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Site Visioning: When the Current Tenant Still Hasn't Moved Out

I am so excited about getting started on the permaculture design for the new house that I will be moving into (and yes, this does happen every time. and yes, I do tend to move alot. But hey, who can fault guerilla permaculturing the Valley by spending a year in every rental available?) that I have begun a brief design of the site without actually walking the property. Huh.. you say? How can you complete a design of a property that you may have seen but never actually paced out the dimensions of? Well my feathered friends, I can only justify my actions through all out impatience but I like to call it being extremely flexible, visioning and planning ahead and feeling the pressure of fall planting steadily approaching.

Visioning is process that many people skip over or underrate in designing their locations. It is always recommend to start small and manageable but I have found that it is most exciting to have a full plan laid out so that you can have something to look forward to while you are starting small. One of the hardest lessons for me to learn with this 'full plan perspective' is that things do change, you learn and grow and sometimes what you thought you wanted is no longer prossible or even no longer what you want. So this 'full plan persepective' is basically to keep me motivated. And there is no better time to put a long term motivational plan into motion than when you are so excited about your new project that you haven't slept in several days and every one you know is tired of hearing you tell them about the fabulous new ____ that you are about to get started on.

That being said, I pulled out an 8x11 sheet of paper and roughly sketched the dimensions of the property and house layout from memory. The front of the house faces north with a moderately sized front yard and the south facing backyard is HUGE! A moderatly sized corridor of lot faces west and darn it, the whole east side is taken up with driveway and maintence sheds. Well not the whole thing... but I did pout for just a minute. Oleanders screen off the the whole front yard from the street, bamboo and block fencing closes off the rest of the property. The house was built in 1929, recently restored and it has about a two foot raised foundation and semi-wrap around porch.

The landlord has given the ok to remove almost all the grass (he begged me to leave a small patch in the front yard) so the majority of the space is gardenable. There is a large tree of unknown variety in the southwest corner and one small orange tree that struggles to survive on the westside neighbors property and small 3 year old apple that I can coax back to health on the southwest side of the house.

Logistics taken care of.... what do I want to do now??? This is always the hardest part of getting started, looking at the shear enormity of a blank piece of paper that is supposed to become your paradise. So instead of defiling my beautiful but dimensionally inaccurate drawing, I grab another piece of paper and make a list of everything that I want. Then I can begin to transfer the wants to their rightful places in my design.

And because I have no sense of proportion I want: a citrus orchard, a stone fruit orchard, a veggie garden, an herb garden, a flower garden, a dye garden, a medicinal garden and patches of melons, pumpkins, corn, flax, safflower, amaranth, sunflower, gourds, wheat and oh yeah, chickens.

Thank goodness for permaculture, companion planting and storied gardening because while this property is large, it is certainly under an acre and there does have to be a path for me to get to my front door!

So now my permaculture planning is like fitting puzzle pieces back into a whole picture. There is a picture in there somewhere and I will try and try again until I get it right! Or at least till the time when the current tenant moves out and I can't resist getting my grubby fingers into the dirt again!


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Comment by Liz & Dan on July 10, 2008 at 5:12pm
Hi Heather,

I have found these tools indispensable as aids in site design. The first is Google Earth. It has a fantastic measure tool that will give you a good idea of the general size/spacing of the elements of the site under consideration. That way you don't need to rely on memory - and I can't tell you how badly I need help there!

The second is found through They have a feature that you can use to get aerial photographs of the site in question. Just type in the address or use the zoom feature to get in close enough to see the "Bird's Eye" option become a link, then click it. You will be able to see a 'bird's eye' view of the site in question. Not only that, but you can click the rotating arrow to view that angle from the North, South, East and West views! They will generally have these images for any locations near a metropolitan area.

Those are two free features of the internet that I can't be without when working on a site design - Enjoy!

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