Manor Garden

Manor Garden (2002-2004)

Daffodils at the ManorI took on the care of this manor house garden soon after moving to the mobile home. It suited me at the time as I was able to work alone on my own initiative. It was about as far as I could get from how I gardened at home and it could be hard to make a case for it being sustainable, yet even here Permaculture can find its place. These big gardens are very labour intensive; that was the whole point of them in the first place. If you could afford to employ all those people to look after an extensive garden, you must be very wealthy indeed.  These days motor mowers and other equipment make such gardens a lot easier to maintain, though one of my conditions for taking the job was that I didn't manage the lawns!

Despite the advantages of modern machinery, maintaining this kind of garden still consumes a lot of energy, not least in the use of  fossil fuels. Large areas of lawns and gravel driveways take a lot of looking after. We all know how quickly grass can grow in the summer months and unlike a meadow that can be grazed, large gardens with extensive beds of shrubs and plants where the grass is intended to to look carpet-like, can only be mown. Lawns are both incredibly energy-intensive and heavily reliant upon chemical sprays to keep them looking 'perfect'. In the USA it has been determined that Americans collectively spend more money and use more pesticides and herbicides on their lawns, than on their entire agriculture growing food! I can only assume that we are heading in the same direction...

Gravel driveways are just as difficult to maintain. Weed seeds in particular love the warm moist conditions found there and germinate up in great numbers when the weather warms up in the Spring. These days, sprays are usually used to kill those seedlings, but I chose instead to weed by hand, hoeing where the gravel was deep enough. The only long term sustainable solution though is to replace the gravel! Permaculture shows us that we need to work with nature; pulling out pioneer plants that were trying to colonise a gravel 'desert' was doing just the opposite and didn't sit well with my way of gardening. This was the reason that I eventually gave up the job and looked for something else that was more in line with my own philosophies.

Cherry blossom & daffodilsA garden of this size demonstrates the great value of trees, shrubs, bulbs and perennials. With a little care, displays like this one will appear year after year and this is why Permaculture gardens are mostly based around these types of plants. Vigorous self-seeders are also plants that you can more or less leave to get on with it. In this particular garden, Honesty and Nasturtium were prime examples of such plants. Of course, Permaculture gives a lot of attention to the value of any plant in the garden and a lot of the time that means asking what function is this plant performing here? Whilst I might consider this in terms of physical yields, like food or fuel,  I also value the scents and colours that plants give us as nourishment and I seek to find a balance of all these things in my own garden.

Another major energy input, that isn't so easy to deal with by modern methods is the issue of weeding such extensive beds of plants, shrubs and trees. When I started this job I discovered that one Permaculture technique was already in use; that of mulching. Considerable amounts of mulch material were being laid down around the plants in the winter months and this suppressed the growth of weeds during the rest of the year, greatly reducing the workload in the growing season. A selection of different materials can be used to fulfil this task, though all have their advantages and disadvantages. Manure, spent mushroom compost, straw, bark chippings, leaf mould, grass clippings and plastic sheeting are all things that are commonly put to use as mulch. 

Beds which demonstrated the value of mulching!Examining various criteria such as cost (and availability), biodegradability, ease of application and look, can lead to different materials being chosen depending on the garden in question. In a garden such as this, looks are considered important and with the large area of beds that needed to be covered, something locally available and cheap was deemed most appropriate. The two winters I gardened there, I used locally bought spent mushroom compost, and although it was a lot of work to get it spread over all the beds, it was work that was done at the quietest time of year. Without the mulch, the weeding in the garden would be considerably more difficult and overall, my time and energy was certainly saved. 

Nasturtiums providing summer ground cover & retaining moisture in the soil.Permaculture recognises that in natural systems, plants and trees occupy various distinct vertical layers. We find seven in cool temperate climates, these being the canopy trees, shade-tolerant trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants, climbers, ground cover plants and the root layer. A garden of this size contains plants within all these groups and so in some ways, it is a more complete eco-system than many smaller gardens. More diversity of plant life leads to more wildlife and that can only be a good thing nowadays. Gardening on such a scale also provides opportunities for many different combinations of plants to be grown together and here we meet another Permaculture principle. In the wild, plants grow in 'guilds' which are grouping of plants which are mutually beneficial to each other. This could be as simple as a tree providing support for a climber, which in turn gives off a substance that repels pests from the tree. Many guilds are far more complex than this, but we can learn from observation which groupings of plants work well and use them for our own benefit.

The herb garden & greenhousesOne resource that wasn't being harvested at all on site when I arrived was the rain, and while it would take a lot of water storage to collect enough for the whole garden, there were plenty of roofs and guttering to plumb water butts or tanks onto. Tap water with its added chemicals may be just about OK for watering established plants, but seedlings are much more delicate and prefer rain water. Water butts are obviously best placed where the water will be needed, in this case by the greenhouse, but frustratingly these greenhouses were not designed for this. One of them could have no guttering at all because of the shape it was and the other provided no way of efficiently getting the water from the built in mini gutter into a downpipe for collection.

Fortunately, most greenhouses I have come across have been better designed than this. While there may be some very labour intensive lawns and driveways in such formal gardens, there are also areas which are much more natural looking (usually due to time and labour limitations). Permaculture has its part to play even here, saving maintenance work and creating areas that yield much more than just a view. That said, gardening on this scale can provide some very beautiful sights (and scents!) hard to achieve in much smaller spaces; the photo of the Wisteria (below left) being just one fine example of this.


A superb display of Wisteria sinensis

The Manor house

Clematis & rose on the garages