Permaculture: Landscaping That Works With Nature

Permaculture is a combination of the words “permanent” and “agriculture.” It refers to a system that’s designed to help create more sustainable methods of agriculture, but also healthy landscapes, ecosystems and even societies.

What is permaculture?

The term permaculture was started in the 1970s by David Holmgren and Bill Mollison who worked together on the theory at the University of Tasmania.

Bill Mollison describes permaculture as “a philosophy of working with, rather than against, nature…of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single project system.”

The basic idea of permaculture is to develop an area so that it meets the needs of all its inhabitants, human or otherwise. Your choices of plants, landscape features and layout should all have a purpose and work together to create an ideal space that will continue to thrive for many years to come.

This can be much easier said than done, but permaculture provides some key principles to help with whatever project you’re planning.

Permaculture Design Principles

Permaculture principles can be used in many ways. You can apply them towards creating a city food garden, restoring damaged wilderness areas, promoting greater biodiversity in backyards and anywhere else where humans can assist or enhance the earth’s natural systems.

1. Observe and Interact – Before you start any permaculture project, you want to intimately understand the area you are dealing with. Spend some time observing the site, how it changes during the seasons, what animals might live there, which plants are growing in what areas, what seems to be working well and what may be harming the local system.

2. Catch and Store Energy – Sustainable ways of collecting and storing sources of energy, such as heat and water, are vital to maintain a healthy landscape. For instance, you can create areas that will naturally catch and hold water at the bottom of slopes and valleys. This will also prevent runoff and erosion.

3. Obtain a Yield – An important part of any ecosystem is to provide food for all the animals that live in it, including humans. As you design your permaculture area, make sure to include spaces to plant annual vegetables as well as perennial food plants, such as fruit trees and berry bushes.

4. Apply Self-regulation and Accept Feedback – All ecological systems have their limits. Work within the natural boundaries of your space and don’t plant or include more than it can handle. Also make sure to plant appropriate plants for the site. If you have a hot, rocky slope, try planting a mix of drought-tolerant groundcovers and shrubs.

5. Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services – Compost is an obvious example of this principle. You can plant what’s called a cover crop in order to create more organic matter. These are plants that are only grown to be cut down and used as compost. Fast-growing plants, such as peas or buckwheat, make good cover crops.

6. Produce No Waste – Any sustainable system contains no waste. This may not always be practical in the modern world, but you can take steps to minimize your waste. For instance, when you buy quality tools, they will last much longer than cheaper ones that you would have to throw out more often.

7. Design from Patterns to Details – What patterns does your landscape have? Is there a sunny location that would make a good vegetable plot? Or a hard-to-access corner where you could plant a group of native, low-maintenance shrubs? Keep the larger picture in mind before getting into a detailed plan.

8. Integrate Rather than Segregate – See if anything can serve more than one function on your site. If you have an area with too much sun exposure, planting a fruit tree will have the double function of providing shade and food.

9. Use Small and Slow Solutions – Systems that operate on a smaller scale will naturally use less energy. Growing and transporting vegetables from thousands of miles away from you uses a lot more energy than growing those vegetables in your backyard or buying locally-grown veggies.

10. Use and Value Diversity – Landscapes that include a variety of plants and features will create a richer and more sustainable environment. For instance, groups of native shrubs or perennial herbs next to vegetable-growing areas will attract pollinators and provide protection.

11. Use Edges and Value the Marginal – There is often more activity and diversity on the edges of an ecosystem, such as a river. Fish and wildlife will spend most of their time along riverbanks where there is more cover, slower water and opportunity for hunting than the middle of the river. This can be applied to your landscape as well by including features like wandering pathways to provide lots of edges for the beds or ponds for greater diversity.

12. Creatively Use and Respond to Change – This principle has particular importance as advancing climate change and human development continue to affect our environment. An inspiring example of what can be done to creatively respond to change is in China’s Loess Plateau.

The Loess Plateau is an area about the size of the state of Texas that was extremely degraded by human use and had essentially become a desert. In 1994, the Chinese government started a massive rehabilitation project of the region. Environmental engineers organized local communities to help make terraces, replant native vegetation, and create areas for agricultural crops.

John D. Liu, director of the Environmental Education Media Project, filmed some amazing before and after shots of what the Loess Plateau project achieved. It’s also a great example of what can be done by applying permaculture’s principles to work with, rather than against, nature.

Check out a short clip from John D. Liu’s film here:


Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability, by David Holmgren

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Paulo R
Paulo Rabout a year ago


Renata B
Renata Babout a year ago

Our garden is large (or better narrow and long) for London's standards, but it can't definitely be defined "large" otherwise. We planted native plants and we keep it as wild as possible for the animals (insects included), but we have an invasive floor plant (max height around 30-40cm) that tends to cover everything. We don't want to use any chemicals so we pick up a lot: very tiring. If left alone it would suffocate everything else. We want to try - for some parts at least - to use that special lining with gravel on top or bark chips but it is expensive and hard work. We want to do this as soon as it stops raining every day! Many storms at the end of winter, really unusual and now so much rain. At least we shall not have hose ban this year!!!

Chrissie R
Chrissie Rabout a year ago

Thank you for posting

Ruth S
Ruth Sabout a year ago


Carole R
Carole Rabout a year ago

Good information.Thanks.

natasha p
Past Member about a year ago


Nara A.
Nara A.2 years ago

Permcaulture is a way of adapting a discipline that attempts to reduce an individual’s or society’s use of the earth’s natural resources and personal resources in a balanced way so as to use it to fulfill our needs and not our wants. Human kind needs the environment for survival so it is really important to protect our surroundings from any kind of damage. We can do it by practicing Permaculture in our daily life.


Chun Lai T
Chun Lai T2 years ago


George L
George L2 years ago

Thank you

Jennifer F
Jennifer F2 years ago

Now this is my kind of article to read! I would love to do this in part of our backyard! Thanks!