The Joys and Sorrows of Designing Your Garden

Andrew Shindyapin

Andrew Shindyapin

February 7, 2019
The Joys and Sorrows of Designing Your Garden

A while ago, the polar vortex had brought frigid temperatures to much of the US, although the last week or two, the temperatures have been a bit warmer. Many of us sustainable gardeners and food-growing enthusiasts are dreaming of spring, waiting to get back to our gardens. We are poring over the seed catalogs that are starting to arrive in our mailboxes. Or perhaps we look at our garden-less back yard (which may be under a foot of snow), and just sigh… just like the saying about the cobbler’s kids having no shoes, we permies and sustainable garden enthusiasts often find ourselves designing food systems for other people, and not having one ourselves.

There was a recent article on a DIY-themed site about how to draw a landscape map. The accompanying picture was gorgeous. Something like that would probably take most of us many hours to achieve (much more than the half-day’s worth of time, or the effort, that the article suggests). It would probably require a few (hundred) revisions as we get better at it and think of things to add, remove, or change. Also, we would need to do a lot of research to make sure we think through everything.

What if we put aside paper and pencil for this task and went to our computer or tablet? We would need to first decide on what program to use. If it’s a generic graphics program like Photoshop, we will spend tedious time making sure every little detail is correct (speaking from my own experience here: it took me ten times as long to make sure my dimensions were correct then it did to draw the design). Or, if it's a gardening design program such as Old Farmer’s Almanac Garden Planner, it may either have a really steep learning curve, or not have the features we may want. I investigated a few such programs for designing a square-foot garden for a client, then ultimately went with just using a spreadsheet. I am simultaneously embarrassed and proud of that one... is there a German word for that? Perhaps Schämenstolz?

We passionate gardeners have probably researched everything we could about growing our food: what plants best grow in our hardiness zone, how much sun or shade each plant requires, the amount of water it requires, and other variables. But of course, we don’t know what we don’t know. This is where an that provides the knowledge and data, a community, and helpful prompts comes in really handy.

As we find more data, we need to go back to the design and change it to better fit the newfound knowledge. It’s downright painful with a paper design: we could draw over it just one or two times before having to start over with a blank piece of paper. Imagine if you had an app that provides you the tools to make a useful digital plan?

If, by indomitable iron will, we are able to complete our design, a few challenges remain. What project should we start with? When is the best time to plant? Do we need to do anything before planting (hint: highly likely)? Can we do it in stages, and make each stage look good so we don't end up keeping our landscape in an ugly transition period, or pay an arm and a leg to just have the whole design implemented? Then, of course, we'll have to do it all over again next year. Ugh... are you exhausted just thinking about it? Because I am!

This is painful! How can we do better?

I am developing an edible yard app based on permaculture principles called Edible Estate. It will address the pain points of the frequent revisions needed on a paper design, the prodigious research and how it ties in to the design revisions, and what to work on next. Version 0.1 is ready for the alpha users now. You just enter your address, and the app provides you with satellite/aerial imagery of your yard. Then you start drawing on top of this background to capture both existing plants and structures, as well as future plans.

I'm incredibly excited about offering the app to people passionate about growing their food in their yard. I’m taking on alpha users at the lowest price I’ll be offering. Most of the alpha user group spots are filled, but there are a few spots left. Once they’re gone, I will raise the price for the beta version, and the beta user opportunities will open up. If you’re sick of paper and pencil, generic programs that don’t really give you a representation of what you’re doing, and you want a garden planning tool that actually uses your yard and not just a generic template, don't delay!