Summer Cottage

In my first year as a professional farmer and designer, I was contacted about a project to design a summer cottage along permaculture princples. The site itself offered quite a number of challenges and the main emphasis was on bringing the cottage itself back into a livable situation. I quickly contacted a friend who was a natural builder to handle that aspect and set about investigating the options with the land.


The site was just outside of Nuuksio National Park in southern Finland. The couple who had purchased the cottage wished to use it privately when they visited the country and have the cottage available for others to hire while they were away.

The cottage would serve as a gateway to people wishing to explore the national park. Since the owners lived abroad and there would not necessarily be a long-term contract for its maintenance, the focus was on creating a simple design that would bring out the existing site characteristics to meet their goals as opposed to implementing large scale changes.

The small size of many summer cottage properties creates a serious constraint in terms of the size of areas receiving enough sunlight to grow sun loving plants that most people associate with cultivated spaces.

In this particular case a large number of spruce and pine trees dominated the landscape, leaving only a narrow space available for developing into gardens without significant changes. Because the cottage was intended as a relaxing getaway location, large scale changes to existing vegetation were ruled out quite early on.


Permaculture design does not require radical alteration of the landscape. A good design takes into consideration the possibilites of the place and the wishes of the client: each design is bespoke to the context- including budget.

Through the site analysis phase it was possible to identify key areas where intervention would lead to the most beneficial outcomes such as planting fruit trees and berry bushes on the southern edge of the existing tree line to capture sunlight and create a transition zone between meadow and woodland. We could also preserve the sunniest location on the site for small annual vegetable gardens that could provide meals with little intervention. Fertility would be increased by scaling down soil health principles of cover crops, diversity, and keeping the soil covered.

The site would largely retain elements of wild, unmanaged space while deliberately mangaging the edges of the sunniest locations to leverage them into production. As a place of rest and recreation rather than self sufficiency or commercial production, a summer cottage can quite readily incorporate large areas of perennial species meant to enrich the site's biodiversity and visual appeal.

When approached for the first time from the drive, the site would appear as a place in which the desire for productivity and has been balanced with ensuring a high degree of natural "disorder." Simply maintaining paths through the meadow and preserving the light availability through judicious tree pruning and cutting would be enough to give a sense of order and invite visitors to explore to the far reaches of the garden.