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Permaculture Gardens

What Are Permaculture Gardens?


Anyone who has ever grown their own food will understand the sense of achievement it brings. There's no feeling quite like pulling up carrots or turning the soil to uncover a good crop of potatoes. Not only does it provide you with healthy food (cheaper than the supermarkets!) but is good for the mind, the body, and the soul. And it can be good for the planet, too.

By taking your fruit and veg growing to another level, you will benefit from the produce and help to reverse the damage that has been inflicted on our environment over the past few centuries.

Millions of people across the world have taken up this challenge by starting permaculture gardens.

What Are Permaculture Gardens?

If you're not familiar with permaculture, you may be under the impression that it is something scientific, technical, or cult-like. You might believe it to be beyond your capabilities. But it really is quite simple, requiring two things; careful thought and sensible planning. The word 'permaculture' simply means either Permanent Agriculture or Permanent Culture, and it refers to the philosophy of working with nature instead of against it.


If you are already a gardener, then you're halfway there! Experienced gardeners understand the necessity of long-term planning. Permaculture gardens take things a step further.

To understand permaculture better, it pays to take a look at the principles and ethics that underly this movement. With its roots in the 1960s, permaculture was inspired by concerns about possible disruption to food supplies during the oil crisis in the USA. Also, the beginnings of environmentalism were taking shape as certain scientists started to uncover data which suggested that humans were having a negative impact on the Earth.

And so, the movement gathered pace, founded upon these ideas:

If you're not familiar with permaculture, you may be under the impression that it is something scientific, technical, or cult-like. You might believe it to be beyond your capabilities. But it really is quite simple, requiring two things; careful thought and sensible planning. The word 'permaculture' simply means either Permanent Agriculture or Permanent Culture, and it refers to the philosophy of working with nature instead of against it.

If you are already a gardener, then you're halfway there! Experienced gardeners understand the necessity of long-term planning. Permaculture gardens take things a step further.

To understand permaculture better, it pays to take a look at the principles and ethics that underly this movement. With its roots in the 1960s, permaculture was inspired by concerns about possible disruption to food supplies during the oil crisis in the USA. Also, the beginnings of environmentalism were taking shape as certain scientists started to uncover data which suggested that humans were having a negative impact on the Earth.

And so, the movement gathered pace, founded upon these ideas:

  • Care for the planet - reduce your impact as much as possible through your choices and actions
  • Care for other people - this is about including everyone. It's a philosophy and a lifestyle, a culture that encourages us to help each other.
  • Take only what you need - share any surplus or return it to the ground. Nothing should be wasted!

There is also a set of 12 principles that extend from this, which encourage people to use creative thinking, to observe and work with nature and the cycle of the seasons as much as possible, and to value diversity.

A permaculture garden, then, is one that has been planned and designed with nature in mind. Aspects such as sunshine, location, positioning of plants, wind, and rainfall will all have been taken into account. If you are reducing, reusing, recycling as much as possible, and are putting effort into thinking carefully about your actions - especially within your garden - then you are basically following permaculture principles.

Permaculture Gardens - getting started

One of the great things about this practice is that almost anyone can do it. Whether you have acres of land, an average-sized garden, a backyard, or even a balcony or window box, you can engage in permaculture gardening. It's about self-reliance, whatever the scale. And the simple act of growing plants or vegetables helps the environment, even if only in a small way. The tiniest steps in the right direction all add up to make a difference.

Here are a few pointers to help you:
  • Observe - take your time. Look at the space you are going to use and take note of where the sunlight falls at certain times. Try to find out the shaded spots, or parts exposed to wind. Are there any slopes or dips, where water might pool? Are there tree roots that will get in the way? What about wildlife? Can you see any potential pests or bugs and animals that could be beneficial? Are there any natural features or resources that could help you? This observation should ideally be done over the space of the full four seasons. In the meantime, should you feel impatient to get started, you could consider joining a local 'green space'. There are a few of these around, usually set in fairly urban environments, offering a chance to see how it works, to get advice, and to get involved. With your own garden, decide how big you want the 'growing space' to be. You might want to keep a traditional garden with a small area set aside for permaculture, or you could go big! The choice is yours, just use common sense.
  • Design - permaculture gardens conform to no set pattern, but follow the patterns of nature. However, you need to plan using a number of features, such as zoning, companion planting, stacking, diversity, and succession planting. One of the main aims is to reduce physical effort as much as possible while maximising yield. Things like 'no-dig' gardening help with this, not only saving you time and labour, but also by aiding the soil; turning the earth exposes it to sunlight which can rid it of nutrients and beneficial bugs. It also contributes to soil erosion. Instead, till the soil lightly, if at all, disturbing it as little as possible. Use mulch, and 'green manure' (the roots and stems of harvested crops left to wither and rot) to protect the soil surface as this retains moisture and nutrients.


    To explain some of the terms given above…

  • Zoning - pay attention to the areas that you will use most and need more maintenance. Place 'high use' zones closer to you.
  • Companion planting - don't just set vegetables, plant flowers that will attract pollinators or predators to eat pests
  • Stacking - use shrubs, fruit trees, herbaceous plants, and ground cover to make a multi-level garden that uses the space efficiently
  • Diversity - self-explanatory, but biodiversity is important!
  • Succession planting - plant according to the cycle of the seasons. As one crop is harvested, plant another in season.

    And that's what permaculture gardens are about, in a nutshell! Whatever the size of your garden, you'll be rewarded with some lovely, fresh fruit and veg. And helping the planet in the process.





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