When I first undertook a permaculture design certificate course, I got very excited about edible plants. Many hours were spent researching plants – first, into the edibility of Britain’s native plants, and then, onto other edible perennials. My thinking commenced with the details of the project, then I set about the aesthetics of planting. However, as part of the project, I’d missed some vital patterns – a windswept moor that provided a home with no shelter from the winds, hence heavy expenditure to eliminate loss of heat and to seal draughts; an unused stone shed, lack of accessibility to often used plants, like herbs, and the water, needed for the beautiful water feature I had designed, was flowing in a totally different direction, to how I’d planned.
What can I say? Wisdom lies in mistakes.
I had failed to look at how existing patterns would provide a foundation for the design process. So instead, this permaculture principle turns my upside-down world to a more functional perspective.
Design from patterns to details
The more time I spend researching and thinking about permaculture, the more I believe that ‘observe and learn’ is the most important. It has applies no less to the principle of designing from patterns to details. Nature is self-sustaining. It finds its own balance and harmony and its patterns are a response to the natural flow of energy. Consider this: when did nature ever plant in straight lines? Come to that, when did nature take over 10 acres with a single crop?
An optimal design will begin with a thorough analysis of the site for the project. It will note water flow, water collection points, the direction of erosion, the path of the sun, wind funnels, the predominant direction of the wind, plants that are natural companions, the pattern of animal migration and habitation……
Additionally, the site will not be situated in isolation. It will have neighbours and may exist as part of an existing community with its own habits and patterns. Go against the flow of the community, and you lose its energy, just as going against the flow of natural energy within our environment creates the same effect.
And as you may begin to see that as all the principles are interwoven and inextricably linked, so is a good design. Which leads us to our next principle:
Integrate rather than segregate
There’s an important message for society as well as for permaculture design throughout its ethos – value diversity. Anyway, before I get carried away on another favoured topic …. I really like this principle and its various aspects. I think these aspects can be summarised as elements, functions and locations. The overall aims of the project will determine the functions that need to be fulfilled. To that end, you need more than one element in the system to fulfil that function (e.g. like your boiler, you’re without hot water until you get it fixed). So each important function is undertaken by many elements. Similarly, particularly if space is limited, each element would ideally perform more than one function.
Trees are a good illustrative example of the many functions an element can provide: wind barrier, lumber, fruit, nuts, rain maker, soil builder, fertiliser, energy transformer, home, playground, water pump, climate regulator, canopy provider, psychological well-being… please comment on any others you can think of!
And the number of elements that can contribute to a single function? How about the need for heat? Sun (panels, thermal flooring, sun-heated water pipes (works in Spain for an outdoor shower), drying fruit, olives, carob pods …, lumber, thermal mass (e.g. in masonry, rock), compost, woolly jumpers …. Ok, I live in Yorkshire, I realised the obstacle quite some time ago! Perhaps I should have focused on water?
Principles of Permaculture V to follow …..