Designing in permaculture

Designing in permaculture is all about ‘observe and interact’, and it takes a funnel approach.

  • First we observe what is outside the perimeter of our property boundary – these are the broad patterns of climate, sun patterns, regional winds, landform, structures, dangers, etc.
  • Then, we zoom into our property and observe its microclimate, soil types, water patterns, weeds, etc.
  • Finally, we let our inner creative juices express themselves and we connect our observations into a tangible plan – that’s the design.

design isn’t drawing

The aim for the ‘design’ part of a Permaculture Design Course (PDC) isn’t to draw a fancy landscape design on AutoCad or hand-drawn with watercolours. And a PDC isn’t about teaching the skills required to achieve that.

I know from experience that the most beautiful drawings aren’t always synonymous with ‘resilient and/or feasible permaculture designs’.

A PDC teaches how to observe, what to observe, and how to establish functional interconnections to save energy and produce a yield that Cares for Earth, Cares for People and allow us to Share the Abundance.

This is what a PDC is all about.
It is teaching a thinking process, not how to draw.

In the past, my students chose dirt, sticks and vegetation to model their permaculture design. Others used collage. Some chose to display an aerial view of their place and the rest of their design was a narrative. See those pictures below.


When I teach a PDC, I let the student’s inner creative calling express themselves. Some don’t know how to draw beautiful trees or use colours artistically – in this case, a somewhat up-to-scale mudmap might be what it takes to transfer the ideas onto paper, or onto a PowerPoint slide, or onto a song, a poem, a short movie… so long as the design conveys the understanding of pattern-reading and permaculture principles application.

There are some fine permaculture designers out there whom I know never ‘drew’ their permaculture design… because at the end of the day, what is the point of stressing about how to draw if drawing isn’t our strong suit? What is the point of loosing precious energy drawing a tree up-to-scale while that energy could be spent on finding more connections to establish in the system we’re trying to design?

Energy saving

Designing in permaculture has the same energy requirement as permaculture zoning:

  • Zone 0 is ultra energy intensive – this is the time spent observing the patterns in and around the landscape we aim to retrofit into permaculture. This is the foundation of the design – without which things go pear-shape.
  • Then, zone I to IV are gradually less energy intensive – this is the time we spend learning about ecology, water, soils, weeds, plants, pests, etc. That time is also spent starting to establish connections between the element required in the system we aim to design.
  • Finally, zone V is akin to the time we spend putting our ideas into words, drawings, collage, etc. –  all topics learnt previously should almost effortlessly intertwine and complement each others and produce an organic design, no matter what shape or form it takes.


See you at one of our courses to learn more about permaculture design for your home, your farm, your community or your neighbourhood.


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