Modular Garden Design

‘Design’ Articles at Permaculture Reflections

In 1964, Marshall McLuhan wrote in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man that, “The medium is the message.” What McLuhan was getting at here was that the tools used influence the product they create. Write a book on Post-its, and that will impact how the book is in it’s final, published form. Paint in oils and you will not tell the same visual story as you would with water colours.

Design is no exception. The tools you design with will affect the outcome of your designs. My early graphic work was all done in pen and pencil. I would make a rough sketch and plan out what I was aiming for, then make reiterations, followed by a final drawn by hand. With all the work involved in this approach, each design feels more precious to me. In other words, I tend to fall in love with a design more (which is a bad thing) after having spent hours and hours drawing it out by hand.

Switching to CAD has been a boon for me in terms of creativity. What I loose in terms of flexibility (the pencil is king here) I more than make up for in editable iterations. If I spend a half hour mapping out a design on CAD only to find a problem, I can correct it quickly, or even scrap everything and start from scratch. A half hour in with a CAD program is more like 3 or 4 hours in with a pencil. With that much time invested, making any major change would be painful to say the least.

I still use a pencil when it comes to brainstorming, and idea formation when designing buildings or large areas of space (over an acre or so). I hash out rough ideas and concepts so that I know where I am headed before I move to the computer. On a smaller site, I often do that hashing out on the computer itself.

A few years ago, I got hired to do a design for a community garden outside of Toronto. Since the garden was to be maintained by volunteers, it had to be a design that would require minimal updating from the gardeners. Or to put it another way, it had to be a repeating pattern of annuals that could be easily rotated from year to year.

Rows are great for machines, and rectangles are easy for designers to draw. But to maximize usable space and have it be functional, curved shapes are needed. In the end, I decided to stick a line of keyhole gardens end to end, connecting them up with access paths.

Each bed could then be assigned a number corresponding to a given plant guild, and easily rotated from year to year. To avoid the kind of confusion that could result from all the possible combinations, I made bed layout templates based on plant size (two – A & B – are shown below). This is where the CAD program really shined. I could work out the best layout quickly due to the nature of the design tool. The computer lends itself to making measurements quickly and automatically. I just choose the size I want and see where it fits. No rulers, no pencils, and most importantly, no erasers.

I do things slightly differently now, but this
shows you the nuts and bolts of how I work out garden design. The end
results are unique for each site, but the gist of it is the same. If
a bed has annuals and needs rotating, I use this system. When it
comes to perennials, I can layout the same way but not concern myself
with rotation.

Helpful Resources:

Google SketchUp

Gadwin PrintScreen