Permaculture Design In The Landscape
Permaculture is becoming a growing trend in the landscaping industry. High-end architects are using permaculturalists to design and install the spaces in their more unique, high-efficiency building and home designs. These landscapes have a unique look, and a righteous purpose. And while we don’t necessarily call our regenerative landscapes permaculture creations, they come as close as you can get to it.
You may be asking yourself, what is permaculture? There are many different definitions for the term, but what it basically boils down to is that permaculture is an organic, agricultural system that is carefully designed after our natural systems and processes (i.e. mimicking ecosystems).
To better quantify how our work relates to permaculture, here are the twelve principles of permaculture as stated by co-originator David Holmgren, followed by the ways we do or do not incorporate them.
The 12 Principles of Permaculture:
Observe and interact – “By taking time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.” We spend a great deal of time observing and evaluating a space. We look for ways to improve what is there rather than fight it. It is our job to see things that the owner doesn’t.
Catch and store energy – “By developing systems that collect resources at peak abundance, we can use them in times of need." We do this by diverting runoff, creating spaces that build soil naturally, using permeable hardscapes, and warming winter southern exposures, just to name a few.
Obtain a yield – “Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work that you are doing.” Our yield may not always be for humans, depending on the clients desires. Native fauna is a big focus for us. Even more so than honeybees. Honeybees are generalists. Native pollinators are specialists. The yield from our spaces may not come in the shape of food, but as peace, entertainment or education.
Apply self regulation and respond to feedback – “We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well.” Many inappropriate behaviors are performed through maintenance. By using the right plants and materials in the right place we minimize the need for such activities. A healthy system is a ‘hands-off’ system. And rather than fight or ignore the feedback we are receiving from a space, we react to it. -It is an opportunity to learn something from nature. After all, every single space has nuanced differences, even if they have the same vital components.
Use and value renewable resources and services – “Make the best use of nature’s abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources.” Aside from veggies, components of our regenerative designed spaces generally can be weaned from regular irrigation in just a few years. Contouring the space and diverting rainwater runoff provides parts of the landscape with additional water resources. When concentrated, even a small rain event can offer ample water to a specific tree or garden. And by creating spaces that invite native fauna, biological services begin to regulate the space.
Produce no waste – “By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.” With careful observation and thought we are able to close the system in our spaces, leaving no loose ends. This eliminates the need for human control tactics. We also make sure that our clients are realistic about how the space will be used. No need creating an amazing veggie garden for someone that doesn’t have time to maintain it. In that case, the space is better used for pollinators and wildlife.
Design from patterns to details – “By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.” This one is a little trickier to define. We design the entire system, but probably couldn’t tell you what ‘pattern’ it follows. We could however, tell you the natural system that it follows.
Integrate rather than segregate – “By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.” We focus on multi-purpose components. A seating boulder may warm a small space for a particular plant that wouldn’t survive elsewhere in the landscape. When you create multiple purposes for a component, there is no way for isolation or segregation to occur. Functions and spaces blend into one another.
Use small and slow solutions – “Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and producing more sustainable outcomes.” This is how we transition soil. Passive soil building. We also opt for smaller plant material. It catches up quick enough. This creates a stronger system that is ‘built in place’ rather than ‘imported and placed’.
Use and value diversity – “Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.” We try to build diversity into our spaces by incorporating ‘guilds’ of native plants that grow together naturally. Mother Nature values diversity, so we do as well.
Use edges and value the marginal – “The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.”
The devil is in the details. We use these details not only to encourage a greater function, but a greater aesthetic, and in many cases, delight. An unexpected texture back lit by the evening sun, or a finch-attracting sunflower in front of a kitchen window. Observing the space from a distance is just as important as being in the space.
Creatively use and respond to change – “We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing, and then intervening at the right time.” We start our spaces with soil building. This gets the space on the right track. We can watch weed populations to tell us the efficacy of our soil building. Or even the fungal content of our soil. With honest observation and the proper corrective action, we can fine tune a space and help usher it toward being a more independent system.
Our results are very similar to those of permaculture spaces, we just follow a slightly different recipe card. No matter what these spaces are called, they promote natural diversity and systems, and create highly efficient (and beautiful) outdoor spaces.