Growing your own vegetables, fruits, and herbs utilizing the principles of permaculture gardening is a great way to live closer to nature, something by now you know I am passionate about.
In fact, this idea of living closer to nature is the central theme in all I do and how I choose to live. Thinking about how my actions impact the earth, respecting the earth’s gifts, eating ancestrally, and celebrating seasonal changes are all ways I have chosen to live closer to nature. Permaculture gardening is just another piece to this puzzle.
If you are a gardener looking to live more sustainably, then permaculture will be for you. Simply put, it is a way to live sustainably by working with nature to grow your own food.
What is Permaculture Gardening?
Permaculture gardening is a blueprint for sustainable practice in a garden, underpinned by a series of ethics and ideas. Rooted in a philosophy of harmony with nature, permaculture is all about making sure that what we do today does not have a negative impact on the world of tomorrow. Simply put, permaculture gardening is a holistic approach to gardening.
Permaculture is a term which comes from the terms ‘permanent’ and ‘agriculture’ or, more broadly, ‘culture’. This type of sustainable gardening approach promotes the idea of growing food and other resources for humanity in a eco-conscious way. It is also now a term more broadly applied beyond the garden or farm. The core ideas employed in the field or garden can also inform practice in wider societal terms.
The term derives from the work of Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, who were the forefathers of what became a global movement in the 1970s. Their ideas, building on the world of other sustainable garden philosophies and practices, have swept the globe and created thousands of amazing and inspiring projects in the process.
Today, their ideas have been expanded upon and are more popular than ever. Permaculture has made the desert bloom. It has restored degraded environments. Many backyard permaculture Edens have turned from mono-crop lawns to beautiful, thriving, bio diverse and abundant spaces.
The Core Ethics of Permaculture Gardening
At the heart of permaculture in all arenas are three simple ethics:
- Care for our planet.
- Care for humanity.
- Fair share (or return of surplus to the system).
Throughout all thought and practice in a permaculture garden, these three ethics are paramount. Thinking about these ethics, and keeping them front and center, helps permaculture gardeners to do good in their gardens (and more broadly, in their lives).
In addition to these three core ethics, one of the founding fathers of Permaculture, Bill Mollison, put forward a series of further ethical principles, which govern natural systems and resource management.
The five ethics of natural systems are:
- Minimise footprint – Leave more space and resources for other species through the establishment of plant systems for our own use on the least amount of land we can use for existance.
- Conserve – Oppose disturbance to any remaining natural forests and intact natural ecosystems.
- Rehabilitate – Vigorously rehabilitate degraded and damaged natural systems to a stable state.
- Preserve – Establish plant and animal refuges for rare or threatened species.
- Avoid Invasive Species – Re-introduce native species to the area, or those naturalized species known to be beneficial. Be careful not to introduce potentially invasive species into your landscape.
These ethics are obviously important when it comes to thinking about garden design and gardening as well as when thinking about how we as humans affect natural environments around us.
He also outlined three ethics of resource management. These are:
- Return – we must repay whatever we take.
- Withhold – we should withhold all support for destructive systems.
- Manage Responsibly – we should not use any resources which damage or reduce yields of sustainable resources.
These ethics tie into the ideas of the 5 ‘R’s – Refuse, reduce, reuse, repair, recycle. They also tie into many other aspects of gardening. By growing our own food, and return nutrients to the soil through composting food waste and other practices, we repay what we take. Through the very act of growing our own food, we are withholding our support from damaging global agricultural systems.
The Key Principles of a Permaculture Garden
David Holmgren developed a series of permaculture principles which underpin the design of any permaculture system. This series of 12 principles has been hugely influential in garden design, and have shaped many permaculture spaces and systems.
- Observe and interact.
- Catch and store energy.
- Obtain a yield.
- Apply self-regulation and feedback.
- Use and value renewable resources and services.
- Produce no waste.
- Design from patterns to details.
- Integrate rather than segregate.
- Use small and slow solutions.
- Use and value diversity.
- Use edges and value the marginal.
- Creatively use and respond to change.
By considering the core ethics and these design principles, gardeners, growers and others around the world have been able to create and sustain beautiful and resilient gardens, farms and other systems.
Permaculture is More Than Just Philosophy or Theory
If permaculture were just rooted in theory, it would not have gained anywhere near as much traction, nor achieved so much around the world. One of the most important things to understand about permaculture is that it is intensely practical, rooted in the real world.
Through pairing the ethics and design principles with a series of practical approaches and methods, permaculture has shown that it has the power to reshape our world, and change the ways we grow and the ways we live in a huge range of different ways. It offers us something that is often in short supply – hope. Hope for a better future, and a better, kinder world.
Solving Global Problems in a Garden
Whether you are a novice home grower, or an experienced farmer, permaculture can light the path towards greater resilience and sustainable growing.
From initial design, through creation and planting, right up to harvest and beyond, permaculture can show growers the way. As one permaculture expert, Geoff Lawton said, ‘all the world’s problems can be solved in a garden’. Once you begin to delve further into this fascinating movement, you begin to see just how true this statement can be.
Key practical permaculture practices in the field of food production include:
- Organic production. (Complete rejection of synthetic herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers and other harmful products.)
- The creation of forest gardens/ agroforestry schemes.
- Polyculture growing systems/ companion planting.
- Movement towards agro-ecology, that takes wildlife and the wider ecosystem into account.
- Carbon farming/ gardening – taking steps to increase carbon sequestered in plants and soil.
- ‘No dig’ or ‘no till’ growing.
- Composting , mulching and other methods to return nutrients to the system.
- Rotational grazing and crop rotation.
- Effective and efficient water management. (Rainwater harvesting, swales and berms, drip irrigation etc..)
- Use of renewable electricity and movement away from all fossil fuels.
Learning more about each of these things, in addition to learning more about permaculture, can help you to garden in a way that is indeed kind to people and planet. It will help you find a way to avoid robbing from future generations to feed ourselves today.
Here are a few of my favorite books on permaculture gardening.
My favorite reference so far is a book I found called Farming the Woods. I loved it because it taught me that even those of us who live in densely wooded areas can still utilize the principals of permaculture gardening.
Not only did I get the specifics for tapping different types of tree for syrup from this book, but I also learned that there are tons of trees that provide medicine.