What is Permaculture?

A description, definitions and benefits of permaculture. Why is it relevant? What are the key principles and ethics. Plus, further readings.

Hamish O'Brien

6/21/20238 min read

What is Permaculture?

Permaculture is a new eco-friendly way of gardening, thinking and co-operating with this planet. Let’s dive in and learn more.

In a nutshell, permaculture is a sustainable method of gardening that works with the land to provide outputs for both the land itself and the people tending to it. Through careful observation, planning and design we ensure the eco-system is receiving and producing what it needs to create a thriving self-sustaining system.

Practical resources like food crops, drink, medicine, basketry, logs, animal products and even building materials can be integrated into designs. And permaculture does not leave out beauty. These types of landscapes tend to inherit the enchanting aesthetics of natural environments, like the abundance of a food forest or the blooming flowers of an incorporated wildflower mix in a perennial vegetable patch.

Many people whom have heard of permaculture believe it is just a type of gardening. Whilst permaculture’s roots are respectively regenerative gardening, it branches out positive change to our local community, political and business structures, social constructs, building processes and of course environmental objectives. With permaculture’s influence we can learn how to be in co-operation with our home, nature, finally answering our call for a carbon negative future.

Permaculture can;

  • Offer a regenerative approach to agriculture

  • Reconnect communities to their food source

  • Cut food milage

  • Revitalise our soils

  • Support our local farmers financially

  • Re-wild our eco-systems

  • Provide clean and healthy, food and water

  • Create resource stocks for our future generations and much much more…

Why we need permaculture

In my perspective, permaculture’s ultimate goal is to find non-harmful solutions for both planet and people to thrive naturally. Due to the current impacts of the environmental crisis; deforestation, depleted soils and mass pollution to name a few, a rejuvenating practice is in need.

Types of traditional gardening and modern agricultural practices have proved themselves unsustainable. If your garden was designed by a traditional garden designer then your eco-system may require larger inputs, chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Your planets may not be providing each other beneficial relationships or symbiotic relationships. Read more about the differences between permaculture design and traditional design. The additional support for the plants and trees is needed because your eco-system was not designed to replenish itself. Meaning it is not a self-sustaining or ‘closed loop system.’

We are not saying your garden will not need maintaining, because it will. The difference is that we marry your needs with the eco-system’s needs. We know what we can do to improve the current conditions of the natural eco-system via biodiversity, soil fertility, plant health, general eco-system health and more… Resulting in a landscape wherein nature can naturally maintain through co-operative relationships, naturally encouraged processes and expert designs. This results in minimal intervention from the garden keeper. Humans are not separate from nature; we are natural beings and a fellow animal species. We become part of the integrated system, guiding and nurturing the systems growth.

Obviously, our eco-system must attend to our needs but if we choose to control and lord over the system using unnatural manipulative strategies, we discover increased carbon emission, loss of soils, barren and infertile land, sea temperature rise, loss of natural habitats, instinct species, unhealthy GMO crops, large intensive agricultural firms dominating land and markets and all the other terrifying results of working against nature.

A common issue we find is depleted soil lacking in nutrients. Usually sub soil, which is clay and compact, acting as top soil. Part of our solution would be to incorporate plants that can air-rate the soil, provide the soil with important nutrients like nitrogen and potassium and cover the soil with ground cover plants or resources like bark to begin the process of healing the soil. We are encouraging natural processes that rejuvenate the land to an ideally ‘hummus’ like soil (or as naturally fertile as possible).

It’s simply a change of mindset from mining nature for our food to rejuvenating or growing nature for our food.

Permaculture in landscape design

Permaculture design uses a set of guiding principles and core values originally developed by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in Australia in the 1970s. With these genuine outlooks on design, we can begin to understand how choosing to work with the land not only saves our energy, time and money but also increases our results.

Every landscape design will go through a process, typically called a design method. Every person/organisation has the choice to take different approaches, here I will name a few of the most popular:

· SADI - Survey, Analysis, Design and Implementation

· SADIMET - Survey, Analysis, Design and Implementation, Maintenance, Evaluation, Tweaking

· BREDIM – Boundaries, Resources, Evaluation, Design, Implementation, Maintenance

Most people in the designing trade work with similar models or pre/re-invented versions. These are the most popular processes used by permaculturist. The reason why permaculture designers use such in-depth methods to complete designs is because they want to analyse as much data as possible before making critical decisions. Once you intervene, you are unable to take back your actions and it’s for this reason we take additional caution.

PIG will always deliver a quality design that will improve the environment. However, we are flexible depending on your individual needs/requests. We cater for low and high budgets, completing as much or as little as possible for clients.

The 12 Permaculture Principles

* Observation - Every landscape has unique topography, soil structure, and microclimates. Through observation, the best choices of plants, structures, and other improvements can be made.

* Harnessed Energy - Permaculture looks for ways to catch and store energy for future use. Solar, wind, water, and is harnessed and used in the most efficient way possible to reduce the carbon footprint. Personal energy is also taken into consideration when creating a permaculture design. Traditional gardening design require a lot of personal energy to maintain whereas permaculture is a more efficient style of gardening.

* Yield - All the efforts put into a permaculture design should pay-off. Every plant, structure, and effort must have an equal or greater pay-off or it’s not worth the effort to incorporate it into the design.

* Self-Regulation and Feedback - When a plant is not happy in a garden location it will not thrive. We must be willing to observe the plants, accept the feedback they provide us, and self-regulate to make the garden more productive.

* Use and Value Renewable Resources - Use what you have on hand and recycle whenever possible. A rain barrel will enable you to capture, use, and value water so you can keep garden plants well hydrated without wasting this natural resource.

* Produce No Waste - Nothing gets wasted in a permaculture design. The goal is zero waste and everything is recycled. Dying plants and vegetable scraps are recycled into compost, animal manure is used to improve soil fertility, and every inch of space is put to productive usage.

* Design With Patterns - The patterns of the wind, sun, and rain are worked with instead of against in a permaculture design. For example, instead of low-lying wet areas of the landscape being filled in with soil or rocks, it’s is used to create a water garden that will capture and filter the excess rainwater. The patterns of the elements will dictate the design and usage of the landscape.

* Integrate Instead of Segregate - All plants work together in a permaculture garden and provide mutual benefits. Plants that need afternoon shade are planted on the shady side of taller plants and plants that thrive in cool soil are planted with vining plants that shade the soil. Companion planting is utilised to make the most of the growing space.

* Small Solutions - Little by little the permaculture design begins to develop to become an eco-friendly and productive garden. Self-seeding plants in their happy spots and decaying plants matter feeds the soil. Everything works together but it will be an overnight success, it will start small and continue to grow and evolve.

* Value Diversity - Tried and true is the method of traditional gardening but permaculture designs leave plenty of room for diversity. Try new plant varieties each year, transplant a few fruit trees and berry vines, diversify for bigger crop yields and enhanced flavor profiles.

* Use The Edges - Don’t allow the garden edges to be left vacant, use the space to grow something. Value those tiny, marginal spaces and plant dwarf marigolds, rosemary, basil, or other small-growing annual food plant in the garden edges. The garden appearance will be enhanced, garden produce will be enhanced, and every inch of space utilised.

* Be Creative - Creating a successful permaculture design requires constant creativity and the ability to change. The environment can change and you must be flexible so you can respond to changes and continue moving forward with the permaculture. A flood or drought may cause extensive damage to the permaculture design one year, but creativity can overcome the problem and implement new design elements that will prevent the same thing from happening again.

People Care, Fair Share, Earth Care

This is permaculture guiding ethics. Much like the permaculture principles they help guide our intentions, designs and thinking.

  • People Care – Honest, friendly and reliable relationships with our fellow brothers and sisters of the human species. Here we can find connections to our resources, workers/partners with the same ethics and friends that will be there whenever you are in need. As we grow, we can help those in-need. Possibly setting up food forests or perennial vegetable pavements so the homeless or people on low income can eat healthy and free food. Through similar projects we can care for people’s mental health and generally support people through their own growth or just give people a quiet space to free their mind.

  • Fair Share – Equality is a feeling that comes naturally and most people feel for the person with not enough. We are unable to be equal in our own creations as we are all different but our resources, food, water and shelter can be shared equally. This ethic is saying share what you have too much of. Give away clothes you don’t want, offer stocks that would otherwise go out of date and share your wonderful uniqueness with the world.

  • Earth Care – Our planet is a fine balance of life and if we decide to continue down the route of mining then the balance will tip. Caring, nurturing and growing with nature is an important ethos that needs to be imbedded in our minds. We are at the mercy of our planet and the planet is at the mercy of our selfish actions. The more we improve our planet the more we improve as well. Cleaner water, air and food with a breath-taking world to enjoy it all in.

If you would like a permaculture landscape design then please request a consultation or write us an email pig.permaculture@gmail.com .

Coming to the end of this article on what is permaculture, I would like to leave you with a wider view. Here are a few inspirational and informative quotes from people with hope.

“Though the worlds problems are increasingly complex, the answers remain embarrassingly simple” (Just grow food) – Bill Mollison ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Mollison , http://scott.london/interviews/mollison.html )

“Consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, whilst yielding an abundance of food, fiber and energy for provisions of our local needs.” – David Holmgren ( https://holmgren.com.au/ , https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Holmgren )

“Heaven on earth is a choice you must make, not a place you must find.” – Wayne Dyer ( https://www.drwaynedyer.com/ )

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margret Mead ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Mead , https://www.britannica.com/biography/Margaret-Mead )

“Permaculture gives us a toolkit for moving from a culture of fear and scarcity to one of love and abundance.” – Toby Hemenway ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toby_Hemenway , https://tobyhemenway.com/ )

“An economy that’s aligned with permaculture would be an economy where the best business decision is the same as the best ecological decision.” – Charles Eisnstein ( https://charleseisenstein.org/ , https://www.youtube.com/user/CharlesEisenstein )

“Change is upon us. We can choose to see it as frightening or we can embrace the opportunities and move forward with hope towards a more sustainable world.” – Wendy Priesnitz ( https://www.life.ca/wendy/ , https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wendy_Priesnitz )