Design Arno's backyard (2018)

Posted on do 24 mei 2018 in designs • Gewijzigd op 30 december 2018

This is the main design for the backyard. It ties the other designs for the garden together.

Arno's jungle on 2018-05-18

Backyard in the middle of May 2018.

My front yard and back yard provide the perfect practice ground for trying out new ideas. These pages document some of the ideas I have executed and the reasons for them. As with every design, with changes come new possibilities. Some ideas have proven not to work too well in the context of my garden. Those failures provide essential input on what could be tried next.


When I bought the house in 2005/2006 with my former wife, the garden was ornamental. The previous occupants had planted some nice looking but inedible shrubs. There was a young fruit tree. The terrace was paved with concrete slabs and a major part of the garden was grass lawn. My partner took care of the garden and I helped.

After the divorce in 2013 I let the garden do its own thing. I did very little maintenance mostly because I could not be bothered. The result was a jungle. I liked what I saw. There was much more life in the garden.

In October 2016 I followed an online course: Oregon State University's Intro to Permaculture Design. This course was given by Andrew Millison. During the course I used my back yard to learn the different tools the course offered. The hugels are a direct result from this work.

In February 2018 I completed a Permaculture Design Course given by Rakesh "Rootsman Rak". Consequently I have started looking again at my front yard and back yard. I try to apply what I learned.

Design strategy

As shown in the introduction, the garden has gone though many iterations. Starting out I had zero gardening experience. The vision for the garden also changed significantly over the years. One thing I do note: over time, the designs have become far more informed by observation.

To present the current iteration of the back yard, I have retrofitted CEAP as the design strategy. This is to show where changes fit into the permaculture way of thinking and where improvements can be made.

The design team for the latest iterations of this project

  • Arno Peters
  • Ina Heinz

Collect site information

See site information for all collected information on the backyard.

Client interview

I believe the future of our species survival will depend on intimate knowledge of the natural world and our place within it. Permaculture is a strong basis for this knowledge. We need to deepen this knowledge in individuals and groups to ensure at least some of it will be passed on to next generations.

Our vision for the future is to start a farm and make it a beacon of learning and community. We are already doing this on a small scale in our house and our surroundings.

While a PDC provides learning in a broad range of topics, I find much more depth is needed to become a good permaculture designer. One of the goals for the back yard is therefore to gain as much practical knowledge as possible.

Evaluate the information

Zones and sectors


Zone 0: the house

Zone 1: terrace and garden beds

Zone 2: from the raised beds to the shed

Zone 3: the back yard from the shed to the gate

Zone 4: roof of the shed (potentially) and front yard



  • front yard: east
  • back yard: south - south west - west


  • in summer from south west mostly wet and warm
  • in winter from north west mostly cold and wet
  • variablility has increased in recent years due to weirding of the jet stream
  • in our urban environment, wind gets funneled between the blocks of houses


  • regular rain
  • unknown flooding risk

Snow / hail

  • occasional hail bullets 1cm in diameter


  • unknown fire risk

Noise pollution

  • neighbors to east and west
  • highway to west
  • busy road to south east

Particle pollution

  • from highway to west
  • from asphalt factory to south
  • from neighbors bbq to east and west

Chemical pollution

  • from highway to west
  • from asphalt factory to south
  • from gas burning furnaces


  • our cat
  • Ina and I
  • neighborhood cats
  • jackdaw
  • dogs (front yard)
  • friends and family

9 ways of observing

  • communities
    • petting zoo started keeping bees in middle of 2016, harvest of mirabel subsequently skyrocketed. In 2015 2kg, in 2016 8kg, in 2017 40kg(!).
    • insect activity has notably increased due to available habitat in hugels, compost bin and "insect hotel"
    • Potentilla indica (mock strawberry / schijnaardbei) really likes the shade under Prunus domestica subsp. syriaca (mirabelle plum / mirabel)
    • after the extremely dry summer 2018 Geranium robertianum (Herb-Robert / robertskruid) has taken over the garden
  • edge
    • border
    • fence with neighbors
    • access to common alley
  • energy
    • sun comes in back yard around noon until it sets
    • front yard gets less sun, is shaded by Viburnum tinus (laurustinus / sneeuwbol)
    • neighbors extension wall soaks up solar heat
  • flow
    • humans flow from porch to shed and back, from shed to gate and back
    • wind flows mostly across the garden due to surrounding structures
    • water flows from sky to ground and seeps in
  • from stillness
    • garden is quiet, occasional noise from neighbors and traffic
    • the tree has matured and succession under the tree is starting to catch up
  • I wonder...
    • if / how I can Erinaceus europaeus (hedgehog / egel) to visit my garden to take care of slugs
    • how much bigger the tree is going to get still
  • limits
    • tree shades most of the back yard
    • 60 m² backyard, 12 m² front yard
  • past & future
    • 1930 & before: wood land and agricultural use
    • 1955: construction of house and neighborhood
    • 2006: house purchase
    • 2013: rewilding the garden
    • 2017: construction of hugels, rain water catchment
  • patterns
    • blooming plants over time
      • major sources (March - beginning of April)
        • Forsythia × intermedia (border forsythia / Chinees klokje)
        • Pieris japonica (Japanese pieris / rotsheide)
        • Prunus domestica subsp. syriaca (mirabelle plum / mirabel)
        • Ribes sanguineum Pursh (red-flowering currant / rode ribes)
      • minor sources (end of April)
        • Berberis thunbergii (Japanese barberry / Japanse berberis)
        • Chelidonium majus (greater celandine / stinkende gouwe)
        • Fragaria vesca (wild strawberry / bosaardbei)
        • Geranium robertianum (Herb-Robert / robertskruid)
        • Potentilla indica (mock strawberry / schijnaardbei)
        • Ribes nigrum (blackcurrant / zwarte bes)
        • Ribes rubrum (redcurrant / rode bes)
        • Ribes uva-crispa (gooseberry / kruisbes)
        • Taraxacum officinale (dandilion / paardenbloem)
        • Vaccinium corymbosum (northern highbush blueberry / blauwe bes)
      • minor sources (end of May)
        • Digitalis purpurea (foxglove / vingerhoedskruid)
        • Hydrangea macrophylla (bigleaf hydrangea / gewone hortensia)
        • Rubus idaeus (raspberry / framboos)
    • space over time
      • garden is quite light before the trees blooms / leafs out

Apply Permaculture Principles


  • Earth care
    • moisture
    • nutrients
    • air
    • soil life
  • People care
    • provides food
    • source of enjoyment
    • source of education
    • place for socializing
  • Fair share / Future care
    • ensure enough blooming plants to attract insects
    • ensure enough green plants
    • ensure enough carbon rich plants
    • allow many plants to go to seed
      • save seeds
      • plant seeds
      • give seeds away
      • give plants away
    • have many plants that can be propagated by cuttings

Attitudinal principles

  • multiple elements x multiple functions
    • water from rain (directly), rain (stored), grey water from kitchen, water mains
    • overflow of rain barrel to small water feature, overflow of water feature to gutter along the border
    • organic material from kitchen, collected from neighborhood, grown in garden
    • organic material from the garden used in compost, as fertilizer, as mulch, as food and as construction material (for hugels)
    • plants from garden centre, community gardens, neighborhood, friends and family
    • bicycles for transporting people, things and plants
    • bike trailer for transporting goods and plants in detachable container
    • pallets for constructing compost bin, various gardening bins and bird house
  • Everything gardens
    • use compost, green mulch, chop-and-drop
    • put vines next to support beams and trees
    • compost bin
    • invite ants, other soil creatures to set up shop in the garden
  • the problem is the solution
    • annuals don't work well under the shade of the tree → use plants adapted to forest floor or forest edge
    • snails eat leafy greens → most snails actually prefer eating dead and decaying material → use green mulch and harvest the snails that come to feast
    • lots of snails → invite more birds, animals and insects to eat the snails
  • yield is theoretically unlimited
    • jungle retreat
    • increased biodiversity
    • many interesting living things to discover
    • source of nutrition
    • source of education
    • source of inspiration
  • work with nature
    • plant the desired species in a spot and watch it find its niche
    • plants wander to spots they like better
    • use plants adapted to shady places for under the tree
    • reserve sunniest spots for annuals, more shaded spots for perennials
    • lead climbing plants up the tree for more vertical space
  • minimum effort, maximum effect
    • to get rid of grass → plant Fragaria vesca → watch it take over
    • compost bin is four pallets set on their side, easy to assemble, easy to take away if it had not worked

Holmgren principles

  • Observe and interact
    • watch the tree grow over time changing the vegetation underneath
    • see how our different experiments evolve over time, notably
      • water catchment
      • compost bin
      • hugels
      • planters
      • plant supports
  • Catch and store energy
    • implement water catchment
    • use tromb wall to create a better micro climate
    • use compost bin to catch chemical energy
  • Obtain a yield
    • harvest mirabels from tree
    • harvest berries from bushes
    • harvest annuals from garden beds
    • learn about nature: plants, animals, ...
  • Apply self regulation and accept feedback
    • annuals don't grow under the tree any more, change to perennials
    • water catchment took a few iterations to work out
    • experimenting with plants that will grow in a shaded understory
    • Allium ursinum (wild garlic / daslook) disappeared because we planted it in a place that was too sunny and had too many nutrients
  • Use and value renewable resources and services
    • bees, insects and other invertebrates pollenate plants
    • soil bacteria and fungi break down garden waste
    • birds feed on food scraps on the compost pile
    • cat feeds on mice
    • catch water for use in drier times
  • Produce no waste
    • kitchen waste goes into compost bin
    • grey water from kitchen goes into garden
    • materials used in construction came from skips
    • divert leafs, grass clippings from municipal collection into compost pile
    • water overflow runs into garden
  • Design from patterns to details
    • work from tree to smaller areas around it
    • work with existing structures as much as possible
    • water flows from high points to low points
  • Integrate rather than segregate
    • hugels provide nutrients, moisture and fungal trading networks for plants on the hugel and the tree roots underneath it as well as habitat for bacteria, fungi, invertebrates and other animals inside it
    • use as many of the seven layers of a forest
    • maybe connect up the compost bin and the hugels to create a fungal superhighway
  • Use small and slow solutions
    • all construction was done by hand using simple tools
    • compost bin
    • water catchment
    • hugels
  • Use and value diversity
    • provide habitat for many different species
    • plant many different plants
    • allow wild plants to establish themselves
  • Use edges and value the marginal
    • use of available edges
      • on wall and in tree: Hedera helix (common ivy / klimop)
      • on fence: Hydrangea macrophylla (bigleaf hydrangea / gewone hortensia)
      • in tree: Rubus phoenicolasius (Japanese wineberry / Japanse wijnbes)
      • on side of the compost bin: nothing yet
    • marginal plants include growing a number of common weeds
    • adding edge by using hugels and raised garden beds
    • using the edge of the hugel as the overflow gutter
  • Creatively use and respond to change
    • gardening is an ongoing exercise in responding to change
    • tomato seeds geminating on the compost pile? Let them grow! And plant a pumpkin there as well.

Plan (implement, maintain, evaluate)


Some parts have their own design:

Running experiments in 2019:

  • creating new plants from cuttings
    • Ribes rubrum (redcurrant / rode bes)
    • Ribes nigrum (blackcurrant / zwarte bes)
    • Rubus phoenicolasius (Japanese wineberry / Japanse wijnbes)
    • Elaeagnus umbellata (Japanese silverberry / zilverbes)
    • Vaccinium corymbosum (blueberry / blauwe bes)
    • Rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary / rozemarijn)
  • (re)introducing new plants to the garden
    • Rubus phoenicolasius (Japanese wineberry / Japanse wijnbes)
    • Fragaria × ananassa (garden strawberry / aardbei)
    • Allium ursinum (wild garlic / daslook)
    • Ocimum basilicum (basil / basilicum)
    • Thymus vulgaris (common thyme / echte tijm)
    • Hemerocallis fulva ( / gewone daglelie)
    • Menta (mint / appelmunt, zwitserse munt, pepermunt)
    • Montia perfoliata (winter purslane / winterpostelein)
    • Eruca sativa (arugula / rucola)
    • Lavandula angustifolia (lavender / lavendel)
    • Pastinaca sativa (parsnip / pastinaak)
    • Allium cepa (onion / rode ui)
    • Allium sativum (garlic / knoflook)
    • Allium moly (yellow garlic / goudlook)
  • identifying newly found species to the garden
    • Brassica juncea ssp. Juncea (Japanese giant red mustard / amsoi 'King Mustard')
    • Cardamine hirsuta (hairy bittercress / kleine veldkers)


Evaluation of growing season 2017

  • What went well?
    • Growing tomato's was a great success
    • Mirabelle harvest was huge: 40kg!
    • Cucumbers were late developing, good harvest
    • Raspberry had two harvests
    • Slugs had a great party (unfortunately for us)
    • Water harvesting went well after initial hiccups
    • Compost bin worked
  • What would I do differently?
    • More focus on perennials and self-propagating plants: berries, tubers
    • Guide tomato plants earlier using some sort of enclosure
    • Let plants grow stronger indoor before planting outside
  • What is my vision?
    • Incorporate front yard as well
  • What is my next step?
    • Observe newly planted berries next year
    • Add more planting containers to more effectively use available sun
    • Try a few different annuals
    • Try polyculture and overlapping plants in time
    • Continue trying new things

Evaluation of growing season 2018

  • What went well?
    • Indoor sowing gave us
      • three tomato plants,
      • three pumpkin plants,
      • two cucumber plants,
      • two aubergine plants,
      • a batch of Ocimum basilicum (basil / basilicum) and
      • a batch of Eruca sativa (rocket / rucola).
    • To combat the drought, we used the grey water from the kitchen to water the tomato and aubergine plants. Those plants thrived for the most part while others suffered.
    • The A-frame construction with bamboo worked well for the Cucumis sativus (cucumber / komkommer)
    • Helianthus tuberosus (Jerusalem artichoke / aardpeer) grew to 3m height with a huge cluster of tubers produced.
    • Compost heap has turned into very good compost.
    • The Humulus lupulus (common hop / hop) in the front yard turned out to be female. We harvested and dried a small batch of hops.
  • What would I do differently?
    • Due to the drought, the berries on the hugels died. I would plant them deeper in the soil the next time.
    • We should try to take the top out of Solanum lycopersicum var. cerasiforme (cherry tomato / kerstomaat) to keep its growth in check. This is also better for the integrity of the bamboo construction we made to guide the plants.
    • Bring the grey water further out in the garden as well not just in the planters closest to the back door.
  • What is my vision?
    • Try scaling this up to an allotment or community garden
  • What is my next step?
    • Get an allotment (done!)

Overview of lessons learned over the years

Some of the lessons learned:

  • observing carefully
  • pruning a (fruit) tree
  • harvesting water
  • impact of drought on plants
  • creating and using a hugelkultur
  • preserving harvest
    • making jam
    • making wine
    • making chutney
    • fermenting vegetables
    • freezing
    • drying herbs
    • preserving seeds
  • identifying
    • plants
    • birds
    • insects
    • other animals
  • learning about habitat
  • providing diverse habitat
  • making compost
  • growing annuals
  • influence of sun light on plant growing
  • scavenging for materials and plants
  • effect of location on usage (e.g. bench)
  • stacking functions
  • creating permaculture designs
  • communicating