In permaculture circles, we often talk about how to construct sustainable garden buildings – but we rarely talk about why we should do so. In order to develop sustainable systems, however, it is important to analyse the things that we decide to include in our built environments, as well as talking about how we manage natural elements on the land and in our gardens. Analysing our reasons for building a sustainable timber building can help us to understand how exactly we can use one to increase sustainability.
Our own experience is that a timber building in your garden, using green building materials of course, can be used to increase sustainability in a range of different ways. Let's take a look at some of the practical solutions that could excuse adding man-made timber structures to a permaculture garden:
Using a Timber Building to Increase Storage or Living Space
The most obvious reason, perhaps, to add an oak extension is to simply add extra storage or living space. As we are all aiming to go greener – we should all be aiming to reduce the number of things we buy and belongings we own. Yet there are certain things that we might want to store in a shed or other structure in our gardens that will help us to move closer to a truly sustainable way of life. Garden tools, and bicycles, are just two things that spring to mind. By zoning our gardens and living spaces, we can make it easier to quickly retrieve the things that we need.
Another reason to add a more elaborate timber structure to our gardens might be to increase the amount of living space available to us. Not all of us will be able to build new permaculture homes, and so retrofitting and amending older properties will also be an important part of overhauling our towns and cities.
Cooperative living, multi-generational living and co-housing can all aid in reducing the use of energy and other resources. But they also require us to live in close proximity with others. This can mean that extra space is needed. When it is, your garden space could provide a solution.
A garden building could provide a space to keep communal tools or food stores. It could be a place for people to gather outside of private spaces – a chill out zone, music room, library space, or simply additional space for private, quiet recreation and relaxation. Well-insulated, and heated with a sustainable wood-fired rocket stove, or renewable energy perhaps, such as space could be used throughout the year.
Using a Timber Building for Food Production
Another key reason to add a timber building in your garden is, of course, to aid in year-round food production. An unheated polytunnel or greenhouse will, or course, increase the range of crops that you can grow throughout the year, and extend the growing season. But a more permanent, solid garden building could extend the season and the biodiversity of your crops even further.
Inside an insulated, bright garden building you could grow a range of plants that it might be more challenging to grow outside in our climate. By using vertical gardening techniques within, we can maximise the use of space. Think along the lines of a Victorian orangery or round garden building, and you will begin to get the idea.
You could also use a timber building to branch out from in-ground, soil and compost growing and consider, for example, an aquaponic system. In indoors aquaponic system could allow you to keep heat-loving fish species like tilapia instead of or in addition to colder climate fish species like trout. This could allow you to significantly boost your yield, even in a relatively small garden and without a significant increase in energy expenditure.
Using a Timber Building For Water Catchment
Placing a garden building in your outside space could also make it easier to catch and store rainwater to use in other areas of your garden. You can, of course, collect the water from the roof of your home, but you could add to this by also collecting water from outbuildings.
A greenhouse or other covered growing area adjacent to your timber building could also benefit from the thermal mass of a water storage tank holding water collected from the roof. This will catch and store energy during the day and release it slowly at night.
You could also consider incorporating your garden building into your permaculture garden system by directing water from the roof of the structure through French drains or irrigation channels to wicking beds, or to feed a wildlife pond elsewhere in the vicinity.
How a Timber Construction Might Aid Wildlife
It may seem counter-intuitive, but a timber building might also be a boon to local wildlife. Mammals such as rodents and badgers might make their homes beneath it. Building such a structure might well form dark and shady spaces for a range of bugs and beetles and other creepy crawlies. Toads (as we have seen), might use crevices near the base of a garden building to hide away in.
An oak framed round garden building might also provide a structure on which to attach bird nesting boxes, bee hotels and other wildlife-attracting features. Once it has been there for a while, birds such as swallows or house martins might even nest under the eaves of the structure. Many animals have adapted to human environments and will thrive in and around man-made buildings.
Using a Timber Building For Right Livelihood
From a human-centric perspective, a timber garden building could also allow you to move closer to a permaculture ideal in terms how how you make your living. Many people wish that they could give up their 9-5 jobs and work from home – but don't have the space (or quiet) to do so inside their home. A garden home office could be the answer – especially one which is powered with renewable energy and where you are able to get online.
A garden shed or larger garden building could also make it possible for people to start their own business, making or doing. This brings us to our final suggestion:
Using a Timber Building as a Place To Hone Sustainable Skills
Sustainable skills such as growing and preserving food, making do and mending, sewing, knitting, carpentry, traditional crafting, making soaps, cleaners and other household essentials, distilling, wine-making and many more will all be easier when you have a garden building in which to hone your skills.
A timber garden building can be an ideal workshop – a place to potter and learn. Even if you do not decide to sell the things you create, these are useful skills that can help you transition to a more sustainable way of life.