 to set the ‘context’ of the design
  • preparing a Client Interview for Steve Jones; and
  • preparing a Client Interview for all the alumni (Kerry’s role)
The whole PDC group

The whole PDC group – on the front row from left to right – Nia, Gemma and Kerry and on the far back right is Paul.

Kerry: I was very aware during the whole design process of letting the group take their own path and make their own decisions. I wanted to be an equal group member, not a leader and was very conscious that given my greater designing experience it would be very easy to take over. As part of this I asked everyone to share why they chose this design and what they wanted out of it, so that I could name this situation and we could all get the yields we wanted. 

I was pleased with how the first discussion went and how the group was working together, although I was worried that Paul wouldn’t get to play his full part as he was quite quiet and the least experienced in people systems amongst three strong women!

And once again I was frustrated by the SADIMET design handout and how land orientated it was. I was pleased to be able to offer my experience to help work round this.


The group of designers lived far and wide across the land, so they couldn’t meet up in between the monthly weekends. But in the modern digital age that challenge was easily overcome through virtual meetings on skype and sharing documents on google drive. However, not all of the group were familiar and comfortable with these, which inevitably led to a degree of segregation even though every effort was made by the others, as we shall see.

So their first virtual meeting came to pass, through the magic of the internet. One of the group couldn’t find their magic word , but the intrepid members who did make it had a look through everyone’s work so far, tweaked it and then decided which path to take next.

The skype meeting worked really well, apart from Paul not being able to join us. We got on well and worked together smoothly and with fairly equal contribution. I was very grateful to Nia for offering to take on some of my action points, as I had quite a few! In the end I only had to put the questions for the alumni into an online survey for everyone to test.

They tried to have a second meeting, but this time someone else had to rush away at the last minute. Nevertheless the yields were good, everyone was in the loop and further decisions were made. Following the meeting, the survey and an introductory email was send to all of the Sector39 alumni to collect their resources, limits and preferences, with a mighty 52 responses.

Principle - Use and Value DiversityPaul was struggling to understand the design process and our aim. On reflection I believe he just did not think linearly which made me feel like he was going off on tangents, which I struggled with as I was quite determined to follow SADIMET step by step and not jump into designing early. I did try to explain things to him, but in hindsight still very much from my perspective without recognising and valuing a diversity of approaches.


Paul couldn’t make their next gathering, but they did a Client Interview with Steve anyway,  all taking notes on different sections in recognition of the diversity of perspectives on a shared experience. The great breadth of knowledge they had gathered was the then distilled into a basemap – a snapshot of the situation now.

Basemap - goal

Goal – Click to enlarge

Basemap - current situation

Current situation – Click to enlarge

Basemap - values

Values – Click to enlarge

Basemap - resources

Resources – Click to enlarge

Basemap leaks

Leaks – Click to enlarge

Basemap constraints

Constraints – Click to enlarge

The three women stayed together that night, with multiple yields including getting to know each other better and having more informal discussions about the design.

Principle - Use small and slow solutionsI find these informal discussions are where some of the most valuable ideas and insights come from. I think the Client Interviews (Steve and wider alumni) captured lots of useful information and generally confirmed what we had already been thinking, which was reassuring. In hindsight one of the things we didn’t survey was what facilities and organisations already existed that fulfilled similar roles or that we could utilise as resources, this lack of information hampered us later on and meant we may have missed some potential small, slow solutions.

Paul traversed the country roads to join the gathering the next day. After filling him in and adding his thoughts to the basemap, we presented it to Steve, who agreed it matched his perspective.

An important decision was made this day, since the beginning there had been many discussions of the word alumni, what it meant to people and whether it was right. After reflecting, the group decided Friends of Sector39 was a clearer and more welcoming name.

But time was drawing in, the design was to be presented at the next gathering, so to speed things on their way the group decided to do some individual analysis to combine on the final weekend.


As it often goes no-one found  time to do much analysis in advance, so our narrator stacked functions when staying with Nia on the eve of the final weekend. They tried to do some analysis using Aranya’s book and after much head scratching the functions of the design emerged.

  • Increasing the yields for Steve from the resource that is the Friends of Sector39
  • Increasing the yields of the Friends of Sector39 network for it’s members

It was great to do the analysis together as I had struggled with applying the mainly land-based explanations to our design and muddling through together was much easier! I also believe the analysis we did was better than what either of us would have produced individually. I was initially reticent to share the functions I had already thought of, as I wanted to see what Nia thought first, but all the other ideas seemed to be systems and elements.

Overnight the world turned white and no-one made it to the course, so it was postponed until next month. This bonus design time was not put to good use and when the final PDC weekend arrived there was a mere half a day to finish the design and prepare for presenting it. Time was of the essence so after explanations the group decided to plough on with the functions Nia and our narrator had devised. The group struggled to use SMART goals for this people-based design, but so as not to completely lose their function the group replaced them with another method of measuring the success of the design. which was doing an annual ‘informal survey’ of the Friends and Steve to check what was going well and what could be even better.

I found that coming up with SMART goals for people-based designs is more challenging as the yields and functions are often less tangible than a handful of carrots. We didn’t persist with them as we were short on time, but I wanted to find a good solution, so I asked on the diploma facebook group and got lots of useful advice, such as WISE goals (written, integrated, synergistic & expansive) and stars, whose use I tested in future designs. On reflection our method of measuring is pretty energy intensive and is actually more suitable for the ‘tweak’ stage. 

It was decided that all systems and elements had to fulfil both functions. And with no time left for the intended unboundaried ideas session, they were driven down a certain path. This path, however, was only there due to all the observation and consideration of the last three months. As both functions were around increasing yields they included the yields which would be gained from each element of the design.

Analysis process

To demonstrate the process. Systems and elements in the middle, functions down each side and the yields in between.

The time restrictions meant we didn’t have the space to be properly creative and explore all the options, it also made it less enjoyable. I could have chosen to spend more time exploring it myself in between sessions, but I wanted it to be a group design, not just mine.

But coming up with it wasn’t enough, the group now needed to explain it to others. So they created a flipchart with mindmaps of each element and how they would be implemented. This has been summarised below for your viewing pleasure.

Friends of Sector39 design

Click to enlarge and see the full design

The two phases were so named as Phase 1A would not finish before Phase 1B began!

I was quite pleased with the design and that it clearly met all the functions and needs. Although I felt if we had had more time we could come up with something even better. Reflecting now, it seems a pretty ambitious design.

Interestingly because I was intending to actually action this design, we automatically transformed it into a basic implementation plan rather than just a static design.

And so, the design was presented, to Steve and the rest of the course.

The reaction to our presentation was disappointing, I didn’t feel we put it across that well, but there was a real lack of enthusiastic response. After reflecting on this afterwards I decided that as we were actually intending to implement it, the design was much more realistic and practical, rather than exciting and visionary and that this was what it needed to be and would hopefully lead to greater success.

The design only included very basic details on implementation and as such didn’t provide easy momentum for making it happen once the demands of every day life took over.


Nia and our narrator were the only ones able to make it to the ‘launch’ at Steve’s Party  and with no time to prepare together the responsibility rested with our narrator for making it happen.

Principle - Apply Self-regulation and Accept FeedbackA summary and feedback sheet was put together to put up at the party, which had an added yield of being a good refresh of the design. To test the waters it was presented to the residential PDC course running at the time and the feedback was positive.

At the party, as always, plans changed, ending up with a presentation to everyone there, which despite a personal crisis resulting in entirely the wrong frame of mind, actually went quite well. A couple of routes forwards were suggested, including integrating with the Shropshire Permaculture Network or using Project Dirt. As it was beautifully sunny day no-one went inside and filled out the feedback sheets.

Launching the Friends of Sector39

Introducing our design to the guests at Steve’s party

Maybe the lack of feedback was also due to the fact that it was a party and therefore people weren’t in that kind of headspace. Several talked to me personally, but due to the above mentioned challenge and the fact that it was a party I didn’t manage to remember that much useful information.

Despite my best attempts to decentralise the implementation plan and our groups best attempts to decentralise the whole design and get lots of people involved it still ended up being up to me having to follow people up and put the effort in on the ground.


The impetus for the design rested with our narrator and personal circumstances meant she had low energy and motivation for taking it forward, but once she had decided to postpone the first eBulletin until the Autumn equinox everything seemed more manageable and the ball started slowly rolling again.

In September group contact was re-established and a plan for getting the first eBulletin out was devised by Gemma and our narrator, which included dividing the workload in two so it could be worked on independently.

An executive decision was made to put the Directory of Friends on Project Dirt, because Steve had pre-empted the decision in an email he sent out to everyone and it was already established so required minimum effort. So after liaising with the organisers it was decided that Friends could sign up and befriend Sector39 on there, that way everyone would be able to find each other. So the group all signed up to start it off!

Then a series of obstacles presented themselves, firstly trying to get the relevant emails off Steve to set up the googlegroup, then by limitations on entering the emails on to googlegroups and finally trying to get news off Steve to go into the eBulletin. But eventually it all came together and out it went.

I was pleased with the eBulletin, unfortunately the response was fairly low, mostly people asking me to change their email address, but Steve liked it. Thankfully, we already had a volunteer to edit the second eBulletin, but no-one has volunteered since. I tried to stack the functions unfulfilled at the launch into the eBulletin, but got no response.

Co-ordinating the eBulletin remotely with Gemma when we were both busy was quite challenging and meant I ended up doing the lions share. I also decided to reduce the burden on myself by not fighting to get it out exactly on time and by taking the responsibility for making decisions myself so I didn’t have to wait for others input.

Because I was planning on using this design for my diploma and because I had come up with the idea in the first place it ended up being me keeping up the momentum. At this stage I was still hoping that I just had to deal with the growing pains and then it would roll on itself.

I found that the designs weren’t in a very easy format for me to refer back to. 

To help those that came after her, our narrator put together an eBulletin template to guide people on their way.

The Winter Solstice (second) eBulletin went out eventually, but our narrator had to do lots of chasing people up. By this point she was starting to question the wisdom of this path and where she might go next and so here we are, reflecting and telling stories.


To write this story I have again reflected on the design and results myself and have also sent an email round requesting feedback from my design group and a few others people I know in the Friends of Sector39 network.

The insight that I have reached through this reflection process is that there is currently a leak when people finish a PDC and aren’t sure what to do next to continue their permaculture journey. I believe that there should be a greater diversity of post PDC pathways offered on top of the current one of, start the diploma straight away. Some with a slower route to starting the diploma and others that don’t involve the diploma at all. These probably exist already, but aren’t publicised. Exactly how and what this would look like would need another design to clarify.

The mistake I made in this design was moving straight from my motivation of feeling lost and unsure of my pathway after my PDC to an assumed solution of an alumni network for Sector39. It is actually a potentially broader pattern and there are many possible solutions to it, which should be explored.

I shared some of these thoughts on the diploma facebook group and the ensuing lively discussion helped me to clarify my thoughts, so thank you to those involved.

I have decided to self-regulate and accept feedback that our design wasn’t gathering momentum and therefore I am not going to keep putting energy into it, but I would like to use my learnings and potentially some of the resources in other contexts, including the one above.

Overall Evaluation

Design Framework Evaluation: SADIMET

As I had found previously it was a bit clunky for using on people systems. I find it a bit too rigid for accommodating all of their different variables. This is compounded by the fact that most explanations on its use are very land orientated.The survey stage works okay, but the analysis is quite challenging to get your head around if you don’t have experience of it – trying to identify functions and make SMART goals.

It didn’t feel like there was a good space in the structure for capturing and generating ideas, all the way through we were trying to hold back from designing too early. In hindsight and with more experience under my belt I would have set up a cycle rack for parking all the ideas we came up with so as to capture and store that energy.

We more or less combined our Design and Implementation planning stages. The flow of the process and the relationships between the elements was too important a part of the design for us not to put it straight into a time frame.

The Maintain stage was never really reached and Evaluation is being covered in this write up.

SADIMET is a very linear (or at least step by step) process and therefore not so great for people who don’t think linearly and for the creativity that flows in lots of different patterns. I am sure there are techniques that could be used in conjunction with it to alleviate this, but equally the design web is specifically designed as a non-linear process.

Tools used evaluation

It was challenging to design long distance and therefore virtually. I didn’t feel skype was a great medium for it as it encourages a more linear and less creative approach. Especially as we weren’t using video. It also excluded people who were less technologically able. However, it was free and did enable us to have meetings in between weekends.

Flipchart mindmaps
These are good for thinking when you are together as a group and are useful for presenting, but they are difficult to then share with each other and to be easily added to. They are also no good for including in diploma portfolio write ups as they are too big!

Online mindmaps (specifically mindmeister) were quite hard to follow, were constantly trying to get you to sign up and were also very difficult to then convert into any other form, such as printing off. It was however, the best solution we had at the time for sharing the basemap, which was in the form of a mindmap.

Group working
This is great for increased ideas and creativity and I really enjoy designing as a group and valuing the diversity of skills and perspectives. However, you need the time and processes in place to ensure that you use everyone’s skills to their full. I feel we really missed out on using Paul’s skills as he is very creative and capable, but didn’t contribute much to the design.

Survey Monkey
This was very useful for sending out the survey to lots of far flung people, it is also free and I was familiar with it. However, with the free version I couldn’t download the results so had to just take screen shots which were more awkward for sharing with others and more time consuming for me.

We decided to use them because they are free, you can control who is a member of them and all members can contact the whole group, which was important when having rotating editorial control. It was however hugely time consuming and fiddly to put the email addresses on to it. And I don’t think new graduates are being added to it.

Overall design reflections

What went well?

  • We worked well as a group, trying hard to be inclusive
  • We did a very thorough and diligent attempt at using SADIMET for a people-based design, working things out as we went along
  • Some of it was implemented and resources were created

What was challenging?

  • Limitations on time in general and time physically together
  • Using SADIMET for a relatively abstract people-based design
  • Sharing the workload, especially in the Implementation phase
  • Responding to change – trying to doggedly carry on with the design we had constructed despite changes in circumstances
  • The initial survey of the alumni showed a will to engage and network, but we didn’t find the spark to ignite this into action

What would I do differently next time?

  • I would ensure that I had identified the why and motivations behind the design and was designing the right thing
  • I would survey the resources and limits for the design process too such as limits for those implementing it and resources available for using during designing
  • I would ensure the final base map and implementation plan were going to be easily referred to and used at a later date
  • I would try and integrate more learning/thinking styles into the design process.

Allotment Design – Full


My mum has had an allotment for a while, she likes the idea of it and likes to grow her own food, but found it hard to get down there often enough to make it work. This led to a spiral of erosion of not putting enough time in and so things not working and it all becoming a big extra stress and burden. As I had not long ago done my permaculture design course and wanted to have a go at putting it in to practice and because I am always on the look out for good, personalised, low cost presents I offered to do my mum a permaculture design of her allotment for her Christmas present (2012). This suggestion went down well and so the process started.

My mum lives in Buckinghamshire in a small town and the allotments are 20 mins walk/5 mins drive from her house.  She actually only has half an allotment. The person who originally had the other half was enthusiastic about permaculture and after many complaints from the allotment committee he got asked to leave because his allotment was too messy.

My mum’s job is running an eco-centre at the local school, it was only established a couple of years ago and so they are in the process of getting a veg garden up and running there.

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