An Introduction to Permaculture

How to put the practices of permaculture to use in your own back yard.

Photography by Christa Neu

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how to incorporate permaculture practices into your plantings.Combining the best of natural landscaping and edible landscaping, permaculture aims for a site that sustains itself and the gardener. The ultimate purpose of permaculture is to develop a site until it meets all the needs of its inhabitants, including food, shelter, fuel, and entertainment. (The word permaculture was coined in the mid-1970s by two Australians, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren.) While it’s the rare home gardener who can follow permaculture principles to the ultimate degree, most can borrow ideas from permaculture to create a new way of landscaping based on production and usefulness.

Gardening and Permaculture
Permaculture emphasizes the use of native plants or those that are well adapted to your local area. Plant things you like, but make sure they have a purpose and somehow benefit the landscape. Plants such as fruit trees provide food as well as shade; a patch of bamboo could provide stakes for supporting pole beans and other vining plants. Along with a standard vegetable garden, permaculture gardeners would grow many types of perennial food plants too, such as arrowhead, sorrel, chicory, and asparagus.

Like all gardeners, permaculture enthusiasts love plants for their beauty and fragrance, but they seek out plants that offer practical benefits along with aesthetic satisfaction. Instead of a border of flowering shrubs, for instance, a permaculture site would have a raspberry or blackberry border.

Disease-prone plants such as hybrid tea roses and plants that need lots of watering or other pampering are not good permaculture candidates. Choose a native persimmon tree that doesn’t need spraying and pruning, for example, instead of a high-upkeep peach tree. Consider the natural inclinations of your site along with the needs of its inhabitants, and put as much of your site as possible to use. Work with the materials already on your site, rather than trucking in topsoil or stone. Remember that a permaculture design is never finished, because the plants within a site are always changing.

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