Permaculture Design Course #5

Saturday 24th June

After ride-share pick-ups in Edinburgh, and drop-offs at IKEA, we glided, excitedly along the sun-drenched, early quiet of the A68, alive with possibilities – to the Rhymers Cafe, Earlston, where the remainder of our perma-tribe greeted us with camaraderie and joy.

The weekend mostly involved travelling around the Scottish Borders in glorious sunshine visiting inspirational places.

At the Micro Hydro plant on Ettrick Water
At the micro-generation, Archimedes-screw hydro plant on Ettrick Water,
photo courtesy of Gayle Baird

Our first port of call was Philiphaugh Salmon Viewing Centre. Here we saw the rusting old water wheel, sat beside a gorgeous stream and pool, and we walked along a wildflower meadow flood plain to the locally developed hydro-electric, Archimedes screw turbine sitting astride Ettrick Water – a fine example of micro-generation that powers the saw mill and other local homes and businesses.

We then stopped at the local cafe for coffee and a delicious German Apple Cake before making our way to another inspirational permacultural site that Graham was involved in developing – Tweed Horizons by Newtown St Boswells.

Overgrown orchard at Tweed Horizons, Newton St Boswells
Overgrown orchard at Tweed Horizons, Newton St Boswells

In the overgrown orchard we picked walnuts and marvelled at the serene, beauty of the place. The project no longer runs and it was interesting and somewhat sad to see what happens when a permaculture site is no longer maintained. You can read about the project in it’s original form via the 1996 article, ‘Tweed Horizons: permaculture growing and living in the Scottish Borders’ in Permaculture Magazine. We also investigated the adjacent agroforestry project, again a vibrant intervention returned to the wild. The location of the site was idyllic, nestled into a hillside on the banks of the River Tweed opposite Dryburgh Abbey. I’m keen to investigate how this centre can be revitalised.

The last trip of the day was for a late lunch to Scott’s View, an astonishingly picturesque view of the Tweed Valley, where we mused the wonders of the day.

In the evening, five of us merrily camped outside Kelso.

Scott's View - Scottish Borders
Scott’s View – Scottish Borders

Sunday 25th June

A groggy start and meet-up at Rhymers Cafe before we headed to Tim Stead’s house.

Tim Stead's living room, photo courtesy of Gayle Baird
Tim Stead’s living room, photo courtesy of Gayle Baird

Tim Stead was a visionary wood sculptor whose influence is felt the world over. He died at 48, some years ago but his house and workshop are a living testament to the man. His widow Maggy made them available to us to view and so a big thanks is due to Graham and Nancy for making this awe-inspiring trip possible. It is difficult to put into words the elemental creativity of the place – every object and surface a masterpiece of organic design that breathed a sensual life. Everyone was awed by the experience. The place certainly affected me deeply, and I spent the remainder of the day in a beautiful, inspired, contemplative mood that will stay with me for many years to come.

Tim Stead's sun room, photo courtesy of Gayle Baird
Tim Stead’s sun room, photo courtesy of Gayle Baird

After a meandering, glorious, sunny, life-affirming drive back to Grahams, we had a wonderful, alfresco Sunday lunch and spent the remainder of the day harvesting strawberries and cherries and talking about water in terms of the permaculture view.

Tim Stead bedroom. photo courtesy of Gayle Baird
Tim Stead bedroom, photo courtesy of Gayle Baird
Tim Stead's house. photo courtesy of Gayle Baird
Tim Stead’s house, photo courtesy of Gayle Baird
Sunday lunch at Garden Cottage, photo courtesy of Gayle Baird
Sunday lunch at Garden Cottage, photo courtesy of Gayle Baird

VKRF Kick-off meeting

Hollybush
Grounds of the Hollybush Conservation Centre

An early start for the VKRF kick-off meeting in Leeds after last nights DIS event. I’m acting as UX designer on the project ‘Information for Action on Climate Change‘.

I was impressed by the grounds and the feel of the Permaculture Association’s HQ at the Hollybush Conservation Centre – a magical woodland, cafe, allotment and offices nestled beside the Leeds-Liverpool canal.

It was a busy day of collaboratively working out how we are going to deliver an engaging and inspiring online resource for people wanting to actively address climate change.

The group worked well together and managed to travel a lot of ground in a short space of time. Our intention, worked out by the end of the day, is to design a set of online cards (kind of like Trumps Cards) using the card interface as a simplified curation of the complex resources under the hood. We may also develop a physical manifestation of the cards too.

DIS 2017 Poster Provocation

DIS Provocation 2017
DIS Poster Provocation 2017

From six-thirty to eight on a balmy 12th June early evening I stood by our poster-garden in the Edinburgh Assembly Rooms, George Street and talked to interactive systems designers about the need for digital systems design to do more to address environmental degradation, and the social, economic and spiritual malaise associated with it.

A number of attendees made the effort worthwhile by engaging with our ideas, showing interest in our Merchiston Sustainability Gardens project, and professing similar interests and concerns. There is definitely a core of like-minded souls out there, doing meaningful work around food, natural systems and concern for the planet.

And though, to some extent it didn’t feel like the right forum for my ideas – there was value in being different and the publicity of any event at least ensures you visibility. In actuality, I would say that five or six academics (from early-career researchers to professors) showed a genuine interest in my ideas.

On reflection I think we could have been more provocative, and in the future my intention is to tweak the nose of the mainstream somewhat harder.

The details of the paper associated with this poster are:

Sustainable HCI: Blending Permaculture and User-experience. (2017)
Callum Egan, David Benyon
Proceedings of the 2017 ACM Conference Companion Publication on Designing Interactive Systems Pages 39-43
ISBN: 978-1-4503-4991-8
http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?doid=3064857.3079115

Interactive exhibit at Scotland’s Garden Festival

The Canopy Anchor
The Canopy anchor

Three very successful days at Scotland’s Garden Festival (2-4th June 2017) engaging around three hundred people with our interactive permaculture garden exhibit – a great example of harvesting edge.

A collaboration between Edinburgh Napier University’s Centre for Interaction Design and renowned permaculturist Graham Bell resulted in a 4msq pallet garden that demonstrated the layers of a food forest, enhanced by digital interactions, utilising the Blippar platform – triggered by ‘material anchors’ embedded within the garden.

Graham Bell engages the public
Graham Bell engages the public

A diverse audience showed interest in our work:

  • people interested in sustainability
  • people worried about declining bee populations
  • families
  • homesteaders
  • people with particular garden issues
  • people who knew a little about permaculture
  • people keen to do permaculture
  • people who have done/are doing permaculture
  • school teachers
  • councillors
  • people from all social classes
  • other stall holders and organisations
  • garden designers
  • an advertising executive
  • academics/educators
  • doubters
  • event organisers
Viewport, horizontal and canopy anchors in situ
Viewport, horizontal and canopy anchors in situ

Several people were keen to see our ideas delivered via a mobile experience in schools or via other public bodies, such as councils or canal authorities. The ability of the technology to reveal what is hidden is a popular idea.

Though we had inevitable technical issues (the triggered animations often crashed), we managed, via a bespoke web interface to show permaculture films and also used analog means (conversation, books, stickers and leaflets to convey what we are trying to do), that is, paradoxically, utilise digital technology to convey sustainability. Our tablet viewers chained to the garden highlighted how ‘clunky’ interaction in the wilds still is.

The process of putting the exhibit together (doing it), has propagated many research questions and issues that need to be addressed going forward – we talked about; getting away from screen-based interactions (glare was a big problem), the need for exhibit prompts, presence-led interaction, motion-triggered experiences, elemental design, immersive experiences, a geodesic/bower cinema cave, a controlled environment to feed nuanced experiences.

Personally, I was happy to see our garden attract bees, butterflies, ladybirds and dragonflies. Perhaps, in the future we can trigger novel interactions through these and other creatures, in our ongoing permanent story….

Permaculture Design Course #4

On the weekend of 20-21st May 2017 I jumped into the fourth instalment of the Permaculture Design Certificate course at Garden Cottage, Coldstream.

Saturday

Exhibit plants
Some plants for our exhibit at Scotland’s Garden Festival

The day began with the usual ride-sharing from Edinburgh and after mirthful greetings at Garden Cottage, and a look at some of the plants we’re using for our exhibit at Scotland’s Garden Festival (see photo opposite), we settled down in Graham and Nancy’s cosy living room.

Discussions kicked off about perennial Nine Star Broccoli and the sea-kale origins of brassicas, and then we mused the extended honey production time facilitated by rapeseed planting.

We then talked about Unilever and Lord Leverhulme, before moving on to Hutting and the ability of permaculture to make any land fertile – for example – the greening the desert in Jordan project.

Fellow attendees are starting to consider their designs: we have interest in education about food forests and edibles, designing maintenance, guerrilla gardening London parks, smokers and beehives, companions, guilds, soil and nutrients, repurposing the edges of golf courses, edible hedges, transition projects, harvesting groups and preserving.

Thinking about design
Thinking about design

We then talked about money, listing proverbs about it, e.g. money talks, the best things in life are free, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the gates of heaven. We settled on the observation that it’s what you do with money that makes the difference.

We discussed the church being the original large landowner in the UK and the UK’s wealth based on sheep and minerals such as tin. We conversed about wood, stone, iron, bronze, alloys and Cornwall’s own parliament due to its rich tin industry. We went onto the Gold Standard (banks lending eight times the value of their gold). But money is of course a total fiction and it only works because we believe in it. There was talk of LETS Systems, and we did an exercise on what each of us would do if we had unlimited money, mine involved: a small holding, travel, re-aligning the economy to renewables, increasing free time, pubs, merriment, wilderness. There was a brief chat about Grounds for Learning.

We then moved onto assets: health, energy, friends, family, colleagues, transport, gratitude, music, skills, potential, ideas/creativity, tools, language, numeracy, empathy, adaptability, community, spontaneity, experience, food, determination, access to knowledge/resources. Someone mentioned Street Bank and repair shops.

Gooseberries
Gooseberries

Graham touched upon the greatest number of forks in a river being seven. This part of the talk ended with looking at no win scenarios, no lose scenarios, coping, designing what you can maintain and consciously designing for the most resilient way to live.

After lunch we looked at design considerations, observation, who or what are we designing for, what is missing?, landscape, access, markets, energy, local knowledge, surveying, frost, mapping, research, and the value of structured design. Our own designs can be delivered however we want.

In the evening a group of us camped-out – and what fun it was – our group close and positive.

Sunset at Kelso
Sunset at Kelso
Merriment
Merriment

Sunday

The morning talk began on the return to natural philosophy.

We then moved onto Tombreck, James Chapman, the Lost Garden of Penicuik, and the Penicuik Storehouse.

Garden cottage flower
Garden cottage flower

Most of todays talk was on buildings. Christopher Alexander played a big part in this. Things to consider about buildings:

  1. Longevity
  2. Location / climate / microsite / blending
  3. Warmth
  4. Budget
  5. Functionality / adaptability
  6. Regulations
  7. Purpose
  8. Materials
  9. Environmental cost
  10. Energy efficiency

We looked at passive solar, retrofit, air quality, ventilation, pattern languages, geomancy and dowsing.

Garden cottage flower
Garden cottage flower

We discussed the tidal earth – the moon’s energy moving the oceans twice a day, that Tahiti has the smallest tide. We surfed Maria Thun, the lunar calendar and biodynamics.

Next was planning permission – putting things in the application that authorities can put a line through. We mused how to store potential energy? Biomass – wood-chip, pellet, hemp, borage, energy crops, animal waste, waste from distilleries.

The day ended with us splitting into groups and designing a conceptual permaculture island with £50 000. Amusing, enlightening and useful – all groups had pretty similar ideas.

Merchiston Gardens plans

Between Estates and myself over the past few months we’ve been developing our ideas for interactive permaculture gardens at Edinburgh Napier’s Merchiston campus.

Infrastructural work is soon to begin – adding in a corridor from the library to the Lion’s Gate Garden and some electrical points and plumbing for taps.

The plans below detail our broad ideas at present.

Lion's Gate Garden
Lion’s Gate Garden
Kitchen garden and rooftop allotment
Kitchen garden and rooftop allotment

Solar-powered audio interactions

Here’s a student video of the 3rd year group project I set – ‘delivery of an audio experience via solar-powered BLE beacons for the Merchiston Lion’s Gate Garden.

It’s great to see the students working outside with the tech. To some extent – job done.

Lions Gate Garden Presentation by Marc from Marc G on Vimeo.

Filming by Nathan Mair + Marc Girot

Editing by Marc Girot

Actor – Rhona Legget Munro

Music by – Alex Collier + Alejandro Barroso Huber

Narration by – Erin Munro

Application developed by – Piotr Kubicki, Nathan Mair

Design meeting at Garden Cottage

David Benyon and I headed to Garden Cottage today to meet with Graham Bell about the design of our interactive permaculture garden exhibit at Scotland’s Garden Festival in June.

After an enjoyable drive down to Coldstream, on a sunny morn, that allowed David and I to discuss many a thing without the distraction of university life we sat down (after the obligatory walk round the garden) with a fresh coffee to take things forward.

Salad leaf hunt
Salad leaf hunt

Graham first set out the permaculture stall with talk of; the need to reduce work and eliminate waste; turning things into assets; reducing energy demand and therefore pollution; the garden as a soft living room and teaching space providing less work, the provision of food and well-being. He talked about a ‘garden-in-a-day’, Robert Hart – the International Permaculture Convergence 2017 in India – the Soil Association. Epiphytes, climax trees, fungi as connectors of the whole system, whether a bee is a part of the tree?, and building resilience.

The rest of the meeting concerned generating realistic ideas and working out the logistics of the event.

We need to develop a script and tell a good story.

We talked about: audio of birdsong; wood chip, spent mushroom compost, 60 salad species available in May, an edible poster, plum tree as climax, the concept of a forest garden (the world wants to be a forest), there is no wilderness left in the UK, the longest it takes for a place to become a forest is one lifetime, taking us back to being hunter/gatherers, building soil that does the work for us, feeding soil so that the soil feeds the plants instead of feeding the plants which is what chemical agriculture does, minimum tillage, indicator plants e.g. nettles.

We agreed on the need for small provocations. We could have a bowl of edible picked stuff such as flowers. Graham talked about Abundant Borders an initiative in the Borders that addresses food poverty. Polyculture is the key. We wrapped up the ideas with a discussion about the Happy Museum.

After a delicious lunch from produce in the garden we drilled down to costs etc and agreed on a method that should deliver us a 4msq palette garden in the short timeframe we have.

Graham walked us around the garden identifying numerous edible plants. I filmed this session.

After saying our goodbyes David and I had the luxury of another 90 minute trip home to discuss things further. A long but very productive day.