How to Start Your Permaculture Garden


Most people passionate about living sustainably and harmoniously with nature will eventually stumble upon the system of Permaculture, it’s hard not to, it’s a world-wide phenomenon and it’s growing!

If you’re reading this, then you’re one of these people! Some of you will eventually study Permaculture, and then, on graduating, go through what we term the “Permaculture Effect”, a sense of deep and profound inner change or realisation, and a passion that follows from there, to go out there and make a difference, to stop being part of the problem and be part of the solution!

So, then, where to begin?

The simple answer is, in your own back yard (if you have one!)

If you don’t have a backyard, a courtyard garden or even a balcony garden can be productive, and do still make a difference, every little effort towards helping the planet makes a difference, even of it just serves to maintain your connection to nature. If you don’t even have a balcony, there is the possibility of taking part in a community garden, getting your own plot, and doing your gardening there. In some areas the waiting list for community gardens can be long, while in other areas, there’s surplus free space with no-one claiming it. Another possibility is to volunteer to to design and maintain a friend’s backyard garden if they’re not interested in gardening and not using it for anything. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

One of the important things you learn in Permaculture is design, for Permaculture is ultimately a multidisciplinary design system.

If you’ve done the course, you should be able to handle a basic design, but that’s not where people get stuck. The biggest obstacles are taking the first step, believing in yourself, believing you can do it, trusting it will work!

In this article, I’ll assume you’re already familiar with the Permaculture design principles, and I’ll show you a systematic way to break down the whole design and construction process to something that’s manageable and not so frightening. This approach was all learned from first-hand experience, diving head first into my garden project, a full-time three month solo effort that transformed an average Melbourne home backyard into a demonstration Permaculture garden that is a living proof of concept and thriving success, which has seen several garden tours and hundreds of people since it was first built two years ago.

By sharing this information, I hope to encourage more Permaculture graduates to dive in and make it happen!

1. What is a Permaculture Garden

The first step in building a Permaculture garden is to figure out what a Permaculture garden is to you. This might sound strange, but the fact is that there is no one way to build any type of garden, and you’ll have to have some idea of what you want to create.

Having a finalised design means you have something to build, it ensures that you have committed your ideas to paper, and to do this they have to have some structure and form. If you’re just entertaining vague ideas, you could end up procrastinating and never designing anything, let alone building something tangible.

Designs encourage decisiveness, some people like leaving their options open, which means nothing gets done. I’ve seen people tell me they can’t start building there because they might do this and that in the future, and they might do something else somewhere else, so through indecision nothing ever happens. Decide what it is that you can do, and want to do, right now, not in some distant possible future, but at this very moment, then make the commitment to do it on a certain day and date, preferably now. If you defer tasks and projects to some unspecified future date, they most likely won’t ever be done…

Any garden designed with Permaculture principles, that is, it emulates patterns in nature, by definition, is a Permaculture garden. What you need to decide at the outset is the degree of incorporation of Permaculture principles in garden design.

  • The size of the garden will in part dictate this, the scale of the project, it can be anywhere between a balcony container garden all the way through to a broad-acre food forest.
  • You need to decide ‘how much Permaculture’ you wish to incorporate into the design, whether your garden looks like a traditional vegetable garden with a few Permaculture design features, or a no-holds-barred full-scale over-stacked food forest design.

2. Principles of Permaculture, Emulating Nature

The next step is to decide which Permaculture design principles you wish to use, or to which degree you emphasise them.

Also, look at how you will choose to emulate nature in your Permaculture design.

Here are some points to consider:

Soil preservation – how do you intend to protect the soil?

  • Mulches, ground cover plants, etc.
  • Trying to maintain bare soil in the garden works against nature, because nature aims to fill the space with anything to protect the soil, and the plants that do this best are pioneer plants, often disrespectfully referred to as “weeds”.
  • Bare soil will be compacted by rain, which will degrade the soil structure, as well as wash away the top layer!
  • No-dig gardening preserve the soil, as turning the soil destroys the soil structure and exposes the deeper soil layers to the sun’s UV light and heat, which kills the soil biota (living things in the soil).
  • Garden beds can aid in maintaining good soil, as long as they are a size you can reach into easily so you never step into the garden beds. Stepping on the soil destroys the soils structure by compacting it, preventing air and water penetration to the plants roots, which affects plant health, restricts plant growth and reduces productivity.

Rebuilding soil – if your soil is pretty well dead, very little organic content and humus, if it is compacted, or damaged in any way, it has to be repaired. Soil building activities will be required to remedy the situation.

  • You can use plants with deep tap roots such as fenugreek and dandelion to break up the soil
  • If absolutely necessary, you can dig or fork the ground, once only, to loosen it up, then mulch it over to cover it up and protect it.
  • Composting over the soil can be used to bring life back into it, either utilising compost heaps, or more easily and quickly, using the technique of sheet composting.
  • Use of green manures, plants grown then chopped down afterwards, to generate lots of biomass to mulch the soil with, which will rot down to create humus. Broad beans work well in colder climates, and they add nitrogen to the soil, as do all legumes (bean/pea family). Any strong growing annual plants work well, just cut them down before they go to seed if they aren’t vegetables.
  • Don’t step on soil in your garden beds, use no-dig designs, and use earthworms to do your digging, they dig far more efficiently than you!

Plant stacking – stacking in vertical space

  • Plants grow in nature in a “stacked” layout, with trees forming the canopy, shrubs below them, then herbaceous plants below these, and ground cover plants at the lowest level, with root crops beneath the ground, and vines growing vertically in the background. Using this layout allows a greater utilisation of space, and greater productivity for a given garden area.

Succession planting – stacking in time

  • Nature regenerates plant growth to protect soil – plants are replaced as other ones die off. If you organise the planting new plants while existing plants are coming to the end of their fruiting/productive cycle, you can “stack plants in time” to get extended cropping throughout the growth season, without having bare spaces in the garden, or waiting as long for plants to fruit.

Edge Effect – in nature, the edges of any ecosystem, where the environment transitions from one form to another, is the most productive.

  • If you wanted to emphasise the Edge Effect Principle, you would perhaps lean toward curved edge garden beds, mandala design garden beds, or just use a large number of smaller rectangular beds.

Microclimate – groups of plants planted together create differences in temperature, shade and humidity in comparison to the surrounding area, better supporting plant growth.

  • Use plants growing together to protect each other from the elements (wind, sun, etc). This will help them survive and create a more resilient garden. Remember, one plant on its own in a bare garden bed is like a man standing in the middle of a desert under a burning hot sun!

Vertical gardening – plants don’t only grow flat on the ground, they can grow up vertical surfaces to make better use of space. Here are some ideas:

  • Various vines such as grapes, kiwi fruit, passionfruit can be grown over trellises, arches, fences, and pergolas.
  • Cucurbits, such as pumpkins, rockmelons, watermelons, zucchini, gourds, loofahs can be grown vertically up a wire mesh (with widely spaced mesh big enough to fit hands through) supported by posts.
  • Espaliered trees can be used along fences or narrow spaces to maximise the productivity of large unused vertical spaces.

Water gardens – aquatic ecosystems are the most productive ecosystems of all, and they have many design functions.

  • Can be used to grow edible aquatic plants, such as water chestnuts, sagittaria, lotus, Vietnamese mint, and many others.
  • Can support aquatic or amphibious life, that is, fish or frogs.
  • Large ponds can support ducks
  • A pond can be used as the water collection area from a reed bed filter system that is used to clean recycled grey water

Mono-cultures, Poly-cultures and Companion Plants – nature favours biodiversity, and a range of plants mixed together, in the right combinations can support each other’s growth and increase productivity,

  • Companion planting can be used to stimulate plant growth and productivity, increase resilience to pests and diseases, hide your plants from pests or mask their scent to make them harder for pests to find, and attract beneficial insects which act as pollinators, such as bees, or attract beneficial predatory insects that will eat pest insects, such as ladybirds, lacewings and hoverflies.
  • Monocultures make plants more accessible to pests, and prevent the use of companion planting or plant stacking. Emulate nature by mixing plants up, if you have to go to some effort to find them, so will the pests that eat them!
  • Monocultures of annuals take more work, effort and record keeping, as planting one type of annuals in the same spot for more than one season will lead to nutrient depletion, and susceptibility to pests and diseases. The choice is either to perform crop rotation, and keep accurate records of what grew where and when, and what goes where next, or you can just take the easier natural approach, embrace polyculture, and grow everything everywhere.

3. Getting Started

One of the biggest hurdles to overcome is building a Permaculture garden is starting the actual construction. Often people may agonise over the design for months to get it perfect, then come to a complete standstill when it comes to beginning the project.

The critical human factor is motivation, overcoming the inertia of taking on a big challenge. A big challenge is easier when it’s broken down into smaller and manageable parts. There is wisdom in the old joke “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!” I can’t overemphasise the importance of starting small. Even if you’re ambitious and motivated, should you come across any delays, hurdles or obstacles, there’s the chance of seeing the task as too daunting and simply giving up.

If you select a small task to complete, you make it easier for yourself, and the successful completion of each simple task will bolster confidence, self esteem, and provide the momentum for the next task which follows.

My strategies for getting started are as follows:

  1. Design BIG, start small – know what it is that you ultimately want to build, use an all-encompassing design that factors in all important design aspects, then construct it one small piece at a time
  2. Determine the scale of the project – whether it’s a container garden or a food forest, get a clear idea how big the garden will be. Factor in the maintenance for the garden too. A full-blown food forest, very closely resembling nature, will require far less maintenance and upkeep than an urban container garden. This becomes clearer when you think about root space, water availability, plant size, etc. Remember, nobody needs to water forests, prune them, or fertilise them!
  3. Determine the critical design elements – these include water, wind sun, orientation of garden, proximity to house, location of plants according to requirements. Also, remember to plant in the correct season, that is, not mid-summer!
  4. Modular design – a highly efficient way to build a large garden is to start small, use repeatable units (including guilds) that can be easily replicated to extend the garden to the desired size.
  5. Design element size priority- a critical construction priority is to put in the biggest elements on the design first, then design around them. For example, in a stacked food forest design, trees go in first, then the irrigation is put into place. Then all the progressively smaller plants are planted around the trees and the location of the irrigation lines. The smallest elements, such as ground cover plants are planted last. The rationale of this is process is that you can’t dig tree sized holes in garden beds filled with little plants, and installing irrigation in a planted up bed is one of the most time consuming and painful exercises if you’re trying not to damage all the plans in the garden beds…

In summary, breaking down the task of building a garden from scratch into small, manageable pieces, a garden bed at a time, with a complete overall design to guide your efforts, makes it far less daunting than it initially appears at the start.  You’re more likely to start something if it looks more like a molehill than a mountain! Once you’ve  successfully completed a project like your own Permaculture garden, you’ll look back and be glad you made the effort. If you’ve done a Permaculture course, I urge you to take that step and apply what you’ve learned. Nothing reinforces knowledge like the practical application of it. We learn best by doing!


58 thoughts on “How to Start Your Permaculture Garden

  1. I did a PDC with Geoff, and I think my course was the one before yours, except I did mine at PRI. I have taken steps since then, I became loosely involved with the local permie network and also studied Hort at Tafe. I am at a point where there is a fair bit that I understand and the above is most helpful, but when it comes to putting a plan or design in place, I would still like to do that with someone with plenty of permie experience. I would like to be involved with them in the design process. Just think that would be a good thing to do for the first time. Go through the design process, employing someone who has a good grasp on design. I can implement a design but the design, for me, is a process I need to go through yet. We are looking to buy property up on the NSW mid north coast hinterland or in the tablelands west of that region by early 2011, until then I practise prop and all other gardening and enjoy that sort of doing. I am looking forward to the design doing, when the time comes. Thank you for the above article.

    1. I am on the NSW Mid North Coast, have you found any one to help you as I have the same query…

      1. Where on the mid north coast? There is a fantastic permaculture farmer at Stroud Rd NSW. GOOGLE Limestone Permaculture. His farm is incredible.

      1. Hi Anna, I’m not sure if there are any permaculture farms in Dallas, Texas. I would check with PRI, as Geoff used to have a lot of listings of permaculture sites worldwide.

    1. Hi Sandy,

      I understand what you’re asking. The food forest design is a actually natures own template that works in most regions where trees grow (which is most places),
      By picking species suitable for your climate, and it becomes a a cold climate forest, a temperate forest or a tropical forest, and everything in-between.
      The permaculture design principles serve as design guidelines, and they are universal, they cover all conditions.
      The closest things I can think of to a template are ‘guilds’ – collections of plants and trees that work together, and are located together in a design. You can choose the plants for guilds using the companion planting table on my site, but I’m hoping to write up some guild templatess which may help people select their plants.


      1. Thank you for the great reply! Please email me when you have some posted. We are trying to determine if wicking beds are the best option for year one, natural farming or hiring a permaculture designer to assess what is needed. So much to try! Appreciate your site too. TY!

  2. Wonderful site! Thank you so much for sharing all of this information.

    I see that you grow Goji Berries but I cannot find information on what makes good companion plants for them. Any observations about what other plants they benefit from?

    1. Goji berries are very hardy plants and do well on their own, but do even better when you add the general companion plants that benefit almost everything.

      I have five goji berries growing, beneath them they have sage, yarrow, borage, catnip – and they seem to do well with these growing nearby, so they must be beneficial in some way!

  3. Very nice explanation of permaculture! I am on the verge of recreating my yard via permaculture principles and design here in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA. Im at the tipping point, and just need to do it. Thanks for the good advise!

  4. This is a very helpful article. Thank you for your insights and wisdom. I can now move ahead with my permaculture aspirations.

  5. Permaculture IS kinda like eating an elephant–there’s always so many plans and projects on the to-do list! However, if you slowly-but-surely add new species of life (fungus, worms, insects, birds, plants, animals), the ecosystem you’re creating becomes more robust and complex. Everything grows up to be self-reliant as a whole, and you can just focus on improving and harvesting. The longterm goal is to go as BIG as your space sustainably allows–huge trees, cows, pigs, sheep, goats, deer and wildlife. And of course its not ONLY BIG, theres medium trees, small trees, shrubs, grasses, roots, vines. But if you’re stuck with an apartment patio…mimic this with a couple potted dwarf trees along the walls, vines stretched across corners, shade veggies, sun veggies, berries, compost heap, worms, quail. If you have a backyard, grow hardwood trees that will outreach the fruit/nut trees…you can chop these down for wood flooring/furniture or firewood once the fruit trees are mature.

    My main point is: yes have an overall design, but it’s more practical to slowly buy a few plants here and there over the years, and continuously build upon the variety of life you’re creating.

    I recently bought 18.5 acres of lush hillsides. I’m starting off with a chainlink fence in the lushest natural wooded area, and beginning from there. As years pass, the fence will widen as the food forest flurishes.

  6. I am new to this info. I like the idea I was planning to plant plants that are natural to my region here in New Mexico at a higher elevation. But i have no idea what would grow together naturally. Most of the information tells height not width. I had planned on planting them any way but now I am learning the inter-planting strategy and that sounds right to me and I am excited to get a section stared of food forest. It will be easier to get native started as well. But I am not sure how to go about putting on paper or where to put where. I need more how to examples. How much room do you need around the canopy of the 1st layer etc. down through the layers. Sort of a guideline to follow that I can apply to whatever plants I chose to use.

    Thank you for your sharing it has been most helpful to understand yard application.

    I love your pictures and the abundant growth.

  7. Greetings to all. Although I’m new to permaculture, I am an experienced vegetable gardener. After reading up and watching many videos on this subject I’ve discovered that my 2/10’s acre on Tybee Island, GA already has one of the requirements: an extensive oak canopy for shade and mulch. I bring in wheat straw, which breaks down faster. An arborist was called to thin out the high oak canopy to create a 50×50 patch of 6-8 hours of direct sun, a requirement for many vegetables, including the many cole crops that zone 8B supports in the winter months. Two years ago I began adding dwarf fruit trees to the vegetable garden: 3 kumquat, 1 mandarin, 1 pomegranate, 2 fig, and 2 persimmon. Also, 4 dwarf blueberry and 3 blackberry bushes were added. I’ve planted the trees in pots for now, until I see appropriate places for their permanent planting. This Spring perennial vines are going in: Scarlet Runner Bean, Malabar Spinach, and Chilacayote Squash. Also, Perennial Sprouting Broccoli is ready to be placed. I hope to get rain gutters and barrels installed. The best advice I can give is manure, manure, manure, and mulch, mulch, mulch. Good luck to all!

    1. And compost, compost, compost too! Manure, mulch and compost build nutrient rich living soil, and the key to sustainable gardening is building good, healthy soil, that’s Mother Nature’s secret!

  8. Design is important, yes, but so is action. As a designer (Interior Architecture) I have learned that even the most thought through plans can be improved or tweaked when implemented. For myself, permaculture is based in design but grows with experimentation, taking a few risks and learning from experience. Those are the most important aspects. Don’t wait for the perfect design, jump in and start, there is fun to be had 🙂 Great articles, very excited to have found this resource! Thank you!

    1. Totally agree, designs evolve, and it’s important once you have the foundation elements of the design in place to take action and start building! The fine details and trimmings of a design can come later, and can change. There’s no point micro-designing down to the last detail, that just leads to procrastination! Great comment and real practical advice. Thanks.

  9. What kind of Medicinal herbs can I plant near corn and peas to help with earwigs. I keep running into a dead end

  10. I have started and yes new ways of seeing happen and it is exciting to see differently and the design changes. some times it is learning something and sitting and seeing what was there always but un- noticed. like winter sun opens a whole new nitch. see where the mico climates are and in designing what plants i want to put there and think i need more space and now my path is moved over and lowered to be part of the basin under the trees. i was totally unaware of a spot right out side the kitchen door where it is warmer in winter that i can tuck a few beds for fresh use.

    i set up some stumps and rocks to show where i thought i would put my fire pit to live with it for a while to see if it would work. yesterday i moved it over to make room for a volley ball net and field.

    i live in desert conditions and not shore about wood core beds so i have made 2 to check it out. I used small limbs from my canopy tree trimmings i have in a pile. every one keeps telling me where i can take them. but they are a store house of treasures for me and i have found many uses for them. when i move one there is great soil underneath. and birds like to sit on them and i have used them to extend my fence height. even create a blind to keep a jumping dog in for a long while. as well as kindling to start fires.

    i run my washer water into the trenches along the beds on conture and hopefully they will collect.enough water to feed the bed well through the hot months. also this area is on slop so i have discarded it before and un-useadle for growing. now it is perfect to catch water. and it was not fenced in as garden. which was back behind this but i moved the solid fence to get sun into the garden and put up wire. now it is moved. seeing differently gives me more room to fill up with plants. my new wash house will go under the tree catch sun in winter and be shaded in summer and water the beds below.

    i have been monitoring the soil temp it is something to see the difference in soil temp where the are in the landscape.i had noticed the snow melted quickly in this area. that was what gave me the idea and learning to look at the sun patterns to see it is sunny here under the edge of canopy and will be some shade in summer when the sun is so intense from the west . i think i am going to like it.

  11. This is all very nice.. But no one ever talks about Groundhogs in your permaculture garden..
    They just destroy the garden.. I have tried everything I have ever read to control them,.. trapping and taking them away.. Exlax… poisoning.. etc.. But they just keep coming.. I have all but given up.. Any suggestions on how nature protects herself from these predators,.. Are there plants they hate? There just has to be an answer..

    1. We don’t have groundhogs in Australia, don’t know much about them other than that they’re some sort of burrowing rodent critter. What is their natural predator in the wild, how does Nature control them? The permaculture approach would be to encourage their natural predator into your garden if that’s viable!

      University of Missouri Extension has a document on “Managing Woodchuck Problems in Missouri” –

      They suggest “Gardens and other small areas may be protected from woodchucks by erecting a fence of 2-inch by 4-inch mesh wire. The fence should extend at least two feet above the ground with an electrified strand on top. Because woodchucks are excellent diggers, it is necessary to sink the fencing into the ground. The buried portion of the fence should be bent at a 90-degree angle, 1 foot below the surface, with the bottom of the fence pointing away from the garden. This design discourages burrowing if it is started at the fence line.

      You can also plant decoy plants, which are sacrificial plants that the pests eat in preference to the plants you’re trying to protect. Apparently they’re fond of legumes, so you can plant alfalfa and clover near their burrows, and they will hopefully at that in preference to your garden!

  12. Thank you so much Angelo, for your thoughtful response.. Will definitely give the Decoy plants a try.. The fence would be just too disruptive.. But the plants seem to be a plausible solution..
    Will do immediately.. Thanks Again..

  13. I know this is an older post, but I just discovered it. A good farm dog and cat would go a long way toward controlling ground hogs. And they would be happy to do it!?

  14. Do I have to take a course to learn about permaculture or are there other sources of information that maybe you guys can point me to. I have been wanting to start this but I have no idea where to start, I have a patio garden, which as far as edible plants only has eggplants, basils, and cherry tomatoes. I would like to get as much food from it as possible, but I only have a very small space that gets full sun. Help Please!!

    1. You can teach yourself permaculture through courses, books, videos and resources such as this website. There are too many resources worldwide to list! If you want to become a permaculture teacher or a designer then you need to take a proper permaculture designer’s course, a Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC). It might be worthwhile to look into a short and relatively inexpensive ‘Introduction to Permaculture’ course to get you started.

      When I first looked into permaculture, I was already an accomplished organic gardener with many years of experience, and taught myself from books and videos for a year, then in 2008 I was lucky enough to study permaculture with Bill Mollison, the co-founder of permaculture, and Geoff Lawton, who would have to be the world’s leading permaculture teacher currently. After my course, I did lots of hands-on learning and experimenting on my own, then I turned to doing lots of voluntary then paid design work to gain firsthand experience. You can learn as much as you’re comfortable with using whichever route of study you choose.

  15. This is really interesting, and provides a good high-level overview. But once you understand these concepts, I think the main thing people need to know is: which species should I plant for my location? Is there a permaculture website that has lists like that? For example: “in the northeast US, a good mix would be these 4 trees, these 5 shrubs, these 2 kinds of ground cover, and these 3 root crops.” Of course, the possible combinations are endless, which is kind of the problem: for non-experts it’s overwhelming, so it’d be nice to have a list of recommended species to mix together, from an expert who’s done it.

    1. Precisely, as you’ve stated, “Of course, the possible combinations are endless” in how you can design a permaculture garden anywhere around the world in ever conceivable climate. Remember, permaculture is a design system, and can incorporate many gardening techniques within that design system. I explain more about that here –

      If you understanding how to do permaculture design you can work out what species of plants and trees work well together and can be used in your local region of the world.

      If you’re new to permaculture and are looking for suggestions as to what can grow well together, you can use companion planting tables.

      Another suggestion is to check what permaculture designers are using in your area. You could visit any permaculture demonstration gardens, or any organic gardens that employ companion planting.

      You can also check if any permaculture gardens are using plant guilds, which is a group of helpful plants grown around a central plant for various benefits.

      Also doing an internet search for “companion guild planting” along with your region in the US, it might give you examples of what others have done.

  16. I want to make a small area suitable for chickens. They free range and I have several small parts of it that i would like to build gardens in, to plant with things that will support my chickens health and give them a natural type of place to forage in , as well as growing some fruits and herbs and vegies. The sites are long and narrow between fences and buildings,being coops and gardens. How can i get a design into a long narrow space? thanks Trish

      1. Thank you Angelo, Yes this is the type of thing I am looking for. I have 2 sections and hope to alternate them with the hens. I am not totally sure what to plant and how. Do I have to remove all,the grass ,and dig etc. Any other sites you can suggest would be appriciated Thanks Trish

  17. I fell very lucky to have come across your blog for I learn something new everyday. I definitely consider practising permaculture/holistic farming. We need to take action to rebuild and to preserve our soil and protect our planet. My question is, we tend to break up a problem into smaller pieces to achieve a solution, and this is also what you advise beginners to do here. On the other hand, you also said that permaculture is a holistic approach to our soil degradation problem. If permaculture is holistic, can we break it up into smaller parts? Wouldn’t that be conflicting the principles of it? I hope I am not nitpicking, I would like to start my self-sustaining food forest one day and care for the earth, people and share and be a part of this eco system as nature intended human beings to be. Where should we start, I mean how can we figure out the relationship between plants, animals, macro, micro ecosystems, ponds, building swales….Thanks again for this wast information and your efforts to awaken interest in people to do something for our beautiful planet. Cheers.

    1. Permaculture is based on ecology and looks at the relationships between living things to each other an their surroundings. it looks at whole systems, hence the holistic approach.

      You design from a systems thinking perspective, you look at each and every element in a design and the relationships to other elements – see my articles on the design principles Zones and Sectors Efficient Energy Planning and the section on functional analysis in Each Element Performs Many Functions.

      You’re forgetting a primary principle of Permaculture here, that a system is made up of separate elements in relationship to each other. The way you build a stable, resilient, holistic system is by adding each and every element, one by one, in the optimum location, where it forms beneficial relationships to the surrounding elements. Many pieces make the whole.

      To create a permaculture design you need to be familiar with each element you intend to work with, which you gain through both knowledge (learning) and practice (experience). Learn about your plants and all other elements in your design, understand and learn how to apply the design principles in practise, it also happens step by step, piece by piece, to make your design knowledge more complete!

  18. Hi all.
    My partner and I have just purchased 365acres in Comboyne, Mid North Coast NSW.
    And although daunting, we are very excited to be starting our journey of self sustainability and adopting permaculture principles.
    Our first consideration is the topography of our land. All of it is steeply sloping, besides one small area that we have terraced for our dwelling.
    Q: Should we continue to terrace areas around this site for our different zones or is it more appropriate to just try and plant in pockets of slighter gradient but are further distance from our dwelling?
    We plan to go large scale with food forest, orchard, poultry, bee hives, aquaponics etc.
    Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
    We would also appreciate advice from anyone who has established a permaculture property on steeply sloping sites.
    PS Thank you for a very informative website Angelo!

    1. You can build on slopes and gradients – please see my article on the Permaculture Design Principle – 4. Zones and Sectors Efficient Energy Planning, section C. covers energy efficient design for slope where the land is not flat. You do not need to level the land and terrace unless there is a good reason to do so, but you need to slow the water runoff to better utilise the water on the property, see the Permaculture Design Principle – 3. Each Important Function is Supported by Many Elements, the section on ‘Swales’.

      1. Thank you Angelo, very informative!
        We will definitely be constructing swales for orchards and the food forest rather than terracing and disturbing the soil.
        Can this also be done on a smaller scale for kitchen gardens; as the area that has been terraced for our dwelling is still not going to be large enough for growing the amount of veg etc that we will need?
        If so, how do you access the crop? Can you have walkways along each berm?
        Thanking you in advance

      2. The same swales with access paths that you construct for orchards can be used for growing other plants too, just select the side of the swale that suits the root depth and moisture requirements of the plant.

  19. Thanks for all the info you are right always start a bit at a time, otherwise it is all over whelming. Some how you trigered some things that made me think I must pay more attention to the sun position as I have a long garden north south is diagonal to this long narrow acre strip. I have just completed my PDC this year.

  20. Permaculture inspired and motivated me its a very good project which taught me and many about nature.

  21. I have work with permaculture for 9years but now I lost that job because American was the one who own it. Now I want to start my own permaculture gardens and farming how could get help to be more educated?

    1. You can check if there are any permaculture teachers or permaculture training courses in your area, there are permaculture teachers all around the world.

  22. Hi, I am just about to start using the permaculture principles in my back garden, I am a tenant so I thought I should not plant trees as if they grow it will be difficult to remove if my tenancy finishes, but I was planning to do more work in my 6’x6′ greenhouse. I have started dig in to the ground about 30″ but there seems to be only rubble (rocks, few broken tiles and terracotta pipes) I am not sure wether I just should remove the soil and replace it with good compost or do the soil test first (the cost of it holds me back) can you advise please?

    1. You can always try dwarf fruit trees in pots, they can move house with you, they’re popular with many renters.

      In the greenhouse, it may be easier to simply build a raised no-dig garden bed -see article No-Dig Gardening for step-by-step instructions.

  23. Hi Angelo,
    Thank you for your advice, I decided to dig, to at least deepen the greenhouse beds, I reached to pea gravel level and it seems someone wanted to build house extension in this area. I will try to dig a bit deeper to see if I can reach the real soil. If not I may just do the raised beds for the vegetables as you suggested.

  24. This is really useful article. Thank you! It can be so hard to share exactly why permaculture gardening is so amazing, and how you can get started. I’m five years into my food forest gardens, and it’s amazing how they’ve taken off and how little work they require. This is the post I’ll show my friends when they ask me how I did it. You managed to pack in a ton of incredibly useful information in a concise space – I’m impressed.

  25. Are there any time periods for possible harvesting of enclosed black water systems that have been vegetated with fruit producing trees, legume shrubs and now the start of some grain producing “grasses”, etc. without fear of pathogens or off taste in the fruit or seeds produced? Or will these plants always be off limits and a new enclosed b.w. system started and replanted? Thanks for your input.


    Tim Sanders

  26. Great information. Thanks for posting this up. I am starting to design my vegetable garden and I feel very inspired by your article!!!

  27. Thank you so much for this post!!! I have not finished yet. It’s a lot to take in and I want to go through it step by step as I create my design. I have a plot in a local community garden and I want to test out some permit principles over the summer/ early fall seasons.

    The part that struck me is your emphasis on making a decision and committing to it, and seeing your decision through to the end. I have been in the “vauge decsion” space for a few weeks now, but your voice kicked me out!!!
    I’m sitting down tonight and making some choices . Thank you for the push.

  28. I have (for the first time) an allotment I intend to grow vegetables in.
    Any advice gained through this post would be greatly appreciated.

  29. I recently met a lovely lady through a rooster I gave away, she loved him ? she told me she was doing permaculture. I looked it up, found this great article, thank you for sharing, now to get motivated! I live in South East Queensland at the beach, my biggest challenge is going to be soil. The ground here is dirty sand, water runs off the top. So container’s will be the way to go I think.

    1. Permaculture opens up so many new possibilities! A great way to improve soil is with compost, sandy soil can be improved very quickly by adding organic matter. Since you’re in the tropics, things compost very quickly. You might want to check out my article on hot compost composting in 18 days

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