Integrating a polytunnel into a garden layout design involves making sure that you think holistically both about the polytunnel itself and the surrounding environment.
A polytunnel can be a wonderful addition to a space. These versatile structures can be used in a wide range of different ways. But it is very important to make sure that you integrate this growing space into the rest of your garden design.
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How to Layout a Garden
Considering how to integrate a garden layout design in the UK and considering how to go about creating the best garden layout design you possibly can means thinking holistically about every element that you want to include, and the yields or other results that you want to achieve.
There are many different design approaches that you might take to layout a garden and create an effective overall garden design. Personally, I favour a permaculture approach. Reading more about permaculture can help you to move closer to creating an ideal and enduring garden where you live.
We are always looking for new ways to introduce new ideas to UK gardens. For example, our herb garden ideas will be an educational read for gardeners wishing to introduce a range of herbs to their gardens.
Commercial polytunnels can often be extremely useful elements within a permaculture garden design. However, it is important to place them and to use them correctly. It is only when a polytunnel is placed and used optimally within the design as a whole that its inclusion can truly be a success.
By understanding polytunnels better, looking at the inputs they require, outputs they provide, and their characteristics in general, we can work out where best to use them in our gardens, and the role they the polytunnel will them play within the systems of the garden as a whole.
The Basics of Garden Layout Design
To design a good garden layout design, we need to think about the specific location and its characteristics, as well as our own needs. There are never one-size-fits-all designs that work well for every garden and every gardener. So considering the specific environment and specific circumstances is always important.
When creating your garden layout design, you need to think not only about what elements we would like to or need to include, but also how these will come together in the design as a whole. Joined-up thinking is incredibly important.
Steps to Integrate a Polytunnel into Your Garden Layout
An integrated domestic polytunnel is one that works seamlessly within the garden layout as a whole, which contributes to the overall function of garden systems and which simply works within the environment and specific location in which it is placed.
Obviously, we need to think about the layout of the inside of a polytunnel itself. But before you think about that, you need to consider carefully how the polytunnel functions within the garden as a whole – looking at the bigger picture. We are happy to provide a range of construction services to help with your garden layout design.
One of the first stages in determining a good location for your polytunnel is understanding the sectors of the site. Sectors determine the energy flow on the site – especially in terms of sun, wind and water.
Sectors can also tell us about other natural factors of a location, such as shade, and micro-climate conditions. While this may all sound a little technical, what this really means is that we can find out a lot of valuable information by looking at the natural patterns of energy flow in the locations that you are considering for your polytunnel.
Sunlight, wind, water and basic details of the topography will typically be the most important features to consider in polytunnel site selection.
Sectors are not the only thing to consider when choosing a position for a polytunnel, but they can be a very good place to start and could help you to flag up any potential issues before they become a problem.
Since we also look at these factors to determine all other details of the design, this will help us to come up with an integrated and holistic plan for our properties.
There is another important element that we have not yet considered which should have a big part to play in determining a suitable location for a polytunnel: you!
All too often, polytunnels and other growing areas are positioned with little regard for the fact that human beings are an important part of the polytunnel system. We are required to maintain, tend and use them to full advantage.
The position of a polytunnel, therefore, should not only take into account the natural conditions, and the basic elements required for plant life, but also how well it works for you – the gardener. The human element is of course important to consider in any garden design.
Polytunnel Size and Orientation
Of course, in order to be able to incorporate a polytunnel successfully into a garden design, you will need to think about how large it should (or can) be. Along with this consideration is which way round a polytunnel will go (which direction it will face).
Though often other considerations will come into play and a polytunnel will often be placed along a site boundary, for example, a polytunnel should ideally be positioned on either an east-west or a north-south axis.
When positioned with a long side facing south, one side of the polytunnel will be more shaded than the other. When positioned with the long sides facing east and west, the same amount of sunlight will reach both sides, however the northern end of the tunnel will be marginally less warm and sunny.
Either way can work. Just make sure you consider which option might be better for the way you eventually lay out your polytunnel, and for the plants you wish to grow.
Integration with Existing Elements
When considering sectors such as these for your garden layout design, we need to remember also to think about buildings, fencing or walls, and trees that may cast shade onto the polytunnel at specific times of each day and specific times through the year, as well as the path the sun takes across the sky and how sunlight falls on our properties.
We also need to think about existing landscape features that influence water and wind flows etc… and that are not going to alter as we bring a garden design to life. Surrounding buildings as well as more natural features can have a significant impact on the function of the space and be other key features that determine how you should best integrate a polytunnel into a garden design.
Whenever we add anything to our gardens or land, we need to think about other elements that are already present on the property in order to make sure that we are both making the most of what we already have, and ensuring that we can improve things even further in future.
Integration with New Elements
At the same time as considering existing elements on the site, to integrate a polytunnel successfully we also need to think about any other new elements that we also wish to include.
Thinking carefully about which other elements we will include at the same time as thinking about a polytunnel and its placement can help us to avoid many common pitfalls and find useful synergies between the different elements that we include in a design.
For example, a polytunnel might still be included even if a site is windy if windbreak hedgerows or shelter belts of the right trees become a part of your design. The placement and creation of these will be considered hand-in-hand with the placement and construction of the polytunnel itself.
Whether we are looking at existing elements or new elements in a garden design, or a combination of both, systems analysis can be important in the integration process.
Systems analysis involves looking at all the elements in a system, the inputs, outputs and characteristics of each, before thinking about how they should all best be positioned to minimise the time and effort required to keep the whole system functioning.
Spending a little time thinking about these things before you place your polytunnel could help you to save a lot of time later on. In order to save time and effort, you should position elements between which you must travel frequently as close together as possible.
It can also be helpful to think about is how you can position your polytunnel to take best advantage of all the positive characteristics it can confer.
For example, a polytunnel does not only provide a warm and sheltered space for plants grown within it, but could also provide a warmer and more sheltered outside growing area beside it, and potentially also shade for certain plants that will benefit from it in the summer months.
Integrating Growing Areas with Larger Garden Systems
Once we fully understand the position a polytunnel will occupy and the role it will play within a garden, we can delve even deeper to think about how the raised beds, pots, grow bags or other containers, and other growing areas, can be more enmeshed with broader systems in our gardens.
Of course, we can think about things like how we can use rainwater harvesting and composting systems and how these are placed in relation to our polytunnel garden spaces. We should also think about how we can maximise yields by attractive wildlife to our spaces inside and outside a polytunnel and boost biodiversity.
Integrating a polytunnel into a garden layout design successfully will bring many additional benefits to the garden, and make sure that the garden is more than just the sum of its parts.
For more useful advice on garden layout designs, try out layout tips for small city gardens.
Waddington, E., (2021) How I Maximise the Space in My Growing Space. Treehugger. [online] Available at: https://www.treehugger.com/make-the-most-space-growing-tunnel-5113180 [accessed 29/09/23]
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.