basics of permaculture

The 6 Basics of Permaculture Design: Sustainable Gardening

basics of permaculture

The Basics of Permaculture

This article aims to share the basics of permaculture gardening and how to start a sustainable garden.

No matter what kind of garden you want to start, you can implement the principles of permaculture gardening in your designs. You can get started and grow your own garden in a sustainable way at home according to permaculture ethics and principles whether you have a large garden or just a sunny windowsill. 

Starting to plan and create a garden in a more sustainable and eco-friendly way does not cost the Earth – literally or metaphorically. And you already have more of the skills and resources for this process than you might think. 

Six Basics of Permaculture Gardening

Listed below are the basics of permaculture gardening and strategies for getting started with a sustainable garden.

1. Make Observations –

In order to fully understand your own unique landscape, you should learn all you can about the native plants, and wildlife that are natural to your area. Take some time to simply observe the natural world, and the systems already in place around you. In order to reach a place of greater harmony and abundance, you need to know where you are starting from. 

Pay close attention to your weather patterns and make note of which parts of the garden get the most sun, shade etc. and plan accordingly. It is important to look at sunlight, wind, water, soil, wildlife, and patterns of human movement. All of these things can help you work out the best strategy for any particular space. 

In permaculture, a design process helps you move towards your goal of getting all these plants and other elements in place. This design process begins with observation and analysis of the different sectors acting on your site.

Learning how to react and adapt to different environmental conditions, and discovering the best strategies can take time. Permaculture designers are experts who can potentially be employed to help you develop a design for your garden. But you can also discover over time how to design a garden yourself. And the learning process always begins with careful observation.

Look at the wider patterns at play before you delve in to look at the details of the situation and find the right solutions and practices.

2. Choose the Right Plants for the Right Place

In any organic, sustainable garden, you need to choose the right plants and the right elements for the right places. And think about how those plants and elements can be combined in the most efficient and effective ways. 

basics of permaculture

Three Sisters Companion Planting

A good place to start is to choose plants that are well-suited to your particular environment.  It puts less stress on the plants when energy doesn’t need to be expended by having to try to adapt and allows them to become established quicker. A benefit of this strategy is that these plants will have a healthier root system, and be overall healthier plants. 

Another thing you can do is practice companion planting by choosing crops that support each other to form a symbiotic relationship...think three sisters planting.

Planting perennials that attract pollinator insects, deter pests, and naturally fertilize soil are also worthy of consideration when planning a permaculture garden.  

3. Design your garden layout.

Once you’re familiar with your surroundings and know the plants you want to grow, use that information to plan your garden’s design. One of the most important basics of permaculture gardening is to replicate patterns of growth and harvesting that occur naturally.  

basics of permaculture

Once you have taken some time to carefully observe, and to understand the restrictions and benefits of the space you are working with, another key step will be to decide which type of permaculture gardening you will employ. 

In permaculture, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. There is a recognition that each garden is different. What works well in one location will not necessarily be the best solution for another. 

However, there are key methods and practices that are often employed in a permaculture garden. Permaculture gardening can be:

  • Perennial polycultures and forest gardens.
  • Annual crop cultivation (usually with abundant companion planting and often taking a ‘no dig’ or ‘no till’ approach). 
  • Small space gardening/ vertical gardening or container gardening. Sometimes with practices like aquaponics, which involves creating closed-loop systems to rear fish and grow plants in water rather than in soil. 
basics of permaculture

Permaculture gardens often employ a high level of perennial plants, since these plants sequester more carbon, and remain in place within the ecosystem year after year. However, there are no hard and fast rules, and many different gardens can become ‘permaculture gardens’ over time.  

4. Consider Elements and Harness Resources

Once you have honed in on the key gardening strategy or strategies which are right for your space, it is important to think about the different elements which will be included within the system. 

As well as thinking about growing areas, it is also important to think about elements like rainwater harvesting, and composting – two things which will be very important for the long-term success of your garden. 

basics of permaculture
permaculture and gardening

If water systems and composting systems are not in place, these should be considered from the outset. They are amongst the first things you should take care of when planning the layout and design of your space. 

One of the principles of permaculture gardening is to use the minimum amount of water needed for your garden to thrive. Mulching crops to retain moisture or installing a low-waste drip irrigation system are great choices to keep as much moisture in the soil as possible without evaporation. Install rain barrels to collect rain run-off from your roof gutters that you can recycle into your watering system. 

Avoid chemical fertilizers and instead, use a natural compost filled with organic matter. Popular composting choices include manure and kitchen scraps that you can collect in a compost bin. Earthworm castings and worm tea are also great options, as they are extremely rich in nutrients and add beneficial microbes to your soil.

Chemical weed killers don’t align with the principles of permaculture gardening, so make sure you add a layer of organic mulch after planting to suppress weeds and keep your soil moist. Common types of mulch include leaves, newspaper, straw, wood chips, shredded bark, and grass clippings.

It is also important to think about how existing plants and other plants that you add to the space will be utilized as resources. Consider how they can be used to care for the soil and manage and maintain fertility over time. Itemize all the natural resources available to you and think about how they will best be used. Do not forget all the other living elements within the system. 


5. Zoning 

Once you have a much clearer idea of the methods you will employ, and the elements and resources  that are or will be available in your garden, you can start thinking about how to combine elements to create a thriving and enduring system within your space. 

Permaculture zoning is all about positioning those elements we visit most frequently closest to the home or centre of operations. Permaculture designers usually define up to five zones on any site, though smaller sites will usually only include one or two of these zones. 

In permaculture design zones are spread out sequentially with larger numbers used to designate areas visited less and less frequently.  though the zones may not be placed strictly in order moving out from the centre. Some areas closer to the home but less accessible, for example, may belong to a higher zone. 

basics of permaculture

6. Permaculture Sectors & Systems Analysis

In permaculture, the term sector refers to any natural or uncontrolled influence that moves through your design site, such as wind or wildlife. And by breaking your area into sectors based on these identified uncontrolled influences,  you can anticipate and enact design decisions that will stop, counteract, and improve how those uncontrolled influences affect your site.

We use sectors information and look at the inputs, outputs and characteristics of each garden element to create the optimal layout for a space. We think about making the most of space and time. We zone the space and lay out the garden in such a way that it works as well as possible for us, and for the overall health and vitality of the system as a whole. 

One of the key things in a permaculture system is joined-up thinking. All the elements are considered holistically, not just in isolation. A broad view is taken, and all the interconnections are taken into account.

If you begin by taking these simple ideas into account, you will find it much easier to get started. You will be able to create the perfect layout and design for your permaculture garden. And you will be able to find the right plants and adopt the right approaches for the right places.

basics of permaculture


We can’t all make big changes overnight. It’s important to take your time and be kind to yourself. I’ve been working on my homestead and permaculture gardens for over 10 years.  I’ve got a good start, but I still have a way to go in developing my property before it will be self-sufficient. It takes time and honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever be done.

Remember, we’re always learning, and even if at first your efforts are not successful, you’re still learning…even if it’s what NOT to do. So, I encourage you to start, even if it’s something small like starting a compost pile, or endeavoring to move toward being a zero-waste home. We can all do something to be a little bit more self-sufficient. 

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