A study of Permaculture

My latest project involves the study of 'Permaculture.' The VERY DRY Wikipedia definition of Permaculture is: "Sustainable land use design. This is based on ecological and biological principles, often using patterns that occur in nature to maximise effect and minimise work. Permaculture aims to create stable, productive systems that provide for human needs, harmoniously integrating the land with its inhabitants. The ecological processes of plants, animals, their nutrient cycles, climatic factors and weather cycles are all part of the picture. Inhabitants’ needs are provided for using proven technologies for food, energy, shelter and infrastructure. Elements in a system are viewed in relationship to other elements, where the outputs of one element become the inputs of another. Within a Permaculture system, work is minimised, "wastes" become resources, productivity and yields increase, and environments are restored. Permaculture principles can be applied to any environment, at any scale from dense urban settlements to individual homes, from farms to entire regions."

With that in mind- I designed this local Greensboro project using the following principles (taken from the article 'The Seven Principles of Permaculture' @ heathcote.org.) :

1.  Conservation -" Use only what is needed." The side area of the house was the sunniest and therefore the best place to place the raised garden areas. The front also had a good amount of sun- so some fruiting trees and shrubs were incorporated into the front yard design as well. The back was primarily shade, with many trees. This became the primary place for composting, etc. since the leaves and other matter for the compost was in abundance in this area.

2.  Stacking functions -"getting many yields (outputs) from one element (thing) in your system." This is accomplished in this design through several avenues. First, through the use of the side arbor to not only provide shade to the house in the hot sun- but also allows for vegetables or other climbing vines to use the trellis for support. Trellises are also added along the side foundation to allow for growth along that vertical front as well- and also cool the house. Second it can be seen in the planting of the ditch at the front of the house with fruiting shrubs- which will provide food, but also the plants will allow for the detoxifying of surface water in the ditch and will also help prevent erosion.

3.  Repeating functions -"Meet needs of the system in multiple ways." For example, water is collected through the use of rain barrels. It can also be diverted from the ditch in the front yard for irrigation, etc. Food is also planted in the ditch at the front- but also in the raised gardens. The cold frame over one of the raised gardens also allows for food to begin growth earlier in the season than our climate will normally allow.

4.  Reciprocity-"Utilize the yields of each element to meet the needs of other elements in the system." This can be seen in the simple use of composting. Kitchen scraps could be taken to the compost pile at the back of the house. From the compost pile these scraps will turn into valuable fertilizer which we can then put on the garden. And then an output of our garden is food which would again be an input into the kitchen. This creates a circulating within the system. 

5.  Appropriate scale -"What we design should be on a human scale and doable with the available time, skills, and money that we have." I didn't realize it, but this is a concept I use in all of my designs, irregardless of using permaculture principles.

6.  Diversity -"We want to create resilience by utilizing many elements." For example, planting a variety of plants will be beneficial because they will utilize different nutrients in the soil. Also- some may do better in wet, versus dry conditions. That way if you have a wet spring- you will not lose your entire yield. A variety of plants creates a resilient system. 

7.  Give away the surplus -"Create systems that are abundant and share the abundance rather than hoarding it for ourselves." This garden design has ample ability to provide for my clients needs and also could be very probable that much surplus could be generated.

Permaculture principles could also be used in generating community gardens, or any other system that is to be self sufficient and allow for the ability to benefit the most amount of users.

About the Author:

Lori Hawkins, RLA, ASLA has been a registered landscape architect and active in the landscape design/build industry for over 25 years. For additional inspiring project pictures, design ideas, or great garden gifts, take a look at these websites:

HOUZZ:    http://www.houzz.com/pro/hawkinsla/__public

FACEBOOK:  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Hawkins-Landscape-Architecture/107145146130?ref=hl