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The 12 Principles of Permaculture

Imagine a garden that’s more than just stunning to look at, but an ecosystem brimming with life and diversity, producing food, and replenishing the soil. This is the magic of permaculture, a holistic approach to gardening and agriculture that works in harmony with nature.

Unlike traditional gardening practices that can deplete the soil, waste resources and disrupt ecosystems, permaculture enhances biodiversity, improves soil health, and can yield a bountiful harvest with very few (or no) inputs from outside the garden.

The 12 Principles of Permaculture garden
A permaculture garden is completely unique because of the way the land behaves, the availability of resources, and the creativity of the permaculturist.

What are the 12 Principles of Permaculture?

Coined by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the 1970s, the 12 principles of permaculture provide a framework for designing sustainable and productive systems. They’re based on observing natural ecosystems and applying these insights to create human systems that mimic nature.

Principle 1: Observe and Interact

This principle encourages us to engage with our environment, learning from it, and making informed decisions based on our observations. By spending time in your garden, you’ll understand how different elements interact, where the sun hits at different times of the day, and how water flows.

A real-life example of this principle is a gardener who noticed that a certain area of their garden remained shady most of the day and so planted shade-loving plants there.

Principle 2: Catch and Store Energy

Energy comes in many forms – sunlight, wind, water flow, and plant growth. This principle focuses on harnessing these energies when they’re abundant and storing them for later use. For instance, a gardener can catch rainwater in barrels for dry periods or place hedge trimmings in the compost instead of the bin.

Principle 3: Obtain a Yield

Permaculture isn’t just about sustainability but also productivity. This principle emphasises the importance of designing systems that provide for our needs. This could be food from a vegetable garden, honey from bees, or pleasure from a beautifully designed native plant bed and the ecology it attracts.

It could also be gaining compost from hedge trimmings. By now we can start to see how the principles intertwine and complement each other. Permaculture practices often adhere to more than one principle at a time.

Principle 4: Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback

This principle encourages us to learn from our successes and mistakes. If a certain plant species isn’t thriving in your garden, it’s time to try something else. It also highlights the importance of creating systems that can regulate themselves, like a pond that hosts frogs to keep the insect population in check.

Principle 5: Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services

From using solar energy to choosing perennial plants that grow back year after year, this principle is all about leveraging resources that are renewable and sustainable. A practical example is using fallen leaves as mulch to enrich the soil.

Or perhaps it’s getting tools from your local secondhand store instead of ordering them from a company that manufactures tools overseas. The closer we can get to reliance on ourselves and our local community, the better.

Principle 6: Produce No Waste

In nature, there’s no waste. Everything serves a purpose in the ecosystem. By composting kitchen scraps and yard waste (including hedge trimmings), not only do we reduce the amount of waste going to landfill, but we also create nutrient-rich compost for our gardens.

By placing solar panels on our roof, we can capture the sunlight that our plants aren’t using for photosynthesis. And by capturing rainwater in our gardens, we don’t allow it to wash into the stormwater drain and off-site – instead it filters into the ground water for trees to access during drought periods.

As the root systems penetrate the soil and improve its structure, water is able to penetrate deeper into the soil profile. This increases the soil’s water holding capacity and reduces flooding and runoff.

Bio swale plants for permaculture
If you’re looking for plants to put into a bio rain garden, look into Ozbreed’s survivability tests to see which drought-tolerant plants can also survive extended wet periods without getting root rot.

Principle 7: Design from Patterns to Details

Nature is full of patterns. This principle guides us to observe these patterns and use them in our designs. For instance, planting in spirals or concentric circles can be more efficient than traditional row planting.

Principle 8: Integrate Rather Than Segregate

Everything in an ecosystem works together. By integrating different elements in our gardens, we can create systems where the outputs of one element become the inputs of another. For example, chickens can provide manure for compost, eat pests, and produce eggs.

Principle 9: Use Small and Slow Solutions

Small and slow systems are easier to maintain and make better use of local resources, resulting in less impact on the environment. A good example is starting a garden with a small bed and gradually expanding it over time.

Principle 10: Use and Value Diversity

A diverse garden is a resilient one. By having a variety of plants, insects, and animals, we can create a balanced ecosystem that’s resistant to pests and diseases. For instance, planting companion plants can help deter pests and attract beneficial insects. And our compost becomes more beneficial when we include varied inputs including manure, hedge trimmings, lawn clippings, kitchen scraps and bio char.

Principle 11: Use Edges and Value the Marginal

The areas where two different systems meet, like the edge of a pond, are often the most diverse and productive. By valuing these marginal areas, we can make the most of our space and increase productivity.

Principle 12: Creatively Use and Respond to Change

Change is inevitable, and this principle encourages us to be adaptable and turn challenges into opportunities. For example, if a tree falls in your garden, it could be used as a hugelkultur bed or as firewood.

Daniel’s Wrap

The 12 principles of permaculture provide a roadmap for creating gardens that are beautiful, productive, and in harmony with nature. Applying these principles will not only benefit your garden but also contribute to a healthier planet. So why not start implementing these principles in your garden today?

Daniel is a writer and content creator for Ozbreed, one of Australia's leading native and exotic plant breeders.

Daniel has worked in various capacities within the horticulture industry. His roles have ranged from team leader at several companies, to creator of the Plants Grow Here podcast and Hort People job board, as well as his position on the National Council for the Australian Institute of Horticulture (AIH).

He's passionate about explaining how to care for different types of plants to ensure home gardeners and professional horticulturists alike can get the most out of the plant babies.

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