Alright…the party’s over. Back to business.

Our discussion over all that fabulous food was productive! Especially Debbie’s thoughts on the design process and Tim’s input on mapping.

What I took away from that and reviewing Mollison’s, Whitefield’s and Morrow’s design processes was that we need to take time to dream and then step back into the real world and find a way to make it happen. And that we all do things differently and that’s good.

So for me, I like to start with stating a goal in present tense. For example, “I grow the majority of my family’s food while regenerating my soils and community”. This isn’t actually happening yet, but it sounds better than “I’d like to someday, if all the variables work out, to grow most of our food”. The present tense makes things more real. Say it like it is already happening, like it is totally possible. Do the dreaming, visioning, creating in your head of what would be fabulous

Then, I go with the observation step and take clipboard and pen in hand and go walk around and do some sketches. At this point, it’s hard, but you sketch only what you see or the invisible structures that you should note as well. Or, if you want to design something non-gardeny, make flowcharts or diagrams or lists.  (This isn’t the time to draw in the fancy dairy barn of your dreams.) You can do a zone and sector analysis of energy flows, too.

Tim suggested making a photocopy of your base map then do different ones with different aspects so no one map is too busy. Or overlay clear sheets over a base.

Then with all this information and the motivation of your dream, you can evaluate what you’ve got. Whitefield listed an acronym SWOC-strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and constraints-that seems like it could be very helpful in deciding how to use or what to do with individual components.

So, you’ve know what you want and you’ve know what you’ve got to work with. It is time to put it all together.

You’ve got a dream and you need functions to achieve it. For me, rainwater catchment is essential for irrigation which is essential for a sustainable vegetable garden in Virginia August. So I’ll need elements to perform this function. Remember redundancy and resilience. Each function is supported by many elements and each element performs as many functions as possible. 

At this point you can take some basemaps and draw in what would be wonderful. Think about where the elements are located in relation to each other and how you can connect everything. This is where the design principles come into play. How can you generate NO waste, how can you get a yield, can you create more edge?

Unfortunately, I don’t have all the flat, irrigated land I need to grow all our food. So I’ll proceed with what I have now and work from that beginning. Start small and expand. Acquire skills and elements as time, money and resources allow.  Maybe I don’t need 5 acres of flat land, maybe a forest garden on a hill could meet some of our needs. My point, and I think Debbie’s as well, was that each little bit we do matters and is worthwhile.



The Pc Hen

The lovely hen. She is so much to so many and rather interesting:


Read more from the source of the picture:


So why am I putting up these links?

Because while you are doing your observing and visioning, think about these kinds of things…the inputs (needs), outputs (yields) and possible connections between all your elements and how they can achieve your needed functions.


The Design Process

Time to revisit the design process.  I tend to want to skip it and just do things
like buy and plant interesting species, and redo beds, and get more ducks
and stuff like that BUT, that’s not the best way to do it.  

We read about it in Chapter 3 of Gaia’s Garden and now it is time to revisit and embrace the ideas.

STOP! Don’t go to another email or whatever. Learning how to design is useful in every
aspect of your life, not just for the parts where you get muddy. It can actually be fun.

Hemenway lists 5 steps in creating an ecological design:

Observation-what do we have to work with, what are the conditions and restraints of the site and client?

Visioning-what should the design do, what do we want, what does the site need, how should it feel?

Planning-what do we need to do to make our ideas happen, how should the pieces be assembled?

Development –what will the final design look like, how will we make it happen?

Implementation-how do we install the garden?

But just like we saw that different people list pc principles differently, the same goes for the design process. It’s all the same stuff just tweaked a bit by each designer. So here are a few more methods. Do read through them if you haven’t done much designing. The process is useful on different size and different type projects.

Design process wheel (nice format with explanations)


The design process in detail (and somewhat dry)


When you start making more maps, this should be helpful…

Dave Jacke’s Quick and Dirty Map Making:


What do you think? How do you do your designs or do you think you’ll bother?


Base map of Gardenwood

Here is Kevin’s first attempt at a base map using Google earth and photoshop.  Click on the image to see a larger version.

Elements and Functions

Elements and functions.

You should have a pretty good feel for what elements and functions are by now but here’s more info.

 I like to think of elements as the “tools” to get the functions done.  For example, a rain barrel (element) is the tool that gets water harvesting (function) accomplished.  Hand in hand with the idea of elements and functions is the notion of redundancy and resilience. And all this boils down to CONNECTIONS. Too much perma-babble? Read on.

The more interdependencies and relationships we have, the better. So, yes my rain barrel harvests rainwater for later use but it also is an easy source of water to dip out for my ducks to bathe in, it reduces mud and erosion up next to my house, it is a fun place for kids to float boats, it could grow fish and water plants, it creates a tiny, special microclimate where a shade loving plant could live, it reduces storm runoff in urban area and so on. And by placing the rain barrel element in my design, I have a bit more resilience. If the barrel is full when my water main breaks, my ducks or special potted plants won’t go thirsty. Even better, if I have a little pond for the ducks that collects rain water from another downspout, then I have more redundancy and resilience.

Redundancy, simply, is multiple elements doing one function.  I like to have potable water on hand at all times (not an extravagant desire). So I have a well, water in my hot water heater, water stored in glass bottles and water purification methods. We should not go thirsty.

This redundancy leads to resilience, or the ability to withstand pressures.  Even with a broken well pump, power outage or other interruption of my normal water supply, we still won’t go thirsty.

It is the overlap of elements performing more than one function and the functions being performed my more than one element that leads to the web of connections that make well-thought out designs so stable (resilient).  Sometimes this overlapping is also called “stacking” functions…we should stack ‘em high!

Here are some links so that you can read other’s thoughts on this. I’m sure they will be clearer than mine

http://romanyrest.net/elements.aspx  Nice tables on elements and functions.



http://www.greenhousebed.com/Permaculture/permaculture_examples.htm (great garden pictures!)

Again, I am leaning heavily toward horticulture here, but all these concepts apply to most anything…google:  financial permaculture

Zones and Sectors

Right, so when you are walking around doing a rough base map, you need to be thinking about zones and sectors.

It makes life and design easier.  Below is info on zones and sectors. Zones are often thought of as concentric rings radiating outward from your house (like a bulls eye target). But zones are rarely circular or that fixed. Sectors are different, they are concerned with energy flows like where the wind blows from (wind energy), where the neighbors peep over the fence (nosey energy) or where foot or car traffic flows.

Nice discussion of zones:    (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zones_(permaculture)#Zones)


Nice discussion and diagram of sectors:


Next up…Elements of Conscious Design

 This is a big section that is best learned with hands-on projects. I dug quite a few swales that were actually diversion ditches before I got it right, but the principles are worth getting an idea of because they are, well cool and are things that create solutions. Real solutions to real problems.


Permaculture  Design Principles

Here is another of Holmgren’s pages, click on the icons for more info. The catchy phrases stick well in my brain    http://permacultureprinciples.com/principles.php

If the catchy phrases don’t stick in your brain try the following, pasted below or found at http://www.seedinternational.com.au/pc_principles.html

Permaculture Principles are based on close observation of nature, traditional sustainable agriculture systems earth sciences and common sense.

Below are definitions and examples of each of the Permaculture principles with relation to sustainable land management and property design.


Design for diversity and variety not monoculture. Aim to integrate a variety of beneficial species of food, plants and animals in the landscape. This builds a stable and interactive polycultural system that provides for human needs and also the needs of other species. Polycultures are stable as they reflect the design of a natural ecosystem.

In a diverse garden you will find many foods all year round to provide a healthy and balanced diet. There will also be habitat for animals and insects which help in natural pest control; flowers to attract pollinators and create a beautiful garden; herbs for teas, flavour and medicine etc…. Using this principle of diversity, you can create a garden which has much more food available in the same space. It is also recognises the need to provide and maintain the habitat for other species without which we could not survive.


There is more life on the edge where two systems overlap. Systems can then access the resources of both. Use the edge effect and other natural patterns observed to create the best effect. (There are no straight lines in nature.)

If a pond or dam has a shallow ledge it provides places for fish to breed, for plants to grow which can feed the fish. Also, with a wavy edge it can provide more edge for this habitat.


Place things in a permaculture design to minimise the use of energy (human and fossil fuels). Utilise the energy and resources both on-site and from outside as effectively as possible. This also saves time, energy and money.

Internal energy- eg. Use slope and gravity to move water rather than electric pumps.

External energy – eg. direct cooling breezes into your house with trees, but shield your house and garden from the strong winds, which can cause damage, or be unpleasant. Place the kitchen garden as close to the house as possible. It therefore has easy access for harvesting and maintenance and it is in view so that you can protect it from potential damaging effects (stray animals etc)


In a natural system there is no waste or pollution – the output from one natural process is always the resource for another natural process. Recycle and reuse your local resources as many times as possible within a polycultural system.

Recycle nutrients on-site (eg food scraps to compost) so that you do not need to import expensive fertiliser. Also use your wastewater to water and fertilise plants – therefore not creating polluting runoff into nearby waterways. Plant roots take up these nutrients and turn them into food, in the process cleansing the water.


Create human-scale systems and be space efficient. Choose simple, appropriate and effective technologies. Do as much as you are able. Start small and take achievable steps to reach your goal successfully. Create groups which enable people to feel they can actively participate, be involved in the decision making and feel a connection to and ownership of the process.

Design to make intensive use of space – create multi-layered and diverse gardens. This allows you to meet your needs from less space and in a global sense maximises the space available for natural systems to maintain the ecological balance, which supports human and other life.


Use natural methods and processes to achieve a task. Find things in nature (plants, animals, microbes etc) that enjoy doing the task and minimise the inputs required from outside.

Chickens like to scratch. In preparation for a garden bed, use chickens to scratch up the area eat the. weeds/weed seeds and fertilise it before planting. Comfrey (herb) has deep roots, which bring nutrients from deep down in the soil. The leaves can then be used to make a rich fertiliser instead of chemical fertilisers.

Compost worms like to decompose organic matter. While doing this they make holes in the soil which allows the movement of air and water (saves you from having to dig). They also leave natural fertiliser in the soil as they move through it, which feeds the plants making them stronger against pests and more nutritious to eat. Worms make healthy soil (healthy soil = healthy plants = healthy people). Therefore help the worms do the garden digging and fertilising for you by returning organic matter (their food) to the soil and by mulching the soil thus protecting their home (the topsoil).


Support each vital need and essential function in more than one way (don’t put all your eggs in one basket!). Also recognise that there’s more than one way to achieve a task.

In a monoculture garden, there is only one type of food available. If that single crop fails due to pests and diseases, there is no other food in your garden. Where possible grow many types of food – vegetables, fruits, leafy greens, herbs, tubers, grains, legumes, and nuts.

Also, don’t rely on just once source of water – try to access as many sources as possible – river, dam, pond, tank, town water, bore, well etc… If one source is contaminated or depleted, there will be another source of available water (a vital need).


Everything has many uses and functions. In permaculture we aim to design so that every element performs at least 3 functions.

A tree can perform many functions – food, shade, timber, fibre, microclimate, habitat, soil improvement and maintenance, mulch, animal fodder etc…. Choose species, which have the most functions you require and place them where they can be of the most use and meet your needs most efficiently.


Work with nature and the processes of natural systems. Facilitate natural growth and help to accelerate it naturally.

When establishing a garden or orchard, delicate plants need to be protected from harsh sun, wind and rain. Use hardy and fast-growing pioneer species to create a good environment for their growth and to provide protection.


Every element is placed in relationship to others so that they can benefit each other. Create supportive environments by placing things together which help to develop a self-sustaining system, replicating a natural ecosystem. From a functional perspective – those things used together, place together. This allows more efficient use of a space and minimisation of your energy in utilising these resources.

Companion planting- ie plant garlic under citrus to help prevent aphids.

Where possible, place the compost heap so that it is easily accessible from the kitchen (for food scraps), and close to the garden where the finished compost will be used. In addition, it is good to place the compost heap uphill from the garden as the nutrients that leach from the heap will run straight into the vegetable garden and fertilise it without you having to do any work Ð itÕs much easier to carry heavy loads of compost downhill.


OK, so you now you have the principles (aka common sense) to guide your designs. In your designs, you will have elements that perform functions. Elements are the physical things. Functions are, well, functions that are performed by the elements.  More on this soon!

But for now, let’s do something other than look at a screen or book.

Observation….is where designs begin.

Winter is a wonderful time to observe you landscape. While I’m going to describe this process for your local land/yard, if you are interested in something less horticultural, think how you could apply the same process to whatever else you are interested in.

So, in winter, you can see the bones of your land. The ridges, dips, cold spots, warm spots, windy spots. Look at where the snow stays, where it melts first, where it piles up, where the cats sun themselves, where the dog sleeps at different times of the day. Where do your paths form in the slush?  Where do you get a blast of icy wind and where are you sheltered? Could your vehicular access be better? Can you even make it up your driveway in the snow? Do you need a plow? Can you hire someone to plow for you? Where does the water from the melting snow accumulate?

And so on and so forth. Don’t make conclusions, plans or judgments. Just look around. Draw some really simple, quick, basic maps with bubbles for where the permanent structures are and where the energies flow. A big arrow to show the howling wind’s direction, a shading of yellow to show the warm spots. No one will have to see the map so it doesn’t matter if it looks like a preschooler did it. It is important, however, that you actually go outside to do it…be in the space to get the feel of it.

Zones, sectors, functions, elements next time.