Using The Concept of Relative Location To Decide Where To Place Elements Of Your Garden Design.

When designing or redesigning your landscape you will have already considered what elements you would like to place there… a pond? a veggie patch? a greenhouse? a compost heap? a fertility patch? a patio? fruit trees? raised beds? annuals? perennials? herb spiral? a fire pit? a wood pile? So, this article will focus on how to place these onto your plan using the permaculture principle of relative location. This principle will ensure all elements are located not only relative to their own needs, something most gardeners already do, but relative to their relationship with other elements on the plan and also factors outside your own space.


Each element in your design will have its own ideal placement on the plan according to eg. soil type, shade, space etc. but you should also consider its need to network with other elements’ input requirements (eg food/care/water) and outputs (eg. waste/yields). Think about how each element of your design could be functionally related to another…. could the outputs of one element be usefully employed as the inputs of another to save you time and money fulfilling it?
Examples of networking are given here:

a veggie patch would require inputs of eg. compost and pest control so how about having it near the compost heap and the hen pen so that you could allow the hens to periodically clean it of bugs and fertilise it, the hens would also benefit from being allowed at the compost heap occasionally especially if you had thrown in a handful of worms earlier to multiply into hen food and

Learn Permaculture for sensible garden design with Wild Harvest School of Self-Reliance

Learn Permaculture for Sensible Garden Design with Wild Harvest School of Self-Reliance

the occasional handful of worms thrown onto the veggie patch to increase fertility and drainage. The compost worms combined with growing a small patch of forage feed for the hens could reduce the need to buy in so much hen food. A garden shed for storing tools and hen food would want to then be close to this set up to reduce time and labour rather than outside the back doors. A greenhouse and a hen house can keep each other warm if part of the same unit – the body heat of the hens should be enough to not need a green house heater in a lean-to greenhouse on the side of the hen hut, any greenhouse plantings that are discarded can be thrown to the hens. A veggie patch and greenhouse would also require lots of human input so they would want to be relatively close to the backdoor of your house but not as close as say annual beds. A pond could benefit by some shrubs over it, for shade plus a little leaf fall could feed the fish in it and if these fish were edible all the better, water from the pond could be pumped into a veg bed or any netted pond weed around the roots of the shrubs occasionally when it is cleaned out. Fruit trees can be further away as they need less attention but a couple could be usefully employed to provide partial shade in summer for a greenhouse that may otherwise get too hot and as a wind break in winter to stop a poly-tunnel tearing.

In designing a productive landscape it is important to see it as a whole not a collection of unrelated parts.

Pathways connecting the elements.

Paths between elements in a design should be left until the users have shown you, by treading onto the bare earth, the path of least resistance. Waiting to install paths between elements of a design will save you wasted time and money as the fanciest of paths will remain unused if the humans naturally cut corners and take shortcuts across a lawn. So wait and allow the pathways to develop organically in the way that they will actually be used, then pave or chip or whatever on top of the trodden routes.


Another Logical design tool introduced by permaculture is ‘zoning’. Keep close that which is used regularly whilst allowing elements that can be attended less frequently to live closer to nature on the periphery of your design.  Zones are as follows:

Zone 0 Is the home.

Zone 1 is the closest to the home where it would be pragmatic to keep things that need most attention, water and weeding regularly or harvesting daily… tender annuals, kitchen herbs.

Zone 2 could be perennial vegetables, potato’s and onions, fruit shrubs and things that can be gathered less frequently and kept stored in the kitchen, plants that don’t need so much attention. Hens, compost and orchard could be here or Zone 3.

Zone 3 Productive pasture or meadow, managed timber for logs or woodwork plus maybe bee hives.

Zone 4 Rough grazing or woodland that is low yielding land for humans but over which you still have some influence and obtain some small yield from eg. wild foods, twigs for kindling, the bee hives could go here too.

Zone 5 Is given over to wildlife – a zone of no human influence. Even small gardens can have a zone 5 – perhaps an unweeded corner with a bird feeder and bug house.

Many people put the compost heap in Zone Five thinking of it as unsightly and smelly but if you are needing to visit your hens each day then locate the compost heap nearby so that you can do two jobs in one, dropping off some kitchen waste on the way to the hens, a balanced compost pile will not smell. Keep a woodpile in Zone One so that you can easily reach it, and a garden shed in the zone where you have most veggies/hens/compost rather than in Zone Zero or One so that you can keep hen food, garden tools, wheelbarrow, where they will be used.


So, we have considered how the various elements of your landscape design such as a greenhouse, compost heap or annual bed are best placed according to their own specific needs AND their relationships with the other elements in the plan AND your own needs for human time/energy input, but there is a fourth factor to consider.

The elements of your design and indeed the success of your overall landscape design may also be dependent on the influence of and on off site factors such as wind, sunshine/shade, flows of water, noise and air pollution, neighbours and views .

A lot of the ‘knowledge’ in the topic of sectoring could be said to be common sense but sense is sometimes not that common and hindsight is more costly to implement than foresight so it is worth mentioning! In placing a new element you should therefore consider: ‘Will it need to withstand prevailing wind in that position or be sheltered?’, “Will it get too much or too little sun there?’ ‘Will it spoil a view – mine or my neighbours? ‘Will it cause or be subject to pollution?’ eg. if you build your patio next to your neighbours cockerel shed you may have noise or smells when you want to relax. ‘Will smoke from my chiminea blow over their rotary clothes drier?’ ‘Will water run off from their roof cause my veggies to drown if I place my veggie patch over there?’ It is easy to avoid things from the start than to try to remedy them after. So, elements need to be placed in the best relationship to each other but not negatively influenced by any off-site factors or be placed where it may cause an issue to someone/something else off-site.


When placing new elements in your landscape, sensible design that considers beneficial networks between elements; the most desired lines for pathways; zoning for placement according to frequency of use and sectoring for outside factors coming in from off-site, can keep time, human energy and money input at a low and output in product yields (veg, honey, fruit, herbs, wood) and human scale outputs such as pleasure and good health at a high. What’s not to like about Permaculture Design! To learn more join our one day introductory Permaculture Design course or the more in-depth four day course including free mini equinox festival visit