Designing Your Sustainable Garden & Property With Permaculture

By planning your garden or property before developing it, you can save a lot of time, effort, and even money. Permaculture design can help guide you in the planning and design of your sustainable garden and property.

What Is Permaculture?

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Permaculture is a term first coined in 1978 by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, combining the words “permanent” and “culture” (or agriculture). It’s a philosophy rooted in working with nature, instead of against it; a design system based on observation, integrating your needs with the natural conditions of your land. Alternatively, as David Holmgren once said, “it’s common sense, that is no longer common.”

There are three ethics at the core of permaculture design; Earth care, people care, and fair share (limiting consumption). It also includes twelve principles, and while it’s beyond the scope of this article to explain all twelve, you probably already practice some of the principles, such as recycling and reusing resources.

How You Can Use Permaculture to Design Your Garden Or Residence

Zones

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Permaculture uses the concept of zones (0 through 5) to help organise the elements of your property based on how frequently they are used and how much maintenance they require. Starting with zone 0, the house, additional zones are generally located moving outward, with zone 1 being closest to the house and zone 5 furthest. I say generally because this isn’t always the case.  For example, a rarely visited steep slope that is difficult to navigate, even though it may be located close to the house, wouldn’t be included in zone 1 and shouldn’t include plants that require frequent maintenance. There can be some overlap of zones, and they don’t have to be perfect shapes, allow the conditions of the land to determine their pattern.

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Within each zone, position elements where they are mutually beneficial or can serve multiple functions. For example, putting your compost pile under a tree so the nutrients wash out when it rains, feeding the tree without having to do the work yourself.

Zone 1

Locate your herbs, vegetables, seedlings, and perhaps your compost in zone 1, because you’ll be more likely to give them the attention they deserve and require here, than located at the far end of your property. Even better is to locate them in view of the kitchen, so you can see what’s growing while deciding what to cook for dinner, or you can quickly pop out to snip fresh herbs while cooking.

Zone 2

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Less intensely maintained than zone 1. Fruit trees, shrubs, perennial plants, food forests, and vegetables that take longer to mature, or are only harvested once, belong here. You might use automatic irrigation, water harvesting, and heavy mulching to avoid manual watering.

Unless you have a large property, zone 3 through 5 may not be appropriate, so I’ll only briefly cover them.

Zone 3

Infrequently visited areas and low maintenance plants like large fruit or nut trees.

Zone 4

Partly managed, timber or native foraged foods.

Zone 5

Wilderness containing native plants and animals.

Sector Analysis

Sector analysis is another permaculture design tool that can influence or help determine the location of elements in a way that is harmonious with the conditions of your property. The energy entering a site is considered, and then you decide whether to allow it to enter, or to block it. For example, using a windbreak to block cold winter winds, fire retardant trees to protect the house from fire risks, or positioning gardens relative to summer sun position to maximise solar exposure.

This is only a brief introduction to permaculture design guidelines and principles, but I hope it gives you an idea of the value it offers in planning and designing a sustainable garden and property to inspire you to further explore this incredibly useful design method.