The eleventh and final Permaculture design principle is ‘Attitudinal Principles’
In contrast to the previous ten principles were environmentally or ecologically focussed, ‘Attitudinal Principles’ is people-focussed and consists of two principles that deal with our attitudes:
- Everything works both ways
- Permaculture is information and imagination intensive
So, without further ado, let’s explore these two attitudinal principles!
Attitudinal Principle 1 – Everything Works Both Ways
Whether we see something as positive or negative, as a ‘problem’ or as a useful resource, depends on our attitude.
For example, a ‘wild energy’ that moves through our system, such as a persistent strong wind, might be seen as a disadvantage if we’re growing crops that are damaged by the wind, but we can turn it to our advantage if we build a wind generator to harness the energy and plant our crops in a sheltered location or greenhouse. It may be even possible to use the electricity generated to warm a greenhouse and extend the harvest season of crops in the cooler seasons.
Typically, people see a disadvantage as a ‘problem’ and then implement an energy-intensive ‘solution’ to attempt to ‘fix the problem’.
The other option is to take a different attitude, look at everything as a positive resource, and figure out how to make use of it!
We can get creative and think of all the ways we can turn these disadvantages into useful things we can use in our system.
Here are some examples of ‘problems’ and how we can turn them to our advantage by changing our attitude to them and seeing them differently:
‘Problem’: Difficult weeds, such as lantana in the tropics
Positive Resource Solution: Lantana is an excellent soil builder, it can be shaded out with a vigorous productive choko vine, or it can be mulched and used around pioneer trees, which, if densely planted, will eventually shade out the lantana.
‘Problem’: Large boulders on house site
Positive Resource Solution: The boulders can be incorporated into the house design as a thermal mass for heat storage, or as an aesthetic element for a more natural look.
‘Problem’: Animals eating garden and orchard produce
Positive Resource Solution: The animals can possibly be trapped and eaten or fed to pets, they can be used for skins and furs.
The important thing to note here is that apparent problems become solutions when we understand the nature and properties of the elements we are dealing with. It pays to take the time to learn with an open mind about the matters we have concerns about, rather than just ‘react to problems’.
It’s only by knowing that lantana can be used as a soil builder that you can use it for that purpose. If you understand how objects can be used in designs as thermal masses to provide passive heating, then you can realise that you can use boulders for that purpose. If you are aware that New Zealand possum fur industry has an economic value of 100 million dollars per year and employs over 1200 New Zealanders, then you can see the value of a pest animal as a resource.
Knowledge is the key to help us change our attitude, otherwise we’re just wallowing in ignorant optimism and have no chance of realising how to turn apparent issues to our advantage. It simply boils down to one simple fact – if you don’t understand the nature of something, you won’t be able to make best use of it, no matter what it is.
This conveniently leads us into the next principle…
Attitudinal Principle 2 – Permaculture is information and imagination intensive
Conventional agricultural systems are both capital and energy intensive. By comparison, Permaculture is a sustainable and energy efficient design system, so it is not capital intensive, nor is it energy intensive. Permaculture is information intensive.
In Permaculture, our yields are determined by the the quality of thought and information we use, not the size and quality of our site.
To use our physical resources in the most efficient and productive ways possible, we need to be able to access and process information to make the best decisions about how we design our site.
Information is a critical key resource in Permaculture. It comes in the form of knowledge and experience, ideas, and the learning of multitudes of people who have come before us.
It is only when we take the time to observe, contemplate, discuss, read and learn that we can truly think from a multidisciplinary perspective, and ultimately design systems which really save energy and provide significant yields.
The importance of information cannot be stressed enough, so I’ll restate it more clearly!
Permaculture depends heavily on lots of information, we need lots of information (in the form of knowledge and experience) about the materials that we are designing with.
There are no two ways about it, a designer who doesn’t really know their design elements well won’t be able to create the most efficient designs. An architect has to be familiar with the properties of many building materials to be able to design with them, if an architect is only familiar with bricks, they can only design brick houses. If brick houses aren’t the best building for a site, then the result will be less than ideal.
Similarly if a Permaculture designer only knows a dozen plants really well – I don’t mean just identifying them, I mean having extensive experience with them, knowing what they can and can’t do, where they work best, what they can be used for – truly knowing them, then the design is limited by what they can do with those dozen plants.
If the site being designed offers any challenges, how many plants can a designer call on from their repertoire to solve the issue? A beginner designer might completely miss the opportunity to utilise the best parts of a site because they might not be aware of any design elements they can employ in those areas, while an experienced and knowledgeable designer might even be able to come up with several choices of how to use an area that a beginner may have left vacant.
An experienced designer will know hundreds of plants really well, and therefore have hundreds of solutions up their sleeve to deal with any issues associated with shade, light, moisture, dryness, pests, diseases, even aesthetic preferences.
Beyond plants, there are also all the horticultural techniques – ways to grow plants. Whether it’s organic or biodynamic gardening, no-dig or square foot gardening, container gardening, vertical gardening, backyard orchard culture, food forest gardening, there are many ways to grow plants, and one technique may be more appropriate than another in a certain situation. A competent designer will have a broad range of techniques at their disposal, will have significant experience with them, and will understand the benefits and limitations of each approach.
By understanding how Nature works, how ecosystems operate, by being familiar with the principles of ecology, a designer can then model or imitate Nature in our design to gain efficiencies and maximise our yields for the least effort.
If you haven’t realised it yet, what I’m saying is that it’s knowledge and experience that makes a competent designer. Why should it be any different, it’s exactly the same with any other human endeavour, Permaculture isn’t any different. A Permaculture design course will provide the necessary foundations, but then the student must go out and practise, learn, observe, and practice even more, to amass the information necessary to create brilliant designs.
If anyone’s thinking it’s all too much at this point, it’s important to understand that experienced competent designers weren’t born with all that knowledge, nobody was. They invested their time and effort in accumulating Permaculture’s most valuable resource – information. The process of gaining knowledge through learning, observation and experience is a long-term investment in gaining design competency. It’s also important to realise that the learning never ends, a lifetime is never long enough to understand all the wonders of Nature, but the constant discovery along the journey is what makes it fun!
Now, all that information isn’t going to find its best application if a designer is not imaginative in how they use it. The yields that we can produce from a site are only limited by how effectively we can use a particular ecological niche. The more niches we can identify and fill, the more productive our site will be. It takes creative thinking to do this!
It takes real imagination to observe how Nature works, and then be able to emulate the observations in our design. Hence Permaculture is also imagination intensive!
In conclusion, it doesn’t matter how well we design a system, and how efficiently it all works, there are always ways to improve and add to the system. The number of ways that resources can be utilised in a system is limited purely by the imagination and the information of the designer…
This is the last design principle, there aren’t any more, so stop procrastinating, get out there and practice!
With the right attitude, enough experience and information, and a well-exercised imagination, you can be a real designer!!! : )
Bill Mollison & Reny Mia Slay “Introduction To Permaculture”