How to - Organic Gardening

Five elements of permaculture gardening

Senga Lindsay
Photography by
Stacey Van Berkel

Learn how to assemble all the elements in your landscape for the benefit of life in its many forms

Although the concept isn’t new, permaculture is a current catchphrase and trend in edible landscaping. Developed in the 1970s in Australia by Bill Mollison, it’s a cohesive approach to designing a productive ecosystem reminiscent of nature.

The key to designing a successful, beautiful permaculture garden is to ensure all the elements connect to one another in a beneficial way. Think of the multitude of uses for each component in your garden. For example, a fruit tree can provide food, ornamental value and shade, as well as serve as a wildlife habitat and windbreak. In a good permaculture design, all aspects of a garden support each other, and tedious tasks, such as weeding and watering, are minimized.

1. Create zones
Based on how frequently you visit each particular area, define zones in your permaculture design. Start with your house as Zone 0. Everything that needs a lot of attention should be considered Zone 1. This includes areas where you spend a lot of time, along with gardens that require daily attention, such as those with seedlings that need regular watering, herbs for kitchen use, salad vegetables and even your compost bin.

Areas in Zone 2 require regular attention, but you shouldn’t need to check or use them daily. Vegetables that take a long time to mature and are only picked once or twice belong here, along with perennial or self-seeding herbs that are not used daily.

Depending on how much land you have, you may not have much room for the remaining zones. Zone 3 features large fruit or nut trees, and Zones 4 and 5 include wilder areas that require little or no management.

2. Diversify, diversify, diversify
Mix and match as many different plants as possible. Different plants have varying nutrient requirements—put the right ones together and you can fit many into a small space without depleting the soil. In nature—whether forest, meadow or wetland—there is no single area that has only one plant species. Diversity can confuse predators (as one favourite food source doesn’t stand out), deter disease (as it can’t spread easily through related plants) and extend the harvest season (with a mix of early- and late-ripening edibles). Look closely at how various plants work together in nature, and try to mimic that design.

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