Permaculture Principles Beyond the Garden

Embrace a sustainable lifestyle by extending the principles of permaculture gardening to your home and community.

  • Learning the ecological structure within your own garden enables you to apply a similar structures within your home, community, and life.
    Photo by Getty/TommL
  • “The Minimalist Gardener” by Patrick Whitefield is a guide to permaculture gardening, with suggestions for both large and small spaces.
    By Patrick Whitefield

The basic idea of permaculture is that we take natural ecosystems as the model for what we do ourselves. This is all very well if you have a farm or woodland to work with, or even a large garden. But what about people who only have a small urban garden, or even no garden at all?

How can they use permaculture?

It would be pretty difficult if permaculture was always a direct imitation of an ecosystem, like a forest garden for example. But it doesn’t have to be. The essence of permaculture is not in copying the outward appearance of natural systems but in understanding the principles by which they work and applying these to our activities.

One of the things which makes an ecosystem work is the network of useful links between all its components. An example is the relationship between flowering plants and pollinating insects, where one gets its reproductive needs met and the other gets fed. There are many similar links we can make in our own lives, and these can reduce the ecological impact of getting our needs met.

Another thing we can learn from ecology is that in a mature ecosystem the most successful plants and animals are those that minimise their need for energy and other inputs. Pioneer plants use up masses of energy producing tens of thousands of seeds per plant, but their day is soon past. They’re soon superseded by plants which produce much less but which persist indefinitely. The lesson for us is plain.

Ecological Impact

If the aim of permaculture is to reduce our harmful ecological impact, the first step must be to look at which aspects of our lives have the biggest impact. The book, Our Ecological Footprint, comes up with the proportions shown in a pie chart.

Other studies have come up with different proportions to these, some with transport rather than food taking the biggest slice. It all depends on what weightings you give to different kinds of impact – how much global warming equals the loss of one species? – and how you allocate things. If you include flying green beans in from Kenya under transport, then food will get off very lightly.

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