What is Permaculture?

In episode one of Matthew Hayden’s Home Ground, garden designer Nicole Moon gets the garden underway using the principles of permaculture. So what is permaculture?

Permaculture = permanent + agriculture

Ecologists Bill Mollison and David Holmgren came up with the concept in the 1970s, after observing the impact of industrial agriculture on the environment.

Permaculture is about designing landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while growing an abundance of food for local needs.

The philosophy behind permaculture is one of working with, rather than against, nature. It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people providing their food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.

In Matthew Hayden’s Home Ground, the team build a permaculture garden. This is where a garden is set up to make the best use of the inter-relationship between plants, water, soil and the seasons. In other words nature does most of the ‘gardening’ for you.

With a permaculture garden, every element has to have at least two purposes. For example, flowers should be planted amongst food because flowers can be used in salads, as weed control and as food for livestock. The livestock’s manure is then used again as fertiliser in the vegetable beds.

What is swaling?

Swaling is a permaculture principle which uses the lay of the land to make the best use of rainfall.

A swale is a slight depression that runs along the contour of the land. It can be deep or shallow, or even hidden (a ditch filled with gravel and capped with topsoil).

A common sized swale is two or three feet wide. Of course, you can make them any size you want.

A swale is not a drain. It is a water collection device. The cheapest way to store water is in the soil. And of course, by stopping the run-off, it prevents erosion as well.

When rain falls on your property instead of running straight down the slope, it runs to the swale and gathers. There it soaks in slowly, forming a lens of water underneath the swale. This provides a plume of shallow sub-surface water which feeds your plants resulting in you having to water them less often.

Generally speaking, the ‘thirstiest’ plants are planted at the bottom of a slope. Water is directed down ‘paths’ to maximise flow. For example, you would usually plant dry herbs such as rosemary, sage, thyme and oregano at the top where it drains, while at the bottom you would put thirstier herbs such as coriander and basil. At the very base of the slope in the pond area, you can put watercress.

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