Before we even get to these permaculture principles today, it’s a good idea to take some time to choose your goals.
You may want fresh, healthy food, a space to relax and be inspired, impressive flowers to brighten up the street, a play zone for kids – the potential benefits are as diverse as people.
Conventional landscape design tends to look at gardens mostly in terms of aesthetics (e.g. bright fall color) and function (e.g. a privacy screen).
But this approach often doesn’t do a great job of designing the garden as a living ecosystem.
A holistic, integrated approach considers the ecological impact of the garden, which actually improves aesthetics and functionality in many ways, but also has many other benefits…
What Is Permaculture?
I filmed the video this spring, but this photo shows there was a lot more going on by August, and there will be a LOT more going on next year.
In the 1970s, a movement developed to create ecosystems that meet human needs by imitating natural systems.
A contraction of the words “permanent” and “agriculture,” permaculture principles have come to include a cultural component as well, encompassing everything from building design and energy generation to social and economic systems – and of course, food.
In some ways, it’s just a set of common sense principles, based on an ethic of care for the earth, care for people, and sharing the surplus.
These principles will look different in each situation. There are no set formulas that guarantee a good result.
Permaculture design is about learning to be good relationship managers. This is what I learned when I did my permaculture course in 2007.
Rather than seeing ourselves as conquerors imposing our will on a passive landscape, we learn to guide the interactions of the many living elements in our space with as light a touch as we can…
Permaculture Principles – Observe And Interact
If we want to imitate nature, the first step is to observe what’s already there.
Rather than jumping in immediately with a preconceived idea of how we want our permaculture garden to look, we’ll get a much better result in the end if we take time to watch through a few seasons.
We can notice things like where sun and shade fall through different seasons, what plants and weeds are thriving in which locations, where water pools in winter/spring or where the grass turns brown first in summer, what kinds of birds and other animals visit the yard, and so on.
This permaculture principle of observation doesn’t have to be difficult.
For example, I have a low spot in my garden that gets seasonally wet, so I put my pears down near there because they can take it. My apples are happily up higher where they won’t have to deal with that.
My one cherry tree is in a warm, sheltered spot protected from harsh winds because it’s a little more fragile.
It’s just common sense design much of the time, but it gives us clues to how we can work with the landscape.
We can minimize our labor and problems by cooperating with the natural energy flows of the space, and intervening where it will have the greatest effect…
Under my fruit trees, I have comfrey, nasturtiums and garlic (all in this photo), plus lots of other herbs, many of which will hopefully contribute to the health of the tree.
In nature, nothing is lost – there is no waste.
We can create gardens that work in a similar way, by considering each element we’ll include in terms of its needs and yields.
An element is simply anything we want in our space, like an apple tree, an organic vegetable garden, a compost pile, a greenhouse or a pond.
Each element needs certain things in order to function well, and can yield a variety of products or functions, including things we might not usually think of.
That could be herbs planted below an apple tree to attract pollinators and other beneficial insects for the tree, or a compost pile generating heat for a greenhouse (or vice versa).
It’s great to make use of as many of these as possible.
Start by taking time to make a comprehensive list of your own garden needs, and follow this with a list of the elements you’ll need to meet those needs.
Then you can brainstorm the needs and yields of each element, and see how they interact with each other.
You can place the elements in your garden in an integrated way that maximizes the beneficial relationships between them.
Do you have any interesting integrations between elements in your garden?
Or do you have questions about these permaculture principles, about permaculture design?
I hope so, because I’d love to answer them down below…