My permaculture group read Practical Permaculture for Home Landscapes, Your Community, and the Whole Earth (2015) by Jessi Bloom and Dave Boehnlein this spring and I want to share some ideas, tips, examples from the book that spoke to me.
* Permaculture design is a perspective, not a prescription.
* In addition to the usual three permaculture ethics (care of the earth, care of people and future generations, and careful process), the authors suggest a fourth “transitional ethic”: Since no one goes from zero to sustainable overnight, things that already exist — including unsustainable technologies and products — have embodied energy that should not be wasted but instead used well.
* The authors suggest questions to ask ourselves when considering designs using permaculture principles; some seemed worthwhile asking not only in terms of space or yard design but in the context of other projects, our relationships, political and policy decisions, etc.: Does this element relate to those around it in a way that makes sense?, Could I start smaller? Is there a solution that involves less work? Would a different species/variety/model or a different location of this element reduce stress? How can I get another use from this before I throw it “away”?
* The book is focused on the permaculture design process. One simple design drawing shows areas marked “Escape,” “Conversate,” and “Recreate.” This reminds me that we don’t have to label sections “vegetable garden” or “patio;” whatever purpose or vision our imaginations conceive is available to us in designing our space.
* The main thing to avoid in permaculture design, and in life in general some might say, is a Type I error, i.e., those mistakes that we can’t bounce back from without a lot of time, energy, and cost. (This is one reason to “start small.”) These errors are not always avoidable, of course, though planning and intuition can help; but if we do make a Type I error, we can return to the permaculture principle “The solution is in the problem” to find our way back again.
* One idea I loved in the section on generating design ideas is to do an analogue climate assessment. That is, find similar climates around the world — with similar temperatures, precipitation, seasonal patterns — and gather ideas from those by looking at their main crops, how their houses are built, common medicinal plants, daily activity patterns of the people, etc. This isn’t in the book but my research for places with climates most like northern New England came up with parts of Russia (e.g., the cities of Nizhny Novgorod and Moscow in western Russia), the northern tip of Japan, southern Canada, possibly other places as shown on this continental climates map.
* Design by exclusion: If you have no clear idea of where to place an element, ask “Where should this element not be placed?” Rule out the worst location, then the next worst, and so on, until the best location is revealed.
* I hadn’t come across the idea of timeframes for fruit and nut guilds before, i.e., that there might be establishment guilds that would disappear — many of the starter plants would be either shaded out as the fruit/nut trees grow, or removed to another spot in the garden — to make way for mature guilds.
I recommend the book especially for designers and those interested in learning how to design their own gardens, but it’s also a good overview of the key elements of permaculture.
(Title image is pp. 100-111 from Practical Permaculture, © Bloom and Boehnlein.)