wild by design - permaculture


Permaculture is a term originally coined in the mid-seventies by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren from the words PERMAnent agriCULTURE. It has subsequently gone on to encompass far more than this, addressing how we humans can live harmoniously on our planet being mindful of its finite resources. Nowadays there are as many shades of the movement as people involved.

Integrating ecology, sustainable land management, agroforestry, organic gardening and green architecture, it aims at producing high yields, richness of diversity and stability of its systems for the lowest possible energy input. This is achieved by a process of design which is fundamental to all practitioners. Although often described as "radical", a great deal of it is common sense and would have naturally been the way of small scale agriculture before the dependence on fossil fuels. Applicable to both contryside and urban dwellers, from the largest farm to the smallest window box it is accessible to all. It is also far more do-able than the "good life" type model of the sixties and seventies which was actually really hard to achieve, and thus prone to disappointing failure.

The underlying ethics of permaculture are "Earth Care" "People Care" and "Fair Shares". Self-explanitory and simple but often overlooked in our materialistic society. Earth Care is about treating our home planet with respect and reverence. People Care is all about helping and empowering each other to live sustainably, and Fair Shares encourages an equitable ethical way to distribute the Earth' s limited resources.

One of the fundamental principles of permaculture is to observe and learn from nature and to apply these ecologial truisms to our lives and gardens. We learn to work with nature and not against it, to see solutions and not problems. Too much dwelling on the state of the planet can lead to apathy and depression and stultify us in our efforts. Permaculture is a "can do" approach. All of us making these "baby steps" adds up and is far more positive than rolling over and giving up just because issues such as climate change and the depletion of the earths resources seem overwhelming. Every element should be supported by many functions - which is a way of increasing diversity - the opposite of modern monocultural agricultural practices and increasing stability. A good example of would be the many things we get from a tree.

Permaculture likes to use zones; when I originally studied garden design in the seventies, a typical scenario would be to hide the vegetable patch way down the end of the garden out of sight. In permaculture every day use herbs and vegetables would be grown close to the home. One of my favourite Chinese proverbs is that "The best fertiliser is the gardener's shadow". In other words - there is no substitute for regularly observing and checking our crops and literally "nipping problems in the bud".

Permaculture is not dogmatic but an entire design philosophy encouraging us to use our imagination, knowledge of natural systems, and self-reliance to address the many issues we face both on a global scale and in our local communities.