Allotment Garden

After over 10 years on the waiting list I received the key for my allotment on Ferry Road last week. It’s a half-plot – a five by fifteen metres strip, rented from the council for £54.50 per year.

Many thanks go to Ian Woolard at Edinburgh Council for his enthusiasm and help in finalising the tenancy.

Also, huge thanks to the previous tenant Nancy Dryburgh for; leaving the plot in fine condition; the kind and encouraging hand-over letter; and the books – especially the ‘Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening’ left for me in the greenhouse.

Looking forward to permaculturising the space, growing northern-hardy foodstuffs for the family table, and experimenting in weird and wonderful ways.

We also have a resident fox – which my nephew has called Miller.

Allotment looking north

Permaculture Association VKRF Bid Success: Information for Action on Climate Change

Wonderful news that our bid for V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation funding has been successful!

Congratulations to Chris and Andy at the Permaculture Association for their enormous contribution and to everyone around the globe who is a part of this exciting future – what a great Christmas present!

Looking forward to working as user-experience designer via Edinburgh Napier University on this international project with colleagues from throughout the UK, Europe, the United States and Australia. In these difficult times this is a real success.

V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation
V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation

Sustainable Interactive Gardens at Merchiston Campus

I’m feeling very positive about the development of sustainable interactive gardens at Merchiston Campus following our meeting on Friday 16th with Eric Munro, Edinburgh Napier’s Director of Properties and Facilities, Billie O’Neill, Merchiston Campus Manager and Jamie Pearson, Environmental Sustainability Manager. Professor David Benyon and Alison McIlveen were also involved in support roles.

Everyone was keen to progress the project and it seems likely we’ll be establishing two sustainability gardens;

  • a library garden – where we can prototype some of our ideas in a confined space, and
  • a kitchen garden – where we can kickstart a polyculture for catering staff.

With my position as a sustainable HCI researcher tied down until October 2018 things are looking up :).

Many thanks to all who’ve been involved thus far and here’s to a green and pleasant future for the local community at Merchiston.

Library garden - south east facing
Library garden – looking north
Rear area – looking south east (site of kitchen garden)

Mapping Merchiston

Good permaculture begins with a thorough understanding of place. I’ve been utilising the excellent National Museums of Scotland geo-referenced maps site to gain better knowledge of the Merchiston area.

Below are screenshots from Roy’s 1752-55 Lowlands, and OS maps through the 1800’s to a 1957 map showing the watershed.

Interesting to note that the land to the west of the campus was a cricket pitch and to the north, a bowling green prior to tenements being built in the late nineteenth century.

Recent meanderings

Research publicity

Thanks to the Permaculture Association for publishing the report on our SICSA-CHIUK-sponsored workshop on permaculture and digital interaction :). I believe we’re also getting a wee blurb in the next Permaculture Works newsletter – which has a reach of 1400 members.

Undergraduate Group Projects

I’m also in the process of defining group projects for 3rd year undergraduate students. One is on the delivery of video content triggered by Near-Field Communication (NFC), and another is on the delivery of audio content based on Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) iBeacons. A third could look at connecting with permaculture gardens in the developing world via ‘buddy benches’, a fourth at an interface for a digital magnifying glass, a fifth at revealing hidden worlds via augmented/virtual reality – such as; soils, the history of a place, or seasons out of season, and a sixth at gameification – such as real-life tamagochi’s.


I’m hoping to do a Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course with Graham Bell running from Feb – Aug 2017.

I’d also like to do a tour of permaculture ScotLAND sites in early 2017 to get inspiration for our proposed interactive garden at Merchiston.

Napier Estates meeting

We have a meeting with the Estates people on 16th December to discuss the interactive garden idea.

Design dialogues – evaluation

On Thursday 1st December we ran our final design dialogues workshop with MSc students. The students spent the design session last week and the first hour of this workshop developing a ten slide presentation of their interactive sustainable garden for primary schools idea. They then pitched their proposals to the rest of the class who acted as client.

I’ve been very impressed with their ideas, and engagement with how permaculture and the digital could be blended in novel, scientific, fun, educational and inspirational ways.

Here are their presentation slides:

Herb-e: an interactive lifecycle garden
(Fergus Alexander, Emma Caldwell, Michael Sharp)

Herb-e: interactive lifecycle garden
Herb-e: interactive lifecycle garden

Design for a portable, responsive and sustainable garden
(Virginia Sinapan & Siddhartha Dash)

Design for a portable, responsive and sustainable garden
Design for a portable, responsive and sustainable garden

Recent adventures


A few weeks ago I met Holly Benyon from Changeworks with a view to partnering on an Interface Innovation Voucher. We’re hoping to find innovative ways to upcycle artefacts from cleared offices, but also we’re looking at solar roofs, smartboard technologies, palette and vertical gardens.

Merchiston Library Garden

I took a walk around the Merchiston library garden with Sally Jorjani (Academic & Business Liaison (A&BL) Team) on Friday 9th – who is keen to help with the development of this space as a sustainable place. We discussed access to the garden from the library and the provision of strong wi-fi. Another positive response to the project.

New School of Computing Research and Innovation Officer

I met with Alison McIlveen, new SoC Research and Innovation Officer to discuss the development of the Merchsiton Interactive Garden. She was very supportive of the project and had also spoken to the Merchsiton Estates manager about it (who also was keen). It seems that Catering too are eager to have a herb and vegetable plot (as Queen Margaret already have). Alison showed me some Merchiston spaces via printed Google Earth graphics that Estates are already discussing in terms of a garden. Again, a very positive response.

Funding proposals

Currently I’m a part of three funding applications:

  • As UX designer on the V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation Permaculture Knowledge Base Project
  • As co-investigator on Research Funding Competition 2016/17 bid: An Interactive Garden at Merchsiton (iGarden), and
  • A Santander Staff Mobility Grant for funding of a permaculture design course

Design Dialogues Workshop: Understanding

On Thursday  8th November I ran the first of four Design Dialogues workshops for Masters students on the topic of ‘understanding’ with a mock brief requiring students to come up with designs for a mobile sustainability garden for Edinburgh primary schools.

Project brief

In light of the challenges of Climate Change, Edinburgh City Council invite tenders to design a mobile, responsive, sustainability garden that can be moved around Edinburgh primary schools to demonstrate the principles of sustainable design.

The garden could include elements such as (but not restricted to):

  • a fruit tree guild
  • a pond
  • water and energy harvesting (e.g. water-butts, solar panels etc)
  • a herb and vegetable plot
  • a food forest
  • a well-being/chill zone,
  • a meeting place
  • a composter
  • tools, structures (e.g. greenhouses, sheds, gates, ovens, etc)

Crucially the garden should also be augmented digitally with appropriate technology – how, is up to the designers but the computational augmentations should deepen understanding of ecological processes, or provide insights into sustainable living.

Some technologies that could be utilized are, (but not restricted to):

  • sensors and actuators
  • projectors
  • audio systems
  • video
  • arduino
  • websites/social media
  • smart phones/watches/tablets
  • displays
  • lighting
  • gaming

Proposers should keep in mind:

  • the carbon footprint of any technologies utilized – the materials used to realize the garden
  • how power to the digital technologies will be supplied?
  • how the garden will be transported?

The students responded well to the challenge, and after brainstorming lots of ideas such as; revealing what is hidden, buddy benches connected to similar projects in the developing world, augmented reality histories of plants, monitored terrariums or ant farms or bee hives, virtual animals, interactive lighting, real-life tamagochis, remote participation, loose parts workshops – they split into three groups to further understand the brief. The plan is for them to further develop their ideas in week two (Envisionment) and three (Design) and present and critique their designs in week four (Evaluation).

Having reviewed their PACT (People, Activities, Contexts, Technologies) analyses – my hope is for the students to develop:

  • a non-screen based interaction design
  • a multimedia sensory, herb-table-garden design
  • an audio/lighting interaction design.

Here’s some images of the session, whiteboards and posters: