Avalon Permaculture Gardens
Avalon Permaculture Gardens is a permaculture and personal growth centre. Since 1998, we have been developing the site to serve as an educational and training centre, that demonstrates and teaches many aspects of sustainable living.
We run a range of self help educational and training courses and offer individual sessions. On these courses people have direct practical experience of permaculture and natural sustainable ways of living in harmony with nature, with themselves and with others. All courses and sessions give support and tools for growth and for making real and healthy changes in life and relationships. The gardens serve as a living foundation for all the teaching and personal growth work we do here. providing a supportive venue where the principles we teach are demonstrated in a very real way.
The same holistic philosophy underlies both the land management and the growth work we offer. It is based on an implicit recognition of our being a part of nature, and as such, to find fulfilment as humans we need to reconnect with the rhythms of nature and become conscious of being part of it again. Our centre and business here revolves around this philosophical and practical core.
Our land is two and a half acres and we also manage the field next door, which is the same size, for Kea Bardeen who lives in the US and who wishes to support this project.
1. To create, maintain and develop gardens that produce natural, health giving food in a way that also protects the environment, supports wildlife and contributes to a healthy eco system.
2 To also create a rich bio-diverse ecology that demonstrates how humans are an active part of the ecosystem and inspire and teach others to live as a harmoniously integrated part of it.
3. Simultaneously to create a rich environment in which people can find rest, renewal, healing, spiritual regeneration, connection with nature and education about living sustainably in harmony with nature, understanding themselves in relation to it and with each other.
4. To offer courses and individual session work that:
a) increase awareness and understanding of nature, ecology and our relationship to it.
b) help people to understand themselves in the context of the whole of life and nature .
c) increase awareness and understanding of our relationships with each other. Self help to come into co-operative relationships that support healthy lives, families and society as a whole.
What we do here:
• We actively demonstrate permaculture in gardens, orchards and meadow areas. We use permaculture practices that work in harmony with nature to produce food and bio resources with minimum environmental impact and without using chemicals. We are researching and experimenting with putting permaculture into practice in our climate and locality.
• We regularly hold courses, individual sessions and retreats. The courses include permaculture, in depth personal growth work, relationships and men/ women’s groups. Those who come are both local people and from a distance. Many participants stay on site, either camping or staying in group space dormitory style or in our caravan. Some use local B&Bs.
• In the gardens and orchards we grow a large proportion of our own food and food for the groups and retreats that we run, any surplus is sold locally.
• We maintain and make available all of the gardens, orchard and meadows for course participants, volunteers, and clients to explore, work in and enjoy. A one acre meadow is maintained for group camping and recreation.
• We provide our own electricity from sun and wind. We have solar heated hot water for 7 months of the year. We recycle nearly all our waste, composting all natural wastes.
• We offer the opportunity to come as a volunteer or on work exchange. Volunteers and work exchangers learn about organic growing, conservation gardening and permaculture through hands on participation.
See enclosed: Plans of site, management plan, and document of our history here which includes a list of courses run here over the last 6 years. Also magazine articles that we have written which describe our work.
We are applying for:
1. Retrospective permission for change of use for stables into a small visitor’s centre. These have already been simply converted using recycled windows, doors and insulation. This visitors centre to comprise a kitchen and eating place, dormitory style accommodation and an entrance lobby. This could be temporary permission as they could easily be turned back to stables.1
2. Permission for camping for visitors and volunteers to a maximum of 30 individuals. We would also like to keep the existing showman's caravan on site for family, visitors and volunteers.
3. Permission for our personal residence
For a easily dismantleable single storey wooden cabin, the size of a mobile home. Measurements: 10.7 x 4 m area and 3.6 m high. with no permanent foundations, resting on stone/ timber plinths , built in module form off site and bolted together. This could be temporary permission if needed. It would be sited where the Showman's caravan currently is and would be hidden from public view.
See enclosed: site plans and sketches of elevations, and information on building materials and methods.
The visitors centre
The simply converted stables provide catering facilities for groups, a place for eating meals and upon being given permission, simple accommodation. There is also an information space and a small library. We need this space because we provide lunches on all courses and retreats and participants self cater for their evening meals. This enables participants to fully make the most of their retreat and course time and reduces the need to travel and also because experiencing the freshness of the food from the gardens is part of the experience of coming here. We also provide breakfasts for those camping and staying over. Offering the opportunity to stay on site is also an integral part of what we offer. See below.
Accommodation and camping
We are asking for permission for camping on the site, and to create simple accommodation spaces in one of the converted stables and also in the 1950’s showman's caravan which we have refurbished. Accommodation space in the converted stable and caravan would give warm, year round accommodation. Accommodation would be in simple bunks. Camping space has been created in the orchards and lower field. There is great benefit from being able to stay on site as the stay becomes a retreat - a haven away from the business of modern life. Many participants come from cities and towns and staying gives them a chance to be close to the earth in natural surroundings. This has a profoundly de -stressing and healing effect. Offering accommodation also cuts down on car trips by participants, as when they arrive they usually stay put for the duration of the course.
The easily dismantleable wooden cabin
The single storey cabin will provide us with separate personal living space, within which we will have an office from which we run the project. The position of the cabin is where the caravan is at present. See map. This is centrally placed within the area of the current buildings ie greenhouse, polytunnel and stables. It is not visible from any road or public place.
It has a long south facing aspect allowing much passive solar heating reducing the need for heating through fuel. It will be well insulated, using an effective, environmentally sound insulation such as Therma fleece, which is specially treated wool, or Warmcell, which is made from recycled newspaper. Double glazed south facing windows with the top section of windows angled at 60 degrees being the optimum in this latitude for gaining the most heat and light from the sun during the colder months. There will be smaller double glazed windows to the west and much smaller ones to the north.
The bolt together modules would be made from environmentally benign materials and clad with wany edge board - like larch or douglas fir which we can source locally. See drawings and material info. The roof to be covered with wooden shingles at the front, together with places for solar electric panels and solar water panels. The back roof which has a longer gentler slope to be a living roof, if this is acceptable, planted with either sedum,s, moss, grasses, or alpine strawberries, or a mixture of them. All of these require very little soil and thus can be planted on a relatively light weight roof. This living roof would be easy to dismantle, would add effective insulation, make a pleasant, natural looking aspect to the north and benefit wild life.
See enclosed: plans, elevations and building information.
The viability of the project.
The project is already self sustaining. It has sustained us both as self employed workers over the last six years on a relatively low but adequate level of income which has gradually risen over time especially in the most recent years. This trend looks set to continue in the years to come.
For more info see enclosed: accounts and business plan. (not included on site)
We note the restrictions on development in the local plan. Our permaculture and personal growth centre could not take place within allocated development zones, because it needs more space, would be unaffordable (and uneconomic) and camping and outdoor group work is not suitable in residential areas. Residence on site is essential to the success of the project because it is the only way we can ensure safe and effective management of the land and the business.
This is explained in the following reasons:
1 The nature of the project means we work long days usually 10 hours, often up to 14 hours or over in the warmer months working from early morning (which can be 6.30am in the summer) into the evening (12.00am in the night.) See Diary entries below, showing what we do at what times throughout the year.
2 Attending to and catering for people on courses and retreats, many of whom stay on site, overseeing volunteers. and those doing work exchange. This can mean a 6.30am start to lay out breakfast, and checking site for security and safety late at night- to check for instance that fires working or are out or properly attended to. Being aware of who is coming in and out late at night for security of ourselves and visitors. Overseeing people on site checking they are behaving responsibly, answering questions - like how does the shower, fire or stove work. Fixing any practical problem that may come up. If we weren’t here people wouldn’t be able to stay here.
3 Polytunnel and greenhouse management: frost protection and climate control. We need to open the polytunnel and greenhouse early in the morning and close them up in the evening and adjust them at regular intervals through out the day to ensure adequate ventilation and watering to prevent both build up of fungal diseases and loss of plants from of over heating or water loss. As this is organic production chemicals cannot be used and constant adjustment of ventilation is absolutely necessary to maintain crop health. In the winter we need to ensure safe and efficient frost protection. In winter we have to check heaters in greenhouse and sometimes polytunnel are working properly and at the right temperature, ( the thermostat has to be reset if the temperature suddenly drops). Replace gas cylinders if necessary, if very cold they can need to be checked late at night. Fleece needs putting on in front part of greenhouse and in polytunnel in late afternoon before a frost and taking off in the morning before sun over heats them. ( See Patrick Whitefield’s letter on this) See Diary entries
4 There are a multiplicity of tasks in running this business which make maintaining a separate home off site highly impracticable.
See enclosed diary entries which demonstrate how all the daily site, business management tasks, work with clients and domestic tasks all have to be interwoven throughout the day. it would not be possible to do all we have to do to maintain our lives and livelihood if we lived elsewhere. This multiplicity of tasks include:
a) Growing food and land and site management and maintenance, We need to be constantly watchful and alert to weather changes and crop conditions, and available to do what is needed when it is needed. E.g. protection from sudden frosts of tender seedlings or fruit blossom, or in sudden storms or high winds protection of polytunnel, greenhouse and buildings in general, protecting fruit laden branches to stop them being broken.
b) greenhouse and polytunnel management, see above.
c) Pest control e.g. late at night in early spring to late summer we need to protect young plants from slugs collecting late at night to ensure survival of seedlings. Being organic this is the only sure way we have found of controlling them.
d) watching and listening out in case grazing animals escape fencing or electric fencing and damage crops or trees. ( These at present are borrowed sheep, but we plan to have our own sheep soon)
e) Course administration and running them, preparing for courses and cleaning up afterwards.
f) Building Maintenance
g) Attending to day to day household, domestic tasks such as cleaning, washing and preparing food for ourselves in and amongst all these other activities.
5 We need to be here for security reasons. The previous owners were burgled and had much damage done by vandals. Several times vehicles have driven up in the night and people have tried to gain entrance. Just recently a solar panel worth £320 was stolen at night. We heard some disturbance and on checking a vehicle pulled away. This was reported to the police and has crime no F77840112200401. If we had not been there who knows what else may have been taken.
6 Our financial return is modest but adequate for our needs if we are here but does not support maintaining another home.
Why on the land in question and not elsewhere
It has to be on this land because this is the land we managed to buy 5 years ago at a price we could afford in an area we already considered home. Ella has lived and worked in this area for 30 years and Andy for 17. Both of us have raised children in the area. The site was already used for horticulture with planning permission already given for the existing polytunnel and for a greenhouse, which we have now built. The stables were also here with planning permission and there was permission for storage of a touring caravan.
We bought this plot after a long search for a rural venue in this area over many years. This plot is suitable for our work for many reasons. e.g. This land is not overlooked and is not too close to nearby houses so as to cause disturbance from camping and group activities. It is the right size for our project. The site had horticultural potential not optimum but adequate - with a great advantage being given by the existing polytunnel, greenhouse and stables. This area is also the one we have built up many contacts and a good reputation for our work - many people know about us and what we offer, we have many word of mouth referrals.
How the site contributes significantly towards our livelihoods.
The site contributes significantly towards the our livelihoods by giving us a venue to hold courses and hold individual sessions. Through these we are both successfully self employed. On these courses people have direct practical experience of permaculture and natural sustainable ways of living in harmony with nature, themselves and each other. The site provides a place where people can have retreats in nature and access to the land, for both hands on experience of growing food, and plants and for the deeply therapeutic nature of contact with the earth. Simple contact with and meditation on the earth is an essential part of our work which we can only offer in a rural location. This site with all its different gardens, orchards and meadow areas greatly supports our work and makes much of it possible. It is also a very safe space for the personal growth work we do.
The site also contributes significantly to our livelihoods by providing us with a place to grow a large percentage of our own food and the food for course participants. We also create our own source of electricity and solar heated hot water.
See enclosed brochures of our work over the last six years, and articles we have written for magazines that describe our work.
The benefit for the local economy and community
We offer a range of courses, individual sessions, and the opportunity to come as a volunteer or on work exchange. As a permaculture demonstration site and personal growth centre it forms a valuable resource for the local area. We also hire casual local labour regularly throughout the year. We are hoping to take on a more regular part time employee with the aim of that post becoming full time as the site develops.
See enclosed letters from participants and from people who work here or have worked here.
The landscape and environmental impact.
The development has been sensitively sited in relation to local landscape. No views are obstructed and the hedges increasingly provide screening. The landscape has been changed from pony paddock to more sheltered areas of orchards, gardens and meadow, with the planting of mixed native hedges and shelter belts. We also planted mixed native hedges to minimise the visual effect of existing polytunnel. We have planted well over a hundred fruiting trees and about 2000 native trees and shrubs in hedges, shelter belts and areas for coppice. We carefully maintain an old hedge that contains many species that runs down one side of the property.
The enhancement of semi- natural habitat maintains and increases bio-diversity, supporting indigenous species which are increasing all the time. The management maintains and supports diverse habitats and wildlife corridors which are used by much wildlife. The bird, bat, bee, butterfly and hugely varied insect population is increasing all the time.
We are a County Wildlife Site, mainly because of two orchid species that are here - the bee orchid and pyramidal orchid. Site No ST 53/098. registered June 2000.
Conservation and Permaculture management plan.
(for more details see enclosed Management plan)
The management of the site is based on ecologically sound principles that maintain and improve the soil in natural ways that bring about healthy crops and healthy environment. The management plan for the site involves maintenance of the gardens, orchards, and wooded areas as food source, fuel source, habitat for wildlife and areas for course work. All activities are carried out according to organic and sustainable permaculture principles.
We include a letter from one of Britain's foremost permaculture teachers, Patrick Whitefield who teaches permaculture courses at our site. We are members of the Permaculture association, HDRA the organic gardening association. and the Somerset Wildlife Trust.
As a county wildlife site we also abide by the recommendations for management laid out by the county for the meadow areas of the land. See enclosed County wildlife site information.
Noise or nuisance wise No activity on the site shall cause undue nuisance to neighbours or the public, as has been demonstrated over the last six years during which we have been running courses and there have been no complaints.
We have greatly reduced our car use by living here. At first for a few years we were travelling to and from Glastonbury to our rented house, always two times a day and sometimes four times. Now we only travel once or twice a week. We minimise car use having one car only here, which pulls a trailer for carrying anything heavy. We use bicycles when possible, including an electric one which is charged by solar and wind power. People coming on courses are encouraged to car share, to come by bike or use public transport - the local bus passes the gate. The bus service goes to Castle Cary thus connecting people with trains. There is adequate parking for about 10 cars in winter and 20 in summer.
Sewage and grey water disposal
is via 3 separate systems- a dry compost loo, a pee loo and a grey water reed bed. The compost loo has twin chamber and is constructed from breeze blocks and treated ply wood. The front of the boxes unscrews for easy access. The compost when mature - which takes about a year is put as mulch around fruit trees and /or hedging. We never put it in direct contact with food crops. This has been in use for over 5 years and produces compost that is well made and odour free. The urine collected in the separate pee loo is put onto compost heaps where it acts as a very effective compost activator. Grey water goes through a newly constructed reed bed system.
Sustainability / Low impact
In building so far we have used local and recycled materials as much as possible and this will continue in the insulated eco cabin. The greenhouse is a solar grower type, designed to be heated mainly through passive solar energy. it is made in large part from local wood supplied by local woodsman and recycled glass- being reject double glazing units, together with recycled skylights. The stables were converted using recycled windows and doors, and all recycled insulation ( fibre glass, crushed polystyrene packaging)
Minimisation of waste and recycling
We minimise the creation of waste and reuse and recycle as much as possible. All organic wastes are composted. Worm bins are used for food waste. Newspaper and cardboard are used to mulch round trees and hedges and to control weeds.
Strategies for energy conservation/ minimisation of use of non renewable resources
We reduce energy consumption through insulation and use wood burning stoves for heating. We plan to install highly efficient fuel burners with back boilers, enabling us to be self sufficient in fuel from our copied and pollarded willow, ash and other suitable trees and hedges already planted around the field. We are autonomous in provision of electricity from sun and wind and also autonomous for sewage. Hot water comes from a solar panel for around 7 months of the year - feeding into a shower and into the kitchen stable, this system is home made and will be upgraded in time giving more efficient performance. (At present a back up LPG generator is minimally used for power tools etc. and LPG gas is used as back up for hot water)
Autonomous provision of water, energy and sewage/waste water disposal
We are nearly autonomous in provision of energy and totally for sewage and waste water. We are on mains water, but collect much rain water in water butts 7 at present and we plan to add more. We water the polytunnel and greenhouse mainly with rain water. We use mulching techniques to cut down on the need for watering and also are constantly improving both the water holding, and also the drainage of the soil through the inputs of composts.
Our intention to make the business work: our investments and capital assets
Our intentions to make the business work is shown by our investment of all our time, energy and money over the last six years. The capital assets of the business are -
The Greenhouse, 12 m x 7 m , which is used for crop and fruit growing, including citrus and for frost free protection and propagation, and as an educational and therapeutic facility.
The Polytunnel 19m x 9m recently re- covered gives year round growing space, has good sized pond in it to help humidity and temperature control, and as frog habitat, to control slugs and also provides some undercover group space for eating and meeting.
The Orchards. Planted out with over a 100 fruit trees
The Gardens. Most of the gardens have ben made with raised beds. There are two ponds creating frog habitats for slug and other pest control. The gardens are becoming very fertile as the soil has been constantly improved with tons of manure, compost, leaf mould, seaweed etc. they are starting to be well stocked and contain many perennial plants and self seeders which include many heritage and native edible plants, all much used in permaculture growing. We are researching what grows well in this locality and climate, exploring how permaculture can be applied in this country.
The alternative energy systems: we have at present include three solar panels and a small wind generator for 12 volt DC electricity which supplies most our our needs and 12 batteries to store it in. We have a home made solar water system which runs into the shower and kitchen.
LPG generator for back up electric and 240 volts when needed.
Waste and water systems: Fully functioning compost loo. Highly effective reed bed for grey water. At present 7 water butts collecting rain water,.
The converted stables, insulated and wood panelled, one fitted out as group kitchen,
Showman's caravan. refurbished, as simple accommodation space.
Office equipment: including 2 laptop computers that run from 12 volt electric and 2 printers. Software to run our business and web site.
Many tools - garden tools and garden equipment and practical tools, such as chainsaw and other power tools.
Local plan policies
This project conforms with and supports this local plan policy on sustainable development as it minimises our need to travel, minimises use of non renewable resources and conserves bio-diversity and environmental assets.
The project is an active demonstration of Agenda 21 principles, it supports local bio-diversity and wildlife conservation. It contributes to rural economic diversification along ecological principles and acts as a working model for sustainable living and sustainable food growing These all support local plan policies particularly nos 1, 23 and 64.
PPS7: See enclosed separate document which gives an in-depth appraisal on how we believe ourselves to be in accordance with PPS7, covering all relevant aspects of the policy including Annexe A.
We are willing to enter into a Section 106 agreement legally binding us to our management plan and tying the residential aspect with the land management plan. ie managing the land along permaculture principles. (For instance Tinkers Bubble in South Somerset have a section 106 agreement with the council there - called a planning obligation tying the planning permission to the land management plan.)
Permission could be specific to us - ie not to be passed on if we sold.
We agree to abide by this management programme.
We agree to only run courses related to the aims.
Within this we aim to be socially inclusive and to reach a wide range of people. Our charges are on a sliding scale with opportunities for work exchange and volunteer opportunities.
We understand that our case may be unusual and are very willing to meet and talk through anything that needs further discussion or clarification. We do appreciate that there is a need for strict control of development in the countryside and feel that by setting any conditions or legal agreements that are necessary, including that we adhere to our management plan, a way can be found that no precedent is set for anything that would have a negative effect. In fact what we would like, with your input, is to be a positive model for the implementation of PPS7’s aims of more sustainable and diverse businesses being able to operate in the countryside, in ways that enhance the ecology and environment, and positively contribute to the local community, the economy and society as a whole.
Ella Portman and Andy Portman
List of enclosures
Business plan and accounts for the last three years (not included on site)
Diary of daily activities through out the year (not included on site)
History of this site and details of courses run
Plans of converted stables and photographs of them
Plans of proposed single storey wooden cabin and sketches of elevations and details of construction and materials.
Photographs of the site (to be added to site soon)
Statement of how we see ourselves in relation to PPS7
letter/ appraisal from Organic advisory service (not included on site)
Letter from Somerset Wildlife Trust (not included on site)
Letter from Patrick Whitefield. Permaculture teacher (not included on site)
Letter From Prof Harry Ferguson concerning social benefits. (not included on site)
Letters from participants of courses, retreats and sessions and who have worked here, or still do. (not included on site)
Brochures of our courses and work over the past 6 years and copies of articles published.
(not included on site)