An Introduction to Permaculture

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

Photography by Christa Neu


how<br />
 to incorporate permaculture practices into your plantings.There is no set formula for developing a permaculture design, but there are practical guidelines. Here are some of them:

  • Copy nature’s blueprint and enhance it with useful plants and animals. Think of the structure of a forest and try to mimic it with your plantings. A canopy of tall trees will give way to smaller ones, flanked by large and small shrubs and, finally, by the smallest plants. Edge habitats, where trees border open areas, are perfect for fruiting shrubs, such as currants, and for a variety of useful native plants, such as beargrass (Xerophyllum tenax), which is used for weaving baskets. Mimicking these natural patterns provides for the greatest diversity of plants.
  • Stack plants into guilds. A guild includes plants with compatible roots and canopies that might be stacked in layers to form an edge. As you learn more about your site, you’ll discover groups of plants that work well together. For example, pines, dogwoods, and wild blueberries form a guild for acid soil.
  • Make use of native plants and others adapted to the site. Plan for diversity.
  • Divide your yard into zones based on use. Place heavily used features, such as an herb garden, in the most accessible zones.
  • Identify microclimates in your yard and use them appropriately. Cold, shady corners, windswept places in full sun, and other microclimates present unique opportunities. For instance, try sun-loving herbs like creeping thyme on rocky outcroppings; plant elderberries in poorly drained spots.

Permaculture designers are now working to conceptualize and create whole communities that embody permaculture concepts. If permaculture intrigues you, there’s a wealth of opportunities to learn more about it online. Here are few to get you started: