Permaculture Projects

The Polyculture Project 2020 – Week 18

Spring and Autumn Raspberries, Forest Garden Ground Cover, Summer Flowering Herbs for Beneficial Insects

This week, we are taking a look at some ground cover plants, experimenting with pruning Raspberries and thinking a bit more about beneficial insects and how we can categorise the kind of support they provide us with in our gardens. We also have some glad tidings to share from our feathered friends….welcome to The Polyculture Project – Week 18.

We’ve been experimenting with pruning the raspberries at different times of the year in order to try and prolong the fruiting period. The raspberries we did not prune from last season are producing their final crop (photo on the left) and the raspberries we did prune are just starting to flower (photo on the right). We’re finding pruning half of the raspberries in the autumn is an easy way to get fruits from late May through to October. 

While on a road trip with my brother in the Rhodopes mountains 4 or 5 years ago, we came across a small landslide where several upturned plants lay. I rescued some of the plants from the pile and planted them under the relatively deep shade of a mature cherry tree in the home garden, seeing as the plants had come from a shady mountainside. 

5 years later, one plant, in particular, has done extremely well, that is Circaea lutetiana – Enchanter’s nightshade.

Circaea lutetiana – Enchanter’s nightshade


Circaea lutetiana – Enchanter’s Nightshade makes excellent ground cover in a woodland area.  You can see the ground cover below the cherry tree in this photo, where C. lutetiana has established itself well while not being overwhelming.  This is probably because it is growing alongside other plants that prevent it from overtaking, including Dewberry – Rubus caesius. C. lutetiana is often considered a weed, but what’s great about designing layers in a polyculture, is that when grown with other plants, the ability of a plant to spread and monopolise the area is greatly reduced.

Circaea lutetiana growing with Rubus caesius


Rubus caesius – Dewberry, another excellent plant for ground cover. One plant can grow to around 1m in width, thereby covering quite a large area. Lots of beneficial insects are attracted to the blooms, and the fruits are palatable and can be used to make preserves.

We are always encouraging Heracleum sphondylium, commonly known as Hogweed, in our gardens. The plants grow at the base of fruit trees, among our  Rubus idaeus cv. – Raspberry. patch and in wild strips and islands throughout the gardens.  Part of the Apiacea family, this plant can grow up to 2m long, with hairy, ridged hollow stems. It’s an excellent plant for animal fodder (the pigs and rabbits love the leaves), biomass production, and for attracting beneficial insects that feed on the pollen and nectar and use the hollow stems to overwinter.

We speak a lot about beneficial organisms, so I thought it would be good to expand upon this term a bit. All organisms are beneficial, at the very least all organisms past, present and future decompose to nourish something else, but when we speak of beneficial organisms we are speaking of those organisms that provide clear and present benefits, specifically to our polyculture activity. Beneficial organisms, or Borgs as I prefer to shorten it, are a very decent group of organisms that make great partners in the polyculture landscape offering, as the name implies, benefits to our activity of growing the stuff we need. They seem to be happy to carry out these duties providing we supply (or at the very least don’t destroy) suitable living conditions for them, i.e, their habitat.
The benefits these organisms offer come mainly in the form of increasing the productivity of our crops via pollination support, protecting our crops from pests via pest predation and providing fertility to our crops via their roles in decomposing organic matter and supplying nutrients, fertility provision.
Hibiscus syriacus – Rose of Sharon, flowering in the home garden. It’s a beautiful shrub, that takes well to pruning and can be used as a very pretty hedge or a stand-alone ornamental.

Hypericum perforatum – St Johns Wort is flower in the nursery. A herbaceous perennial that giving the correct conditions will spread forming a very attractive drought tolerant ground cover. The plant has a long history of medicinal use and has established a place in modern medicine as a treatment for depression.

We’re thrilled to announce the first clutch of eggs have successfully hatched! The little ducklings not even a day old made a bee line for the pond and spent a happy hour diving into the depths before we moved them, and mother, safely into their house and secure area  We’ve lost very small ducklings before, so this year we’d like to try and protect them until they are a few weeks old and big enough to roam the gardens. For more on our work and gardens, and a video of the ducks, you can follow us on Instagram.


Paul Alfrey

Hi I'm Paul, Originally from the UK I moved over to Bulgaria with my family 12 years ago and set up the Balkan Ecology Project. Prior to that, I worked as a freelance Arborist in the UK for 15 years. Balkan Ecology Project is a family project run by myself, Sophie and our two boys Dylan and Archie, and supported by the amazing volunteers we have hosted here over the years. We aim to develop and promote practices that provide nutritious affordable food while enhancing biodiversity and work to achieve this by: - Researching, designing and implementing systems on the ground - Providing working examples of our designs at our sites open for the public to visit - Providing quality education and training to aspiring growers and landscapers - Providing consultancy and design for landowners and farmers across Europe - Practicing an open source policy, whereby we disseminate our results freely and share all aspects of our work - Growing, selling and promoting the use of plants and plant communities that have high ecological and nutritional value Our activities currently include: Biological Plant Nursery, Educational Courses, Local Land Stewardship, Polyculture Research, Market Gardening​, and Consultancy and Design.

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