Permaculture - Design For Life

Article By Jason Burgess

The term ‘permaculture’ was first coined in the 1970’s by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. It is a contraction of two words: permanence; to persist indefinitely and, culture; practices that support the human occupation. In other words, a persistent system that supports humans, also known as sustainability.

From the soil up, permaculture takes a holistic long view and offers a positive response to the challenges that society and the environment face going forward. While many people arrive at permaculture through gardening, permaculture thinking also encompasses everything from sustainable housing, renewable energy and cyclical systems to small bonded communities. There are three essential tenets that form the foundations for permaculture design: care for the earth, care for people, and fair share -using the earth’s resources wisely and equitably.

The basic premise is that sustainable, resilient and regenerative natural systems already exist, and they require little or no energy input from external resources. In other words, by working with nature and following its patterns we can transform our living environments into self-sustaining centers of activities. “In its purest form permaculture is a way of life,” says  Zones Landscape specialist, “and that might not be for everyone. But it does offer some fundamentals that everybody could apply in their own gardens.”

Permaculture NZ

The first principle of permaculture is getting people to reconnect with their garden, “It is really important,” says the Landscape specialist, “Not that long ago our grandparents were gardening for fun and for food. They had a deeper understanding of nature, something that we have almost lost. “Being in the garden observing how the sun, rain, and wind affect the land through all the seasons is critical to understanding how to plan a permaculture garden.

Designing an efficient landscape requires small and slow steps. “Permaculture offers no instant gratification,” says the Landscape specialist, “it usually requires a close relationship between client and designer. The designer takes it forward because initially it will not be low maintenance. That comes later.”

Catching and storing energy is key to permaculture. Collecting rainwater is one small way gardeners could make a big difference. Simple fixes like creating permeable garden paths and redirecting water into rain gardens or water tanks will help reduce stormwater runoff from your property. Reduce, reuse and recycle is another axiom, especially prudent when it comes to hardscapes. Repurposing old timbers, rocks, bricks, and pavers can save money, reduce your carbon footprint and add character.  If you are using new products, then buy locally sourced. As far as decking goes try local composite timbers.

Composite Timber for Permaculture
Grow permaculture

Building garden soils can be achieved by layering old cardboard boxes and newspapers, dropped leaves, compost, and nitrogen-rich fresh grass clippings. Topping with mulch to pacify weeds, also creates a habitat for soil improving organisms. Mulch will keep the moisture in and prevents soil erosion. Reduce food waste and create your own supply of fertilizer with compost bins and worm farms.

“Plant trees,” says Nicola. “Even on small sites, they create their own microclimates, treat the soil and provide habitats for important insects.” Add fruit trees and you have yourself the makings of a food forest. “Both my grandmothers were great preservers, their gardens provided seasonal produce for the whole family.” Dense and diverse planting will bring a greater variety of colours and edibles. Priority should be given to perennial crops like rhubarb, asparagus, berries, kale, garlic, scarlet and runner beans as they use less energy than annuals. Add climbing frames for feijoas and beans and espalier limes; apples and pears on sunny boundary fences. Herb spirals make efficient kitchen gardens. Planted on mounds they provide micro-climates for plants demanding differing growing conditions, Mediterranean dry-soil types like lavender and oregano at the top and parsley, chive and chervil in damper conditions, below.  

Do not forget indigenous trees. In New Zealand, Kawakawa AKA the pharmacy of the forest, has copious uses; pink or white flowering Manuka will attract the bees, the front of the silver fern (wheki) can be eaten or used medicinally, harakeke –flax- can hold banks, is favoured by weavers and papermakers or can be used to make a soothing cream and, who needs imported chilli’s when we have our own pepper tree, Horopito.

“Where possible,” says the Landscape specialist, “homeowners, really should have a go at growing their own food, even if it is just a small herb garden.”

You might be interested in reading an article on Living Walls

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*All information is believed to be true at the time of publishing and is subject to change.

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