I have always been interested in the natural world and how we as humans interact with it. Everything we do has some type of impact on our environment. Some effects are beneficial whilst others are detrimental.

In December 2012, I had the opportunity to study a Permaculture Design Certificate course at the Southern Cross Permaculture Institute, with Rick and Naomi Coleman.

During the intensive 2-week, live-in course the participants were taken on a fascinating journey of acquiring knowledge and undergoing self-discovery, all with the aim of furthering our understanding of permaculture.

So, what is Permaculture?

Permaculture can be difficult to define, as it embraces many elements.

However we can distil the essence down to three core principles.

  • Care for the earth: Make provisions to enable all biological systems to thrive and multiply. This is the first principle, because without a healthy earth, humans and other species cannot flourish.
  • Care for the people: Provide people with access to those resources necessary for their existence. That is, food, water and shelter.
  • Return of surplus: Return and repurpose surpluses back into the system to support the first two principles. Read: Recycling!

For me, the big a-ha moment was the far-reaching connectedness and interdependence of all systems. Nothing exists in isolation. Throughout history there have been individuals, who through their keen observation of nature, have formulated better methods of forestry, agriculture, water usage, animal husbandry etc.

Permaculture extends on these ideas and forms beneficial relationships and links between as many of the elements in a system as possible. The more links between the various elements in a system, the stronger and more productive that system is likely to be. In Australia, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren have been instrumental in raising the awareness of permaculture as it applies to our suburban and rural environments. We can use the design principles of permaculture whether we are setting up a small backyard veggie garden, or working up an efficient plan for a 10-acre property. These concepts are scalable.

“Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labour; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single product system”—Bill Mollison

Twelve Permaculture Design Principles

So here I’m sharing the Permaculture Design Principles expressed by David Holmgren in his Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability, along with my brief summary of each.

  1. Observe and interact: Engaging with nature can inspire us to create solutions that suit our situation.  
  2. Catch and store energy: Collecting & storing resources allows us to use them when we need them.
  3. Obtain a yield: Rewards for work.
  4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback: Ensure systems are functioning at their best.
  5. Use and value renewable resources and services: Reduce consumption (particularly of non-renewables) and make the most of what is abundantly available in nature.
  6. Produce no waste: By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.
  7. Design from patterns to details: Observe patterns in the nature world to create foundations for design.
  8. Integrate rather than segregate: Creating relationships helps foster support and ‘working together.’
  9. Use small and slow solutions: Small & slow = Sustainability and greater resource efficiency
  10. Use and value diversity: Diversity = Reduced vulnerability
  11. Use edges and value the marginal: The action is often at the ‘edges (ie. the connection between two systems), utilise these areas.
  12. Creatively use and respond to change: Being adaptable and creative when we need to be.

Since undertaking the course, the Principles of Permaculture have inspired and directed many of my projects, and more generally, the way I live my life.

I’ll elaborate more on each of the principles over time, offering examples, both big and small. Like I mentioned, these principles can be integrated into life on various scales. The key it to get creative about it and I’m hoping to encourage you to do just that!


Are you familiar with the Permaculture Principles? Share one or two things you’re doing at home (whether it’s from your apartment or your acre property) that uses some of the Permaculture Principles.