Transforming Lawn into Urban Permaculture

Inspired by some of the beautiful plots in my local allotments, I started thinking about putting some beds into our back garden for a kind of ‘kitchen-cottage garden’. The general plan is to try growing a few vegetables (tomatoes and climbing beans) among flowers and herbs. During the planning process, I found myself drawn to people using permaculture principles, so the experiment has become an opportunity to learn more about this way of partnering with nature.

This is what we were starting from…

The ‘before shot’ of the lawn

Gardening guru Huw Richards suggests having a ‘mission statement’ for the year, and my intention is to use this space to develop a more embodied connection with nature, to challenge myself to move away from comfort and convenience, and for my son and I to learn about permaculture together, as we figure it out.

We decided to take out pieces of lawn, but not to install raised beds just yet. That way, if this isn’t for us in the long-term, we can just let the lawn grow back in again.

First, we dug out the grass. I’d heard about ‘no-dig’ beds (also known as sheet mulch or ‘lasagna’ gardening), where you just lay cardboard and compost over existing lawn – but I had read that it may not be very productive in the first season, and I wasn’t sure if I could source enough cardboard and compost all in one go. After removing the sod, we dug a couple of trenches and filled these with compost, filled them in, and then added another layer of compost over the top of the bed.

In one of the beds we put woodchip over the whole of the bed.

This bed will contain a perennial herb section, an annual flowers bed, plus tomatoes and broad beans

We’re moving the woodchip out of the way onto the paths as we begin planting – we were a little impatient with our indoor seed-starting and these broad beans seemed happier outdoors:

In the other bed, we laid woodchip just for where the paths will be, as we’ll be direct-sowing here quite soon. As you can see from the photos, we’ve left ourselves a few places to tidy up around the edges, but it felt good to have the main bulk of the work done!

In this bed we’ll be planting perennial edible greens, runner bean – and more flowers!

From the leftover sod, I created my version of a ‘Hugelkultur mound’ in two different spots, by layering the sod upside down, then covering with cardboard and some coco coir mixed with topsoil. These are a work-in-progress experiment, to see if I can get a ‘meadow patch’ growing on them for pollinators. I also accidentally ended up with what is known as a ‘loam stack’ (or turf stack) – which is covered with a tarp for now to help kill off the grass, while I try to learn more about how to turn this material into something useable.

I stumbled across the term ‘Hugulkultur’ after I created two of these, where I hope to grow meadow flowers

None of this comes naturally to me, as I’m really not a gardener. We spent a good while planning, sketching and watching vidoes for inspiration and ideas about what to grow. The most helpful plan we drew was the large-scale drawing we’ve pinned to our dining-room wall. We used post-it notes and blu-tac for move-able plant labels – as they moved around alot as we were considering things like how much sun they need, what height they would grow to, and what we wanted to have next to each other.

This is an overview of what we’ve chosen to grow and why…

Vegetables: tomatoes, broad beans and runner beans – because they are things that everyone in the family will eat, and we’re building on some (very minimal) experience we’ve had growing these before.

Perennial edible greens: lovage, sorrel and good king henry – because they don’t necessarily need full sun, and they will fit around other things we want to grow.

Annual flowers: cornflowers, poppies, sunflowers, sweet peas, nasturtiums, calendula and borage – partly for prettiness and fragrance, but also to attract pollinators and to help deter pests. Some of these can also be used for ‘chop and drop’ mulch as a way to improve soil, and I’m hoping some will self-seed so we get them back in future years.

Perennial herbs: chamomile, oregano, savory, chives, mint and lemon balm – for culinary purposes and to help deter pests.

Meadow flowers: clover, toadflax, forget-me-nots, ox-eye daisies, yarrow and knapweed – to convert my leftover piles of grass sod into mini meadows for pollinators.

We ended up with a longer list of plants than I originally intended, but I figure if we try lots of different things and only a few of them work, then I’ll be happy with that. And if a few more of them grow, we’ll have a good bit of biodiversity for wildlife.

The planning stage was lots of fun, and I gained alot of motivation and encouragement from the following resources in particular:

‘The Vegetable Grower’s Handbook’ by Huw Richards (from my local library), especially the sections on planning.

‘Gaia’s Garden: A Guide To Home-Scale Permaculture’ by Toby Hemenway

‘Homesteading Family YouTube channel, especially the Cottage Garden playlist.

‘Old Fashioned On Purpose’ podcast – the episode ‘How To Switch Out You Store-bought Veggies For Homegrown Ones‘ was full of reassurance that you really don’t have to start out doing any of this ‘perfectly’.

Our next focus is on the seeds we’ve started indoors, so we’ll post an update on how that’s going soon!


Our journey towards sustainable eating

Plastic-Free July is nearly upon us again, and it’s prompted our family to reflect on the choices we make when buying food.

Over the last few years, we have significantly reduced our consumption of single-use plastics, but a few convenience-based habits are beginning to creep back in (because well, we’re human!)

I’m conscious that while it’s great that we can now recycle soft plastics, it has meant that we have reverted to buying some of the plastics we had previously begun to do without – so that’s an area where we are renewing our commitment to alternatives.

I’ve also been realising that, as imperfect humans, we can only make the changes that feel do-able for our own particular circumstances, rather than worrying about doing any of this ‘right’.

There is no perfect way to live sustainably, to shop sustainably, or to eat sustainably. It’s too complex to try to simplify into a set of rules. And we all have different budgets and health needs.

We’ve found as a family that when it comes to food, rather than tangling ourselves up in tickboxes, it’s more helpful to focus on increasing general awareness of where our food comes from. We keep these sort of questions running in the background, to inform our everyday decisions:

Where is this food produced? (Is it grown or produced in the UK, or transported from elsewhere?)

How is it produced? (Are the animals treated well? Is it an ultra-processed food? Have pesticides or chemicals been used?)

What materials are used for packaging? (Recyclable, compostable or reusable materials? Sold loose so we can fill our own containers?)

To help build our own knowledge, we did a week-long exercise as a family where we kept a note of the food we bought, and then looked up information online about where it was from and how it was produced. Then we added labels to a wall map so we could see how much of our food tends to come from within the UK.

It was a fun way to learn more about sustainable eating, and it gave us a tangible sense of how the choices we make impact the earth and the other beings we share it with.

Trying to make the ‘perfect’ choice every time would be exhausting and overwhelming. So we’ve learned to focus on making the best choices that we can, for our own health and that of the planet.

How To Reduce Your Internet Carbon Footprint

Many of us are taking steps to reduce our carbon footprint, perhaps by reassessing how we travel, or making eco-friendly choices when we shop. But what about our internet habits?

With buzzwords like ‘paperless’ and ‘the cloud’, it’s easy to think that our online activities are impact-less. But unfortunately this isn’t the case.

When data is stored on the ‘cloud’ (whether that’s photos, videos or documents), the process requires the use of massive buildings called data storage centres. These centres contain thousands of servers, plus the equipment to keep them cool. You can see inside one of these buildings in this article, which explains that data storage centres already use more than the UK’s total electricity consumption.

When we access the stored material eg by streaming TV shows or music, it is sent to our device from those centres. Collectively, this process uses huge amounts of energy, much of it from fossil fuel sources, although a shift to greener energy sources has begun.

The impact of our everyday online actions, from emailing to web searching, are clearly significant, as you can see in this infographic, from which the statistics in this post marked* are quoted.

Some estimates put the carbon footprint of our internet use as equal to – or even greater than – that of air travel*. Given the popularity of digital communication and entertainment, this is likely to keep growing, even if the individual statistics are sometimes questioned.

So what can we do?

Thankfully there are a few choices we can make to reduce our carbon footprint when we’re online. Here are a few that you can try:

Web searches

Did you know that every time you do an internet search, it generates a carbon emission of up to 7 grams?* To offset this, you can use Ecosia as your default search engine: they use the profits that are generated from internet searches to plant trees.

Using the ‘favourite’ function to save the websites that you visit regularly also reduces the impact, rather than running a search each time. For things you look up frequently online, such as recipes or gardening advice, it may even make sense to go old-school and invest in a comprehensive reference book for your home library.

Social Media

Tech industry veteran Jaron Lanier has famously said that if everyone deleted their social media accounts, it would significantly reduce the energy consumption by data storage centres.

Maybe giving up all your accounts doesn’t feel do-able. But you could consider which social media platform you find most valuable, and stick with just that one. Limiting your use of photos will also reduce your impact, as they use more storage. Which is next on the list…


All the information we process and consume – whether that’s documents, photos or videos – creates a footprint, as mentioned above. To counter this, you can get into the habit of deleting things more often, eg emails you don’t need after you’ve read them, or the five photos you took before you got the shot you wanted.


The average email has an estimated carbon footprint of 4 grams, and up to 50g for those with a large attachment*. When we copy lots of people on a email (or ‘reply-all’), we multiply the storage implications.

Being selective about when you use the ‘copy all’ function can reduce the carbon impact of your email habits. Also, the less people you copy, the fewer replies you will generate, which in turn reduces overall footprint further.


The Shift Project estimate that watching this 2.5 minute video emits 8.7g of carbon. Some basic maths gives you an idea how much harm our binge-watching habits could be causing. To help you reduce your streaming impact, you no could try some of these ideas:

  • Rediscover live TV and radio
  • Choose audio-only media such as podcasts, instead of ‘listening’ to video content (as images use more storage)
  • Download anything you listen to multiple times, like music, rather than streaming each time (if the option is available)
  • Switch off the ‘autoplay’ function on your TV streaming and online video services
  • Prioritise the content that has most value to you. As a family, we used a ‘coins in a jar’ experiment to monitor how many videos we each watched in a week. It was a great motivator to reduce our consumption to only the content that is most important to us.

Another approach that has helped our family to reduce our online impact in general is to ‘live offline’ a bit more, by getting outside as much as possible, and pulling out the books, boardgames and crafts more often. Occasionally, we even realise we’ve forgotten to turn the household WiFi on!

If you’re interested, you can read more about our family’s journey to reclaim life offline in my Adventures In Analogue posts.

*Statistics quoted from the infographic at

Making The Time To Live Slow & Sustainable

As life starts speeding up again post-lockdown, I can’t avoid the truth that living more sustainably does require a time commitment.

It takes more time to bake your own snacks, instead of buying them ready-packaged.

It takes more time to go to 3 different shops because you can’t find everything you want plastic-free in one place.

It takes more time to cook from scratch every day, several times a day. And to wash the dishes from all that cooking and baking.

It takes time to connect with nature by actually being in nature, whether taking a walk or sitting in the garden.

I had that time in lockdown.

And now, as the pace of life picks up again, the volume of emails is increasing, and time pressures change as we add socialising back into the mix.

Call me odd, but this return to ‘normal’ doesn’t suit me very well. I feel more scattered, less able to concentrate on coming up with meal plans, and physically more rushed in the kitchen, as I’m ‘squeezing in’ cooking among other things.

How we got to a place where feeding ourselves and our families is given such a low priority is beyond me.

All this is a huge reminder that intentional living requires just that – strong intention.

If I want to invest more time in living sustainably, and keep the slow pace which is so important for wellbeing, something’s got to give.

I know what I want to put more time into. But what don’t I have time for anymore?

Aimless internet browsing, the sort driven by avoidance rather than purpose.

Absent-minded scrolling through social media (‘the time-wastey place’, as someone astutely called it).

Numbing out in front of TV shows that I’m not even interested in.

Making more money (being self-employed, I can choose to save more rather than earn more. There is such a thing as ‘enough’).

Reading emails (by taking advantage of the unsubscribe function).

Somehow, in modern life, we do find time for all that stuff – hours a day – and then claim we haven’t got time to cook for ourselves. It’s pretty clear which one nourishes us, but it’s not always the choice we make.

This is for complex reasons, and I certainly don’t have all the answers, not even close. But I have my curiosity, about living differently. I just hope I can also keep hold of enough intention to stay rooted in slow and sustainable.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like Adventures In Analogue and Ignoring Normal

Sustainable Living With Kids

I used to wonder if sustainable living was realistic for us, as a family with busy lives.

But I’ve discovered that living in the Heatons provides us with lots of fun ways to live a greener life – like these:

Active Travel

Recently we’ve been exploring the Heatons even more on foot. There are so many walkable routes for connecting with local wildlife, such as Heaton Mersey Common or the Mersey Vale Nature Park. We definitely feel the health and wellbeing benefits of walking outdoors together.

Connecting With Nature

Aswell as those nature reserves, we also have plenty of other pockets of green locally, including several parks. Increasing your contact with nature can be weaved into your daily routine, eg we enjoy a bit of bird-spotting on our regular walks around the neighbourhood. We also like to stop by the community vegetable beds to see what’s growing – this inspires us to keep going with our own experiments in gardening for wildlife at home.

Shopping Local

A favourite weekly ritual is a trip to The Good Life in Heaton Mersey, for some low-plastic shopping. It’s good fun for kids to help out with weighing and filling the tubs. There’s also a strong sense of community in our local shops.

I always come away feeling uplifted by that social connection – you just don’t get that sort of human interaction with online shopping!

‘Producing’ rather than consuming

A great way to reduce your carbon footprint is to make things yourself instead of buying them. Baking is a simple, family-friendly (and fun) way to start doing that.

We’ve learned to make cakes, flapjacks, biscuits and crackers that aren’t complicated, and reduce our reliance on plastic-wrapped snacks. Luckily, it’s easy to find planet-friendly ingredients in The Good Life or Blue Corn.

Getting Involved

Sustainable Living in the Heatons have lots of family-friendly resources on their website, from gardening inspiration to walking and bike ride routes – check them out here.

What I love is that these everyday practices don’t just help us to to be kinder to the planet, they also help us to stay healthy and happy.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like ‘10 Simple Plastic-Free Swaps’

Adventures In Analogue – Books

Some time ago, in a fit of minimalist-inspired decluttering, I let go of a load of books, repeating to myself the mantra that ‘I can always look things up on the internet’.

What I didn’t realise at the time was that while that would save me some storage space at home, it wasn’t saving the carbon emissions created by the myriad internet searches I can end up doing (being the curious type I am).

According to this infographic, one internet search can account for up to 7 grams of carbon emissions. And that’s just one search. How easy is it to mindlessly clock up many searches each day, when we rely on the internet as our primary source of information?

Looked at through that lens, it doesn’t seem to make sense to keep looking up things online, if I could use a reference book instead.

As part of my Adventures In Analogue experiment, I thought it might be helpful to set up a home reference library.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t looking for an excuse for a shopping spree. I generally try to use library books where possible, to keep my reading habit sustainable and low-impact.

But while library books are great for one-time dives into a new subject area (or novels), they’re not really practical for the things I look up regularly. As it is, my local librarian recognised my name when I raised a query recently, because I take so many books out – so I don’t think I’d get away with hogging some of the titles so that no-one else can have a go!

To guide my home library investments, I’ve started noticing what subjects tend to get me drawn into frequent internet searches. Those are the books it makes sense for me to keep on hand, eg recipes, wildlife, wellbeing, gardening… (maybe one day I’ll add mending techniques to that collection!)

Thankfully, I had saved some of my favourite cookbooks from the great clearout, plus a few other treasured books – including some lovely art books we are revisiting for family sketchbooking inspiration.

Where there are gaps in my home library, I’m slowly starting to fill them, so I can keep weaning myself off internet-searching-as-default.

I’m already noticing how much less time I spend messing about on my phone. And how much more time I spend taking in the world around me, and it’s lovely. More on that next time…

In the meantime, if you liked this post, you can find the others in the series by clicking the Adventures in Analogue tag below.

Edit: I will be continuing this series in a more ‘analogue’ format. For updates, follow my main site

Adventures In Analogue – Day Trip

Smartphones mean that we can have access to the internet wherever we are. I was curious how much I rely on that when I’m out and about, so I took my Adventures In Analogue experiment out on the road. Here are the moments I realised how my phone has become a default tool that I reach for without even thinking about it:

Weather forecast – I had actually managed to catch the weekly weather forecast on the Countryfile programme the night before, so I knew we should dress for wet weather. I even remembered to pack my waterproof socks just in case, but in the end we got off lightly with a little drizzle.

Train travel – I decided not to look up the train times online in advance, and prepared myself to be patient if there was a long gap between trains. I took along a card game and a book to entertain my son if needed. However, we spent the 30 minutes waiting for a train looking at various things on the platform: the art project, the flowers in planters and the bug hotel.

Timekeeping – I wasn’t organised enough to remember to wear my wristwatch, so we arrived at our chosen lunch spot before they opened. But that gave us a bit of time to explore…

Navigation – Something else I forgot to do was to consult a local map on our way out of the station. I wanted to check out a bookshop we’d never visited, and though I knew its street address, I couldn’t quite get my bearings. My son had an instinct that he knew where it was. But I caved and resorted to Google Maps for reassurance. Sure enough, it was exactly where my son’s gut would have led us. Years ago, when I lived in London, my A-Z was a much-loved companion for my wanderings, but I’d never thought to map out where I live now in the same way. Until now. So think I might invest in a local street map. That said, we found the ice cream parlour by following our noses!

Reflecting on the day, I realised that the temptation to jump onto my phone during a day out has a lot to do with seeking control, and being impatient. If I’m willing to embrace some uncertainty, and some waiting around, I don’t need that security blanket quite so much. And – as I discovered on the train platform – that approach leaves room for something unexpected and more interesting than I’d planned to emerge into those spaces.

I’m reminded of a lovely day out that was made possible by stepping into a more ‘analogue’ pace, that I wrote about here.

I’m also feeling inclined to start building a home reference library to help keep me at that pace (more on that in the next post).

2023 Update: I switched to a basic phone just over a year ago, so with no smartphone, I have now weaned myself off using google maps as a security blanket – and decided it’s much healthier to let my son see me asking for help from actual people!

Adventures In Analogue

Until recently, I thought I led a pretty eco-friendly life. And then I read a couple of articles like this one that explain how our internet habits now create a carbon footprint that equals that of the aviation industry. I may well be blogging, tweeting, emailing and streaming shows about climate change, but in doing so I’m also contributing to it.

This wake-up call left me hankering for a less digital life; one that isn’t dependent on looking things up on the internet 30 times a day (the Ecosia app counts your searches, if you’re interested).

I began to wonder, what would it be like to choose a more analogue life?

I wouldn’t attempt to give up technology entirely. In the case of some things that I really value, they can’t be easily be replicated without the internet – like this blog, which I would write off as a vanity project, but from time to time I receive messages of thanks for a blog post that has proved helpful to someone else. And as a home educating family, our experience is significantly enriched by visual and interactive internet resources (enabling us to enjoy learning together, rather than fall out over it).

I’ve reflected elsewhere about using technology mindfully, and most of my existing practices involve just using it less. Which definitely saves me from notification overload, but seems to focus on an aversive approach that is all too familiar in our get-rid-of-the-uncomfortable culture. The idea of returning to ‘analogue’ seems to hold a promise of something richer, that could be about moving towards something.

Perhaps I could get more creative, rather than assuming that digital options are always the only choice.

I’m curious what I might learn from this: which things are challenging to find an analogue equivalent for, and which replacements might bring extra benefits. My suspicion is that digital options will often be bound up with doing more faster, and that analogue choices will necessitate a surrender to even more slowness than I currently enjoy.

I’ve started my adventures in analogue by considering how I use the internet for entertainment (or distraction, depending on the emotional energy that’s present).

During the global slowdown, I gradually replaced much of the time I used to spend on social media and falling into internet-search rabbit holes with reading ‘proper’ books. It has meant retuning my attention span a bit, but I love absorbing well-written wisdom on topics that I might not normally read about.

I think the library is fast becoming my analogue alternative to the internet. Since my local branch reopened after lockdown, I’ve taken out books on wildlife gardening, nutrition, yoga, how trees communicate, the history of libraries and natural weather prediction – the last one because I’m curious if there’s another option to avoid getting a drenching, other than using a weather app or catching the forecast on TV (I don’t consume news, because it mostly seems to make me grumpy and judgemental).

As a family, we’ve also been rediscovering the joys of live TV and radio, instead of relying so heavily on streaming TV shows. I’ll admit that sometimes I miss the ‘flop on the sofa and numb out’ ritual that a binge-watch used to give me. But I’m not missing wasting so much of my time (and the earth’s resources on all that storage space) watching stuff that I’m not actually that interested in, just because there’s ‘nothing better on’.

Instead, I look out for interesting shows that I might otherwise not come across, or we leave the TV off and do something else instead. It’s lovely to give ourselves a bit of precious time back! While we haven’t given up streaming the content that we genuinely value, it does feel good to reconnect with other options.

If I have more to share, I might post again about this experiment in less-digital-living.

In the meantime, if you liked this post, you might also like these over on my main site:

Distraction, Or Enchantment?,

Practising Intentional Internet Use

Belonging to the Earth

When we talk about community, people often mean belonging to a group of human beings.

But I find this a little narrow. I prefer to perceive myself as part of an ecosystem, belonging to a much larger whole that includes non-human beings too.

Some of these beings are more visible, like trees and birds; some are less visible, like the creatures that inhabit the soil.

This morning, I was gifted with a beautifully embodied experience of this belonging.

I was on a nature walk with my son near our home, and the rain started. He had an instinct, knew where to find shelter – a particular tree, and his body carried him there, me following.

Sure enough, as the music of the rain swelled around us, bouncing off the trees, we found ourselves sheltered by the leafy sycamore that offered us its protection.

As we looked more closely at the tree trunk, we saw a face, made by the knots in the wood – eyes, mouth, nose. And we felt even more welcomed.

To pass the time, my son picked up a couple of sticks and we drummed rhythms together, even danced a little (feeling free enough to play, safe from the judgement of human community).

The rain got heavier, and we felt its power, feeding the greenness of the life all around us.

We heard the rain begin to slow, and as we tentatively emerged from our shelter, it suddenly eased. In that moment I felt the possibility of harmony: of mutual caretaking that we could experience, as part of the Earth ecosystem.

Who’d have thought getting caught in a downpour could be so magical?

If you liked this post, you might also like Finding Magic In The Rainy Days

How Lockdown Has Changed My View Of Climate Action

When I first became interested in climate action, I was motivated mostly by fear, anger and despair.

But my lived experience of lockdown – or slowdown, as a wise friend of mine aptly named it – has changed that.

Before slowdown, my experience of caring about the Earth was often played out from a distance, as I viewed images of endangered species and habitats in far-off lands, through the filter of social media.

But then, as slowdown kicked in, I had the space for increased daily time in nature – whether a walk in my local nature reserve, or sitting in my garden. And my experience became much more embodied. I fell deeply in love with the nature on my own doorstep, through direct physical contact with that environment.

Now, I find myself motivated to practice climate action by this love for the Earth, rather than by fear and despair.

Coming back out of lockdown has also changed my desire to convert everyone to my way of thinking about sustainable living.

As I see how many people are desperate to get back to ‘normal’ (whatever that is), that zeal in me has softened a little. My judgement of others’ way of life is a tiny bit more generous when I recognise the drive to meet needs that happen to be different to my own.

I’m ready to embrace the humility of doing my own small part, and feeling appreciative of anyone I happen to meet who also loves the Earth.

If, over time, enough of us reconnect with our love for the Earth, and practice climate action as a way of honouring that love, we might just see a shift in the way we live as part of Earth. And I’d rather see a shift that emerges out of love and humility than out of anger and self-righteousness.

What if we all focussed on learning to love the Earth, deeply, and see where that might take us?

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like:

Emergence-y – my reflection in what is emerging that’s positive.

This article from Maddy Harland:

Nature, Joy and Human Becoming – an On Being podcast with Michael McCarthy