By Diane C. Kennedy.
This article is first in a series exploring permaculture.
What if you could have the garden of your dreams using limited water, low maintenance, and no manufactured fertilizers, insecticides or herbicides? What if you could have this garden at low cost using natural materials that you may already have? This dream is very possible and easy to achieve through permaculture.
Permaculture is the name given to a collection of land-use methods based on nature; it is science rather than fad or salesmanship. Permaculturalists are soil farmers. By growing and nurturing the best soil (appropriate for the plants you want to grow), you eliminate the need for chemical fertilizer. By growing a variety of flowering plants, especially natives, you can attract all the beneficial insects you need, so as not to use insecticide. If you use sheet mulch (a layer of cardboard or newspaper on top of the weeds, topped with mulch), you won’t need weed killer. Best of all, without the use of man-made chemicals, and by creating good soil, you can have a garden that is alive with wildlife.
Finch Frolic Garden Permaculture in Fallbrook is a food forest planted in poor soil and minimally watered with salty well water. However, it delivers fruit, nuts, herbs, medicine, building materials, flowers, and critical habitat without a drop of fertilizer. Food production is a large aspect of permaculture, yet the techniques can be used for agricultural properties, postage-stamp backyards or balconies, and ornamental landscapes of any design, be they informal or heavily manicured.
Although the term was coined in the 1970’s and the methods used are ancient, permaculture is still a foreign concept to many people. Modern landscaping methods are post-Industrial and rely upon chemicals at the expense of good soil and the environment. These techniques often originate from the East coast of the United States, or are styled after European or tropical landscapes, all of which endeavor to divert heavy rainfall. Here in dry Southern California we need to think in opposite terms: to harvest water, cool the soil and provide sun protection. Permaculture design addresses regional conditions for healthy landscapes with zero pollutants.
There are many resources to learn about permaculture. An excellent beginner’s book is Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway, and is available through library systems. Any video by Geoff Lawton of the Permaculture Institute of Australia is inspiring to view, and most are available on YouTube.
In our era of environmental catastrophe, every property that is practicing permaculture’s three ethics of Care for the Earth, Care for People, and Return of Surplus, is helping to slow the destruction. Permaculture designs and techniques are exciting because they make a lot of sense and are easy to do. It’s a whole new – and old – way of gardening.