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Introduction to Landscape Graphics Class

I’ve been wanting to take a formal, hand drafting class for awhile. My map drawings looked too much like middle-school art projects and I needed to learn how to take them to the next level.

Austin Community College offers Introduction to Landscape Graphics through their Continuing Education program. This class is exclusively about hand drafting techniques, and it was exactly what I was looking for. It worked out for me to take it in the Fall of 2014, and the results speak for themselves, I think.

(Above) A map of my property I drew before I took the class and (below) the map I drew for my final class project.

(Above) A map of my property I drew before I took the class and (below) the map I drew for my final class project.

Since I had done a lot of colored pencil art in high school, colored pencil was my go-to rendering tool for the above maps; however, I’ve really come around to working with markers, and so I invested in a set of Copic markers and have been sketching and rendering in markers since.

Some of my marker sketches

Some of my marker sketches, applying the techniques I learned in class.

Spring 2014 Learning Plan Goals

Two months into the next three month period of my Learning Plan and I’m finally getting my goals posted. Thankfully the delayed posting doesn’t mean that I haven’t been getting things done.

My goals for the first six months were far too ambitious, and in hindsight, read more like goals for the next year or two. This list feels much more realistic to me — plenty of things to do, but plenty of room for unexpected opportunities as well. Also, planning for only three months, rather than six, worked much better for me. Season by season.


  • Build water garden.
  • Install beehive.
  • Learn to use the dehydrator.


  • Get bees.
  • Finish Master Naturalist Training.
  • Install washing machine greywater system.
  • Build new chicken coop.
  • Install chicken coop rainbarrel.
  • Harvest and dehydrate herbs.
  • Spread warm season cover crop seeds on Cosmo’s garden.


  • Install rainbarrel on garden shed.
  • Dehydrate backpacking food.
  • Build greywater basins.
  • Can fruit.
  • Get a chest freezer.
  • Experiment with rotating chicken ‘paddocks’.
  • Start a plant specimen book with pressed plants from the house and farm.
  • Hands-on Top Bar beekeeping class.
  • Cistern install workshop.
  • Read Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land.

Cosmo’s Garden

Enjoy the sun spot, Mo Cat

MoCat in the sun.

Back in October, we found out that our 14 year old cat, Cosmo, had cancer and only a few more months to live. Unfortunately, a couple of weeks ago, the time came and we had to let him go. It was, by far, my longest relationship with an animal, so I wanted to commemorate our time together by building him a garden.

An indoor cat most of his life, Cosmo loved when he was allowed to spend time outside on the patio. He was pretty well-trained and knew that stepping onto the grass meant having to go inside. (Trust me when I say that being outside was the one and only thing that was motivating enough for him to exhibit some self-control.) But that said, he couldn’t resist the butterflies. If a butterfly flitted too close by, before he could stop himself, he would be joyfully bounding after it, trying to keep up with the erratic pattern and elevation changes. Those moments, watching him unabashedly enjoying himself like that, are some of my favorite memories and it makes my heart happy to know that he’ll be surrounded by butterflies for a long time to come.

The Design

I knew that if I was going to do this I needed to design a system, not just plant a tree. This is permaculture design afterall, where systems are the name of the game, but also, the idea of Cosmo endlessly cycling through a system built just for him is very appealing to me.

After some site analysis, I designed a plum tree guild in a large boomerang berm, sited towards the top of a southeast-facing slope, close to the house for easy access to water, in an area that already has some peach and Mexican plum (Prunus mexicana) trees growing.

Garden Location

Garden Location

Garden Design Drawing

Garden Design

Since no one currently lives out at the Farm, irrigation presents a design challenge. Timed drip irrigation is not possible because we turn the city water off whenever we aren’t there, so my options became earthworks, adapted plants, and ollas — all three of which are being used in this design, along with cover crops for quick soil coverage.

The ollas I’m using hold two gallons of water and I’ve realized that I probably need to add a third one, just up-slope from the plum tree. They are currently emptying in about a week so it looks like I’ll be making weekly (more in the Summer) watering visits for a while.

One thing I didn’t pay enough attention to ahead of time was what was already growing on that spot. The day we installed the garden I noticed it was mainly pioneer plants and annual wildflowers, with some perennial wildflowers and bunch grasses. Had I noticed that sooner, I would have planned to have more organic material on hand to work into the soil as we built the garden because I suspect it’s going to need it.

The Plants

I chose a ‘Methley’ plum tree (Prunus salicina ‘Methley’) to anchor this garden because it is self-pollinating, has a low chill hour requirement (about 250 hours), is heat-tolerant, and, as opposed to Mexican plums which make good jellies, ‘Methley’ plums are good right off the tree.

The nitrogen fixer I chose to accompany the plum tree was more of a sentimental choice. Because of its name (Mi-MO-sa), its thorny nature, and its butterfly appeal, I decided that a Fragrant Mimosa (Mimosa borealis) would be an excellent addition to the garden that would be the resting place of my thorny-natured, butterfly lovin’ MoCat. This native shrub/small tree is extremely heat-tolerant and its adorable pink puffballs are an excellent source of nectar for both bees and butterflies.

As far as the understory goes, I intend on putting my beehives in this area as well so I’ll be looking at plants that, in addition to supporting the plum tree, also support the pollinator population. Luckily those priorities are not mutually exclusive since most companion planting information emphasizes planting for pollinators and other beneficial insects.

I plan to start with heat and sun loving natives like Autumn sage (Salvia greggii), Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Maximillian sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani), Lemon beebalm (Monarda citriodora), Mealy blue sage (Salvia farinacea), and Drummond wild onion (Allium drummondii). Other non-native, less-well adapted edible and beneficial perennials will be introduced once the system has had some time to mature, since they will probably be more successful then.

The Garden

The morning Cosmo passed away, we drove out to the Farm straight from the vet. Once we got there, I used my A-frame level to find the contour line on the slope, then I marked the line and the berm with flags, and the digging began.

When planning for the eventuality of building this garden on a day that was going to be pretty hard mentally and emotionally, I decided that the priorities would be getting the earthwork dug, the ollas in, and the plum and mimosa trees planted. I knew that I would have help that day for all of that, and the rest I could do myself later. In hindsight, I should have paid a little more attention to soil preparation and amendment. As we dug and planted, I added compost, mostly to the trees, but I didn’t have anywhere near enough for the entire garden. Thankfully, I do have an endless supply of cow manure on-site, so I’ll be working to amend the soil with that going forward.

In addition to planting the plum and the mimosa trees that day, we also planted a couple of Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) tubers, spread leguminous cover crop seeds over the berm, transplanted some of the disturbed wildflower plants into the garden (mostly Winecups (Callirhoe involucrata) and Texas bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis)), and threw out a bunch of wildflower, chicory, yarrow, and sunflower seeds.

The digging begins.

The digging begins.

The ollas are in.

The ollas are in.

End of Phase One.

End of Phase One.

I went back a few days later to add the mulch.

I went back a few days later to add the straw mulch.

Cosmo's Resting Place

Cosmo’s resting place.

Zone and Sector Maps (House)

Here are the maps for the zones and sectors of my house.

Because of how I created these, I can very easily make changes and updates as needed, without having to re-draw any more than is necessary.

Zone Map - Click for larger image

Zone Map – Click for larger image

Thoughts about my zones:

  • I wasn’t sure about mapping Zone 1 in the backyard, because, currently, it extends to the hen yard at the back of the property; however, I didn’t want to draw my zones based on elements that might move. The area by the house is guaranteed.
  • I wasn’t sure how to handle Zone 5 since I’d like to do some improvements throughout the greenbelt along the back of the property. Should I leave just a little piece of it untouched? But then is any of it really Zone 5 enough to even bother leaving alone? Would other, wilder parts of my neighborhood suffice?
  • I included a small Zone 1 area in the front yard, even though currently that’s really probably Zone 3. I hardly ever go out there, but I’m trying to get better about it.
Sector Map - Click for larger image

Sector Map – Click for larger image

Thoughts on the sectors:

  • I’d say waterflow is the major influencing sector. We get a lot of water from the neighbors to the south.
  • Lots of small, urban wildlife (snake, birds, toads, cats, possums, etc.) pass from the drainage greenbelt behind our house, through our property, to the open area just across the cul-de-sac from us.
  • Since the areas of pooling straddle the fenceline, I’ll need to be very careful that anything I do to modify that area, doesn’t negatively affect my neighbors.

Learning Plan — The First Six Months

Below is the outline of my goals for the next six months. Visit the About page for more information about me and my design sites.

The Process

I plan to document my process through regular posting to this website. Each accomplishment will get a blog post as proof of completion. The posts will be assigned a designated category and tagged with the related topic(s), allowing quick access to all of the “Observation” exercises, for example, or everything related to “Erosion Control”.


Documentation of my diploma work will fall into one of the below categories:


Documentation of my diploma work will be labeled with one or more of the following keywords. I expect this list to grow as I progress through the program.

  • Animal Systems
  • Erosion Control
  • Edible Perennials
  • Food Production
  • Fungal Fun
  • Harvesting
  • Holistic Range Management
  • Planting
  • Plant Propagating
    • Division
    • Seed Starting
  • Pruning
  • Seasonal Cooking
  • Seed Saving
  • Site Mapping
  • Soil Improvement
  • Water Harvesting
    • Cisterns
    • Earthworks
    • Greywater
    • Surveying
  • Wildfire

The Plan

Diploma Field of Practical Experience

Site Development

Mission Statement

Work to restore habitat, connection, and self-reliance. Provide resources to the community to do the same.

First Six Months’ Goals

Every Month

  • Community: Attend one lecture, class, or other permie event
  • Community: Volunteer twice at the Wildflower Center
  • Implementation: Pick an in-season ingredient – make one fresh, one preserved receipe

October 2013

November 2013

  • Research: Holistic Range Management (HRM)
  • Research: Fire ecology
  • Observation: Visit Lost Pines State Park, note the plants that are coming back
  • Observation: HRM plant diversity test
  • Design: Finish conceptual design (Home)
  • Design: Finish zone, sector and flow maps (Farm)
  • Implementation: Plant grass seed (Farm)
  • Implementation: Install design — S. strip of front yard (Home)
  • Reading: Edible Forest Gardens Volume 1
  • Reading: Rainwater Harvesting Volume 1

December 2013

  • Research: Make a garden planting calendar
  • Research: Frost protection strategies
  • Observation: Winter microclimates — Frost pockets and warm spots (Farm, Home)
  • Design: Start conceptual design (Farm)
  • Implementation: Gutter on shed, rainbarrels next to shed for chicken water (Home)
  • Implementation: Install gutter and cistern (Home)
  • Implementation: Build larger, more permanent chicken yard (Home)
  • Reading: Edible Forest Gardens Volume 2

January 2014

  • Research: Guild-build/desired species list (Home)
  • Observation: Identify unknown plants in the neighborhood (Home)
  • Implementation: Build W. slope earthworks (Farm)
  • Implementation: Build brush weirs from downed branches (Farm)
  • Implementation: Get in-ground cistern inspected (Farm)
  • Implementation: Install above-ground cistern (Farm)
  • Reading: Growing Food in a Hotter Dryer Land

February 2014

  • Research: Plant propagation
  • Research: Space-efficient gardening
  • Observation: Which plants and flowers emerge first from Winter
  • Implementation: Start annuals from seed
  • Implementation: Prune fruit trees (Home and Farm)
  • Implementation: Plant fruit trees (Home and Farm)
  • Implementation: Divide Mexican plum trees (Farm)
  • Reading: The Backyard Beekeeper
  • Reading: How to Grow More Vegetables

March 2014

  • Research: Guild-build/desired species list (Farm)
  • Research: Wildlife habitat requirements
  • Research: Year-round wildlife food sources
  • Observation: Identify some of the creatures at the farm
  • Design: Next 6 months’ learning plan
  • Implementation: Propagate willow trees from cuttings
  • Implementation: Get bees
  • Implementation: Install backyard earthworks (Home)
  • Implementation: Plant annuals (Home)
  • Implementation: Plant perennials (Home and Farm)
  • Reading: The Explorers’ Texas Volume 1: The Lands and Waters
  • Reading: The Explorers’ Texas Volume 2: The Animals They Saw