Do you like the look of a cottage garden but want something more earth-friendly that can also feed you with less work than a veggie garden? Why not start a permaculture cottage garden?
What is a permaculture cottage garden
What is a permaculture cottage garden you ask? Well, let’s start with what is permaculture first.
Permaculture (the word, coined by Bill Mollison, is a portmanteau of permanent agriculture and permanent culture) is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people — providing their food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.Permaculturenews.org
Permaculture is not new, it is only the term that is fairly new. Permaculture is the idea of creating a system that mimics and works like mother nature. That every part plays many roles just the way everything works in nature.
In nature, a plant performs many roles. It can be food, shade, compost, animal feed, a nitrogen fixer, and more. The more roles you can add or weave into every element of a garden the more stable and easier to manage the garden will be.
For example, in our rough Kansas wind, I have areas on the south side of my garden (where all the summer winds blow in from) where I have sunchokes. These hardy plants are perennials, grow fast, get tall, provide a wind block for other garden plants, attract bees, and provide a food source we can dig up at all times of the year even winter when garden-fresh food is limited.
In contrast, if I was to have a garden with a couple of tomato plants for fresh eating only, I would struggle. The wind would blow, the grasshoppers would show up and my tomatoes being my only crop, would suffer and produce little to no food.
Don’t get me wrong I love where we live, we have wide-open spaces and nice people all around.
However we live in the middle, and I do mean the middle, of Big Ag America. You know where we believe in huge monocrops, that can’t actually maintain themselves or grow naturally. Where every field needs at least half a dozen times it gets sprayed with cancer-causing chemicals a year. Where we try to beat mother nature into submission with big machinery.
Yeah, that Big Ag America.
It’s not good for our food supply, environment, or the farmer. The only ones who benefit from the way big Ag works are the Big Ag companies, and their bottom lines.
There are many, many downfalls to this sort of plant growing. The soil is nearly depleted of healthy microbes, the creatures and environment have all but run away, and it costs tons to keep these fields growing anything at all (which is what dirt was naturally meant to do for free).
The cool thing is when you change the way you work against nature to work with nature, magic happens. That is where permaculture and these “work with nature” concepts come into play.
Permaculture gardening has many benefits including:
- Less maintenance (weeding, watering, etc)
- Little to no pest damage (diversity is key)
- Better plant pollination and therefore yields. More food with less space and work.
- Earth-friendly. No fertilizers or chemicals are ever needed.
- Creates a little ecosystem or mini habitats for beneficial animal life
cottage garden ideas
The Cottage Garden was once very popular and in recent years have found their ways once again back into the limelight.
Cottage gardens with their iconic “messy” look are truly a thing of beauty. Someone with a very strict gardening approach may not appreciate layers of greenery, flowers, bushes, trees, and vines. However, this look and approach is much more the way nature already looks and works so implementing the permaculture process into a cottage garden is the next logical step.
When you are designing a cottage garden some of the different plants and layers of the garden to consider might be perennial ground covers, herbs, veggies, vines, bushes, shrubs, and trees. You also may want to consider annuals that reseed easily and spread.
Nature never much lets the soil go uncovered and that is much of the reason weeds come into the picture, so having a ground cover option in place is a must.
Ground cover has multiple purposes, keeps the soil from blowing away on windy days, locks in the moisture better, creates a microclimate, encourages more soil microbial life, and keeps the soil and a more even temperature, just to name a few.
When picking out a ground cover here are a few questions to think about. What is your environment? Do you live in a dry arid area that would do well with a succulent like ground cover, or do you live where there is lots of moisture and moss would do well? Can you find a perennial for this job of ground cover? Is there a ground cover that will re-seed easily?
When you answer some of these questions you may find some good varieties of a ground cover for you.
Good options for ground cover for permaculture purposes:
- Creeping Thyme
- Ice Plant
- Candy Tuft
- Creeping Phlox
Vines always bring a bit of climbing beauty to any garden. They are great for using vertical space. From fragrance to fruit, shade to flowers, vines can be a great addition to any permaculture cottage garden.
Good options for vine in a permaculture garden:
Herbs are one of those amazing plants I just can’t get enough of. From medicine to soil improvement, from cooking to pest control. Herbs are a superpower and most certainly should have some space in any permaculture cottage garden.
Great options for herbs in a permaculture garden:
- Anise Hyssop
Along with herbs, there are many great options for perennial vegetables that you can plant just once and they will return again and again. This idea really helps in the permaculture aspect as much less soil has to be disrupted for planting and harvesting.
Keep in mind that not everything needs to be a perennial, you will likely have open spaces in your cottage garden where you can put a tomato or a pepper plant. However, all the biodiversity around it will create a much happier and thriving plant.
Great options for perennial vegetables:
- Egyptian Walking Onions
- Tree Kale
Trees & Bushes
What is a cottage garden without a few bushes shrubs or a tree or two? This type of food growing similar to that of a forrest garden or food forrest, can have as many layers as you have space and imagination. If you have space they certainly add some trees (large or small) bushes and shrubs.
Good Options for Trees and Bushes:
- Fruit or nut trees
Cottage Garden Design
Ultimately the permaculture cottage garden is restricted only by your imagination.
What native and non-native plants can you weave together? How many purposes can each element have in your garden? Can you find plants that can be for food, nitrogen-fixing, or food for bees? Will you use herbs that can be both companion plants and medicinal herbs? Would you interplant things to create a microenvironment for beneficial critters like frogs and toads?
Gardening can be a frustration, but most especially when you are working against nature. When you have to turn the soil, amend the soil, plant, weed, water, fight pests/fungi, fertilize regularly, and all to get a less than stellar crop! But you can turn that tide in your favor and work with nature, in a permaculture cottage garden that is exactly what you are doing. You employ frogs, toads, and other critters to take care of pests, bees to pollinate, groundcover to keep weeds at bay, reduce watering, amend the soil and attract even more pollinators.
Sure starting a permaculture cottage garden isn’t the only way to garden. You could do lots of other methods. However, when you can use nature and its magical ways of balancing things out, you can have a garden that nearly takes care of itself, and thrives while doing so ♡♡♡
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From our family to yours, thanks for stopping by
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Beth is a mother of 5 living on a handful of acres in an old farmhouse in central Kansas. Beth has a background in the military and health and fitness however her passions come from her homestead life. Beth is an enthusiastic homeschooling mom, avid organic gardener, chicken & goat wrangler, who is obsessed with herbs and natural remedies and maintaining an all-around Do-It-Yourself lifestyle. Beth loves to share all she has learned about and sustainable living. While striving for a healthy, natural life, family-centered life.