Permaculture. You might have seen the word popping up lately online, or in your social feeds… but what is it? Is it a gardening technique? A way of organising community? All somewhat yes, but that’s not the whole story.
Permaculture is a concept that anyone can incorporate into their daily lives, regardless of whether you live in an inner-city apartment or on a regional property. Particularly in the time of COVID-19, permaculture has become a helpful reminder to slow down, refocus on activities that bring you joy and peace, and distance yourself from the general sense of panic and stress that’s around at the moment.
So, what is it?
The concept of permaculture was developed by two Aussies, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, in the 1970s. They coined the word by combining “permanens” (meaning to persist through time), and “culture” (defined as an activity which supports human existence) – as explained by Bill in the video below. Bill sadly passed away in 2016, but you can listen to David explain the origins of the concept in this interview:
At its heart, permaculture is a set of design principles for building resilient, regenerative ecosystems – that can be applied both in nature, and in the community. These principles are inspired by, and reflect the workings of the natural world.
There are 12 design principles in total, informed by three ethics:
- Care for the earth,
- Care for people, and
- Taking and leaving a fair share for others
These principles can be adapted to anything from agriculture to home gardening, how you work and play, and how you engage with the people around you.
The 12 principles unpacked
There’s lots of resources out there for living a permaculture-inspired life, but for those just wanting to dip their toes in the thinking, Kirsten from Milkwood – one of Australia’s leading permaculture educators – has developed this list of 27 everyday hacks, which is great for those just getting started. It includes simple ideas such as reusing packaging, all the way to growing food, capturing your own water and keeping bees.
If you’re ready to dive in head first, on the other hand, here are all 12 design principles as outlined by David Holmgren, and some tips from Erin Meyer on how you can apply them in your home or garden:
- Observe and interact: switch off your phone, head outside, take a deep breath and engage with your surroundings.
- Catch and store energy: capture energy when it’s abundant, so that it can be reused in an efficient and sustainable manner when needed. This energy could include your garden’s fruits, solar energy, water – anything!
- Obtain a yield: do work that will reward you with the fruits of your labour – in a permacultural context, this often means to start a fruit and veggie garden, but also extends to your psychological mindset.
- Apply self-regulation and accept feedback: start to feel comfortable with constructive criticism.
- Use and value renewable resources and services: make the most of nature’s resources instead of relying on non-renewable resources; there’s a lot more you can use (and reuse) than you may think.
- Produce no waste: the simplest way to engage in permaculture is to live a sustainable lifestyle – and that means to eliminate waste as much as possible.
- Design from patterns to details: sometimes stepping back and observing the patterns in the natural landscape can give you all the answers you need to get creative and find solutions.
- Integrate rather than segregate: working collaboratively and supportively as a team is fundamental to ensuring community thrives. Looking for good-fit relationships in nature also helps separate elements to support each other and grow stronger collectively.
- Use small and slow solutions: big isn’t always better – oftentimes, it’s more efficient and sustainable to solve the smaller problems first and make greater, incremental changes.
- Use and value diversity: as they say, variety is the spice of life! You can apply this thinking to the skills or techniques you learn, the foods you grow, the plants you keep, and the foods you eat.
- Use edges and value the marginal: think outside the box, and start thinking creatively – where could you build or find value or productivity outside the mainstream? For example, build a community garden for your neighbourhood, or creating an urban farm on your rooftop – the sky’s the limit.
- Creatively use and respond to change: keep an eye – and an ear – open to incoming changes, so when those changes arrive you’re ready with a response or an adaption.
There are lots of ways to learn more about permaculture – Milkwood is a good place to start. This article by David Holmgren is a great outline of the basic concepts of permaculture, explained in an easy-to-understand way. There are also lots of courses, workshops, articles, blogs and videos online from people who have implemented permaculture principles into their work and home lives.
The most exciting part about permaculture is that it’s very dynamic. We can all, in our own personal way, use permaculture in our daily lives to build resilience, sustainability, and self-sufficiency.
Itching to get started? Head into your local plant nursery and chat with experts on how plants can help you build a more sustainable and self-sufficient lifestyle at home. We can’t wait to see what you come up with.