Permaculture the good, the bad and the ...
photo © Tim Harland
Patrick Whitefield grasps the nettle and explains what permaculture is and when the principles are applied well ... or badly
Permaculture takes natural ecosystems as the model for our gardens, farms, homes and settlements. The aim is a low level of input, high output and a benign ecological impact. That’s simple enough but the picture is slightly complicated because there are in fact two kinds of permaculture.
On the one hand there’s original permaculture, as outlined by David Holmgren and Bill Mollison in their first book, Permaculture One. It’s a
Above: Part of Martin Crawford’s magnificent forest garden. While forest gardens are an icon of permaculture, Patrick suggests they are not always the best solution to people’s need everywhere.
fairly literal imitation of natural ecosystems. For example, there’s very little disturbance to the soil in natural ecosystems, so original permaculture avoids ploughing on the farm and digging in the garden. Natural ecosystems are usually very diverse, so we favour mixed plantings, or polyculture. Most of the plants are perennials, so we favour perennial crops, especially tree crops. And so on. The epitome of original permaculture is the forest garden, which is based on the structure of a natural woodland but with fruit trees, shrubs and perennial vegetables taking the place of wild trees, shrubs and herbs.
On the other hand, there is design permaculture. Natural ecosystems are productive and self-resourcing because of the web of beneficial interactions between the plants and animals which make them up. To take just one example, different plants specialise in extracting different mineral nutrients from the soil and p ermaculture No. 80 4