About Permaculture

What’s Permaculture?


Permaculture is a design system for harmonising the individual characteristics of landscape (landform, soil, water, vegetation, animals) with the needs of the people utilising it, in order to create a system that is both productive and sustainable in the long term.

Permaculture is derived not only from ‘permanent’ and ‘agriculture’ as is often interpreted, but equally, from permanent and ‘culture’. Without an intimate connection with the local culture, including the culture of the individual, a design is unlikely to be implemented, and even less likely to be sustainable over a longer time.

SO, Permaculture can be applied to any system: land, organisations, social systems, financial systems. It is not only about gardening or farming; not by a long way. A busy professional person might emphasise the need for low maintenance and high beauty as priorities for his or her lifestyle, while another person needs high and diverse productivity to fulfil the desire for independence and self-sufficiency. Each design must be different.

It is a conscious self-empowerment tool through which we can exercise a far greater degree of control over our lives, by taking decisions based on a wholistic understanding of the situation at hand. At a time when so much of life is influenced by fewer and fewer powerful corporate entities, the potential to take personal decisions which achieve more independence is increasingly important and relevant.

One important facet of Permaculture design is to recognise limits, identify their characteristics, then seek to stretch those limits; to minimise the negative, and maximise the positive. If we succeed in this, then the design has achieved a more sustainable outcome, less constrained by extremes, more productive through greater flexibility, and hence more liveable.

While Permaculture follows principles of sustainable design, it is primarily concerned with attitude. Through recognition of the existing and potential relationships between the differerent elements in a landscape (landform, climate, animals, structures and people), we are able to achieve design that is beautiful, harmonious, productive and inspirational.

Care of earth – can’t hurt nature without hurting ourselves; Attitudes should change, so that people identify with land and nature rather than viewing it in exploitive terms.
Care tor people – promote self-reliance, community responsiblity
Dispersal – of anything surplus to our needs.

Consume less!


No element exists in isolation – functional relationships exist between plants, animals and structures. These relationships can reduce or eliminate pollution and work by filling NEEDS of each element with YIELDS of others placed nearby; by finding the right output from one element to match the right input needs for others.
Unfilled needs = work, unused yields = pollution
eg; poultry and gardens;
look at needs and yields – scratching (characteristic ‘need’ of poultry) can destroy garden (poultry scratching uproots vegetables, but can aerate soil of idle garden), manure (‘yield’ of poultry) can fertilize it!


Each element is selected to perform at least 3 functions
eg; windbreak, as well as reducing wind strength, can provide bee nectar, fodder, fuel, habitat, fruit, beauty
eg2; shady tree for school kids can also provide food, beauty, craft materials, recreation (climbing, swings etc)

All functions should be met in several ways, as an ‘insurance’ against single element failure.
eg; food production: – main plants grow predictably well, but also species for extremes – pomegranates for dry years, root crops for stored food
eg2: in schools, grow a variety of foods, bird and insect-attracting plants; educate children on the importance of diversity

Zones – arranged according to energy requirements
eg; herbs next to kitchen, vegetable plants and stall-fed animals – (daily use and maintenance) close to house, but tree crops (need little attention) can be further away.
Sectors – determined by energy source OFF site – channel the positive, disperse the negative energies
eg; sun (shady tree in summer, loses leaves in winter to allow in sun), wind.
Elevation Planning – use gravity to reduce energy requirements.
eg; gravity feed water, poultry (urine, manure) above garden (fertilizer).

Looking at energy flows is important to achieve sustainablity
“If I need it, I plant it”.- fuel, food, fodder, fertilizer, tillage, pest control, weed control, fire control, nutrient recycling, energy conservation

Set up cycles; what can’t be recycled becomes a pollutant.
eg; burning organic material to use ash as a fertilizer – energy waste, air pollution ; same nutrient exists in unburnt organic material (composted, or used as mulch).
Energy should be recycled IN the system, not lost OUT
Energy input should decrease over time.
Energy input should decrease over distance.
Energy resulting from any method of producing food should be greater than energy used to produce it.
– any system is designed as a series of complete connecting energy cycles.
eg; water is kept in soil (by mulch and green manure cover crops) instead of needing to be supplied from another source.
eg2;Urine in sawdust for fertilizer – Carbon and Nitrogen balance; use of renewable resource – appropriate fertilizer.

Appropriate technology =  technology which can be appropriated ie; take an idea and adapt it to local conditions.
Same principles apply to energy for cooking, lighting, transport, heating.
Ideas are universal, but their implementation must be specific;
Eg; air-conditioning may be fine for a high income apartment dweIler, BUT not for a poor farmer, who can produce it, using the same principles. Hot air flows through cool medium (vegetation), over a water pond, and cools.

Herbs and Grasses -> Pioneers (‘weeds’ and shrubs -> Climax (forest)
Conventional agriculture and landscaping often maintains systems at weed/herb stage by human/mechanical energy (tilling, weeding, mowing spraying), ignoring natural succession and creating work which can be avoided by planting desired species to achieve the same succession process.
“Stack” all available space and light levels, minimising weed possibilities and therefore unnecessary maintenance energy.

Edge is the most diverse area in any system ( edges accumulate more light and nutrients -> greater diversity). Design to fit with patterns in nature. eg; crenellated (rather than round or square) pond, increases potential plant stacking rate without extra volume; birds and fish feed at edge.

Maturing system increases diversity in space and time. It is NOT the number of different species that is important, but the complexity of functional relationships between elements: more complex and diverse -> more stable, more resistant against rampancy. In nature, groups of plants and animals occur consistently together because of beneficial relationships. Therefore, we try to form such relationships by appropriate placement. Traditional systems did it, but modern agriculture and landscaping has often ignored it.

Each situation is as unique as each person is. Design must be in harmony with this individuality. Time: change can occur quickly in one situation, but needs time to maintain harmony in another. Size: too big or too small can both be problems, depending on the particular situation. We must maximize the positive, and minimize the impact of negative qualities.

– to be diverse (non-monoculture) able to cope with change
– something will survive or thrive in adversity
– to think long-term and sustainable
– to increase sum of the yields
– to use wild and open pollinated plants ie; save seed
– to find appropriate technology
– to help make people self-reliant
– to reafforest Earth and restore

1. Work with Nature rather than against it
2. The Problem is the Solution; perspective.
eg; strong wind – generator, coolant
3. Make the least change tor greatest positive effect.
eg; Dam – max volume tor least earth-moving,
4. The Yield of a System is theoretically unlimited.
eg; Stacking – in time as well as space
5. Everything ‘gardens’ depending on how we perceive it.
eg; Termites, Weeds can also be useful.

Pattern recognition and use is an essential aspect of Permaculture! So careful observation is critical to good and harmonious design.


Any Italian translation has been done by me. Francesca is not responsible for the mistakes in the Italiano section. These will be corrected when time permits.

Ogni traduzione italiana è stata fatta da me. Francesca non è responsabile per gli errori nella sezione Italiano. Questi saranno corretti quando il tempo lo permette.


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