“Permaculture” is one of those words that you hear in gardening enthusiast circles, but what the term means is not exactly well known.
This guide will help you understand a bit of what permaculture is about and how you can apply permaculture concepts to benefit your garden. So let’s get down to business.
What is a permaculture garden design?
According to Bill Mollison, cofounder and father of the movement, “Permaculture is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems.”
In other words, permaculture gardens leverage natural processes to regenerate the ecology of a site. They do this while also yielding useful things such as food, fiber, fuel, fodder, fertilizer, or “farmaceuticals”.
5 easy ways to help create your own permaculture garden layout…
Tenth Acre Farm Permaculture Landscape – photo credit: Ken Stigler Photography.
“The author’s permaculture-inspired edible landscape”
1: Develop Healthy Soil
Soil is a gardener’s most valuable asset. Healthy soil contains organic matter and beneficial organisms. It manages nutrients and water efficiently, resists erosion, pests, and disease, and generally provides a happy home for your favorite crops.
Rather than considering what a crop needs to be happy, expand your viewpoint to consider what the soil needs in order to be a healthy, thriving foundation for growing crops. Creativity and resourcefulness can help understand the unique conditions of your garden so it can thrive.
2: Use Water Wisely
A plan for managing water efficiently is an important aspect of a permaculture-designed garden. Are you wasting water by allowing it to run off the garden site or into the sewer? Is it causing erosion or pooling in areas where it isn’t desired? A host of water management tools in the permaculture toolbox can divert, slow, or catch water to solve these woes.
Permaculture design helps discern how and when to use these tools in the right context to use water wisely, reduce watering time, and establish the right amount of moisture for healthy soil and crops.
3: Layer Multifunctional Plants
Many plants can serve several functions in the garden. For example, soybeans may fix nitrogen in the soil while providing an edible crop, while cilantro/coriander ( Coriandrum sativum ) is a popular edible herb and spice that also attracts beneficial insects and pollinators.
Look for ways to create a more diverse, ecological garden by layering together multifunctional plants.
4: Manage the Edges
Managing the edges of a garden site is an important step in permaculture design. By defining the edges, you can better control what comes on the property, such as weeds, pests, wind, aerial chemicals, or water. Perennial hedgerows or flower borders are a great way to frame the edges of a garden. They protect it from harsh conditions and provide habitat for beneficial wildlife, such as pollinators, toads, or snakes. Read more about Just Planting the Edges with Foodscaping to find out more about adding food crops to your landscapes.
Permaculture looks at the whole system to see how patterns emerge. Rather than focusing on an isolated problem inside a garden bed, zoom out to include what’s going on below the surface and around the edges.
5: Design Plant Guilds
A permaculture guild is a grouping of plants that supports a central element such as a fruit or nut tree. Consider underplanting a tree with plants that offer an additional harvest or that perform supportive functions.
Some examples are plants that fertilize, repel pests, attract beneficial insects, or create mulch. A guild integrates plants together to maximize the harvest while reducing cost, labor, and the need to import materials.
Tenth Acre Farm Strawberry Landscape photo credit: Amy Stross, TenthAcreFarm.com.
“Strawberries growing in the author’s front yard permaculture landscape”
Put it Together: Designing the Permaculture Garden
The tools in the permaculture toolbox can help create productive, ecologically rich gardens. However, the key ingredient that ties exciting things like healthy soil, passive water management, hedgerows, and plant guilds together is the design process, which emphasizes observation and careful planning. This is the heart of permaculture — integrating thoughtfully selected techniques into a seamless design that works with nature. Each component contributes to the whole.
Before diving in with the “doing”, take some time to observe the garden site. Look for inefficiencies, for example, tool storage that is far from the garden and demands more walking.
Written by Amy Stross
Author The Suburban Micro-Farm: Modern Solutions for Busy People