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permaculture principles

Permaculture Design Principles: Connect With the World Around You

By Tanner SagouspeRise Writer
Aug 9, 2019

Using permaculture design principles for home landscape plans has many benefits. In our first article, we covered the first three design principles, which can help save you time and money. The second in our series of four addresses how you can reduce your carbon footprint. Today’s article, the design principles 7 through 9, continues to find ways to reduce the impact of your landscape design by taking a good look at the world around you.

Principle #7: Design from Patterns to Details

The world around us is full of patterns. The most common pattern to use as an example is the ebb and flow of the seasons. Spring is birth, bringing life into summer, which matures into fall and dies off with winter, just to be regenerated that next spring. Within that pattern, you can notice the springs rains, the summer heatwaves, the fall festivities, and the quiet of winter. Patterns within patterns, they're everywhere!

As you notice these trends, you begin to have a better understanding of how certain things affect others. For example, the bulbous lilies will sprout from the ground in the spring before the trees shade them out. Nature does this as a means to protect bare earth. Early blooms pull nutrients that would be leached from the soil into the lilies in the early spring, and as they die back later in the season, they release it for the trees. With the knowledge of what plants do and when you can design gardens that are always in bloom and regularly producing a variety of seasonal foods.

This process can take time. It ideally takes careful observation over four seasons before really implementing a planned design. Learning the details of your land is an excellent way to determine some local patterns. What was it before it became a residence? Grassland, forest, farm, or old shoe factory? Understanding these different aspects, you can see where your property came from and how the patterns fit into where you can take it. For example, if your land gets cold winter winds, place evergreen trees in that sector to help lift cold winds up and over your property.

Another natural pattern to consider is wildlife. Where do birds typically perch in your backyard? Could you put plants under it to take advantage of their nitrogen-rich droppings? Or maybe you could incorporate bird or bat boxes in areas around the garden to give them a good vantage point on the many bugs that will be investigating your garden.

There are plenty of ways to integrate nature's pattern into your backyard design. Even something as simple as planting a wide variety of species on your property promotes nature's diversity.

Principle #8: Integrate Rather than Segregate

As you begin to see nature's patterns, you will notice that the connections between features in your yard are often as important as the feature themselves. These elements—whether they be a fruit tree, chickens, or a rain barrel connected to your gutters—can be designed to have multiple functions, weaving a web of resilience through your property. The more connections you weave, the stronger the web becomes.

Let's look at the three examples above. The fruit tree can provide more than food. It can be used to shade a patio, act as a trellis for fruiting vines like grapes and kiwis, or block an unpleasant view of the road. Around the tree, chickens can forage for insects, scratch up weeds, and fuel themselves for egg production. Taking advantage of their natural tendencies saves you time weeding and money in pest management and chicken feed. The rain barrel can provide water for the home, garden (including your fruit tree), and the chickens, on top of acting as a heat sink. Every element on your property has the potential to play more than one function, and the more roles it fulfills with limited space and energy, the more valuable it is.

How many items in your home can you find more than one purpose? By aiming to create multiple uses for a single item, it helps unify the household by creating redundancies.  This means that when one element fails to function, there is another backup able to fulfill its role. What are some things you can bring in and how would it fulfill multiple household needs?

A windbreak, for example, might be necessary to block cold winter winds or redirect summer breezes. In that windbreak, you can place nitrogen-fixing plants to feed the system, fruit trees as a redundancy crop, shrubs as habitat for songbirds, and even quick coppice varieties for your wood stove. Adding a variety of plants helps mimic nature, ultimately aiding the windbreak in its growth. This concept can even be incorporated into your garden through companion planting beneficial flowers and vegetables. 

windbreak permaculture
Photo Credit: University of Hertfordshire

A great way to build connections on a macro-scale is to provide more places for people to sit and talk in a neighborhood. By reaching out to your neighborhood's Home Owners Association, you can look into placing more benches and edible perennials along sidewalks. They can even reach out to your local City Board about creating more neighborhood streets that promote foot traffic over powered-vehicles. These systems help bring people together, connecting us with each other, and spreading the flow of human interaction. Don't forget, we're also part of the ecosystem, and we also benefit from interacting with others.

Principle #9: Small and Slow Solutions

Small and slow solutions in the backyard mean that when mistakes are made, only small problems have to be dealt with. This can be a dream come true for anyone who has ever dedicated time to a project that got too big too fast and became a nightmare. So why stress the big stuff?

permaculture result

For your next project, start with a baseline of tasks on your property that you don't need a specialist to do. Working on your time gives you room to make gradual changes, so you don't overdevelop your site. This will save you money and needless hassles. And once you've finished your baseline design, professionals can come in to put the final touches on the larger projects. To ensure you never create a design that's too big, make sure you can manage your yard within an afternoon. Too many tasks to juggle can become quickly unsustainable, exhausting yourself and your wallet.

But does small and slow actually work? The short answer is yes. Think about local buildings that have endured the test of time, or the diversity of national parks. How were they made or how do they function? The buildings were carefully constructed to withstand very specific climate conditions in comparison to more recently built cookie-cutter homes. The protected forests grew and evolved over millions of years, creating a perfect balance of diverse species. Slow solutions tend to have the lowest impact on the surrounding ecosystem because they are often more forgiving. This is because of the gradual adaptation through these changes allows us to see issues early and gives us the time needed to fix the problem.

Small and slow solutions can even be considered at a larger scale. A giant dam blocking a watershed is a big energy solution with a big problem if something goes wrong. But thousands of small check dams can reduce erosion and power homes at a micro-scale with a lower risk of environmental degradation. Even in your own community, local businesses could adopt this principle by valuing community and ecology over quick financial returns. Supporting local businesses that revalue profit can help local communities thrive.

So for your next household project, try to design a plan using small steps. Take some time today to look around your property and see where changes can occur. What energies are flowing through your backyard and at what location could you benefit from a small and slow solution to capture them?

The journey through the permaculture principles is almost complete! Stay tuned to see how the final principles will teach you how to creatively respond to a changing world.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2020-04-24T01:41:18+0000
Tanner Sagouspe

Article by:

Tanner Sagouspe

Tanner Sagouspe has a Masters in Environmental Management and is a Permaculture Designer who promotes tackling the climate crisis at home.