Category Design

Bill Mollison’s Permaculture Principles

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The concept of permaculture can be difficult to define. Often people have a basic understanding but find it hard to really grasp the concepts behind it that make it different from just organic gardening or sustainable living. What sets permaculture apart is that it is based on design, permaculture principles and the three ethics of earth care, people care and fair share.

The permaculture concept was created by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren at the University of Tasmania in the 1970s. David was Bill’s student and together they published the groundbreaking Permaculture One, (Corgi, 1978) which offered the first description of what permaculture was.

After this book was published, David and Bill went their separate ways. Bill travelled the world, spreading the word of permaculture. David set about gaining skills and putting what he had come up with into practice.

Thoughtful Design, Easy Living

The site of Marg and John Sandefur’s house was a bare paddock on top of a ridge overlooking the ocean. The views were amazing but their location meant they were exposed to some wild weather.

They didn’t do the usual thing of building the house first then consider the landscaping. Instead Marg and John, with the help of Hugh Gravestein and his team at HG Eco Logic Constructions, designed from pattern to detail. By the time they’d moved in they had established shelter belts protecting their home and were eating from their fruit trees.

Marg and John left Melbourne looking for a place that would provide them with an easy lifestyle in a beautiful and peaceful location where they could build a house that was carbon neutral. After travelling as far as Harvey Bay and back, they felt they had found their place in the Bega Valley.

Reading Landscape With David Holmgren

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Permaculture invites us to slow down and really take stock of what is happening in a place before we go about changing or developing it. Whether a garden, farm or something else, we start by asking what is unique about this place and how did it get to be the way it is now? Finding answers to these questions is not always easy and is a once-strong skill modern humans have mostly lost.

Permaculture co-originator David Holmgren has a name for this skill. He calls it ‘reading landscape’, and after decades of practice he’s become really good at honing in on the unique character of a place through direct observation.

This article shares some of the things David does as he reads landscape. Even though these observations are based on David’s experiences of reading large rural properties, they are equally applicable in your backyard or any place you’d like to get better acquainted with.

Flemington Food Forest: An Orchard Conversion

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Food forests are a quintessential permie approach to food production. By layering plants that work together, a garden can offer a harvest with fewer inputs by mimicking an established forest ecosystem. The extra foliage and root matter in the system provides shade, water retention and organic matter.

The Flemington Food Forest in Melbourne’s northwest, sits on the grounds of the Farnham Street Neighbourhood Learning Centre (FSNLC). The garden is brimming with life, sandwiched between a children’s playground and the community vegetable garden.

Joanne Nataprawira has been involved in the project since its outset, providing design input, planning and direction. Jo began working with Pat and Tom of the Melbourne Inner Northwest Transition Initiative, Pip Mackey from FSNLC, and other local residents. Further support for the program has come from Brigidine Sisters Justice and the Moonee Valley City Council.

Adventures In Urban Sustainability: Ten Years On

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Inspired by their experiences WWOOFING around Australia and volunteering at their local community garden, Alison Mellor and her partner Richard Walter embarked on an urban sustainability adventure. They retrofitted their 1950s suburban house in Wollongong (on NSW’s south coast) and transformed their backyard into a flourishing food garden. Ten years on, they reflect on the design process, the changes they’ve made and the lessons they’ve learned.

In The Beginning

In 2007, we first came across what would become our house and garden. It sat on a north facing 920 m2 suburban block. We saw a blank canvas ripe for creating a flourishing food garden, and plenty of potential to retrofit the small fibro house for sustainability. We spent three months working on the house before we moved in and during this time created the overall design for the food garden.

Sauveterre Permaculture

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After leaving their homeland in France, Claude and Helene Marmoux travelled to Australia where they settled in Sydney. After buying a house there, and running their own business for many years, they left to travel the country where they discovered permaculture through Robyn Francis. ‘Studying the PDC with Robyn Francis in the nineties was exactly what we were looking for, and gave us a new direction in life’, Claude remembers. They knew that a new life, where they provided for themselves, was the best step they could take towards saving the earth: ‘As humans living on a planet with finite resources, our first step is to reduce our impact, which begins with building smaller houses’.

Their search for a new home in the country led them to their current property, sitting atop a ridge in Brogo on the Far South Coast of NSW. Sauveterre Permaculture is their home and design project. Sauveterre – or ‘Save Earth’ – has been their ongoing inspiration in building this small working farm. The overall result is a small parcel of land being managed well to provide for the needs of the couple.

Designing An Urban Oasis

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Eight years ago we bought a dilapidated 1940s Californian bungalow in Melbourne’s inner northern suburbs. It was in a semi-derelict state, had a heritage overlay and flood level restrictions, and was on a long, narrow block. However, the site was extremely special, and backed onto the Merri Creek wildlife corridor.

The real value for us was not in the bricks and mortar, but in the proximity of the majestic gum trees, running water and the deep buffer of native vegetation on either side of the creek, creating a nature sanctuary in an urban environment. We began thinking about our home as part of a permaculture system that would integrate the built, interior and biological environments. I wanted to create an urban existence for my family that allowed us to connect with nature and our local community on a daily basis.

Designing Chickens Into The Vegie Garden

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Having chickens in your vegie garden can be a disaster. Most chicken owners would have experienced the heartbreaking disappointment of chickens getting into freshly planted garden beds, full of next season’s seedlings, and destroying the lot in a matter of hours.

However, managed the right way chickens can work with you in the vegie garden: to eliminate pests and weeds, fertilise, turn the soil and prepare it for your next planting. As Bill Mollison famously stated, ‘You don’t have a slug problem, you have a duck deficiency’, and the same goes for chickens with pests and weeds.

When designing chickens into your vegie garden, think about what a chicken’s needs and outputs are. They need shelter, food, water and company. They provide eggs, fertiliser, meat (if you are so inclined) and manure. They are great at eliminating pests, eating grass and other unwanted weeds, clearing areas ready for planting, and eating fallen fruit and spent plants.

Simple Greywater Garden Design

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Only three per cent of the earth’s water is fresh water; and only one per cent of this can be used for life, people included.

While the amount of water cycling on earth remains the same, the availability of this water – for humans – depends on where it is and how we use it. Water cycling through land-based soil and plant systems returns to the land via the atmosphere and rainfall within a few months. Whereas water flushed down the drain and out to sea takes hundreds of years to cycle through the ocean to the atmosphere and fall again as rain!

Human systems generally spoil water quality, then flush it from land to sea quickly. A better solution would be to re-use ‘waste’ water, locally. Imagine a landscape of abundant, biodiverse and beautiful gardens that capture and store greywater, break down pollutants, absorb nutrients, replenish groundwater and re-humidify the atmosphere, supporting regional rainfall patterns and water cycles.

Taj Scicluna–Designer

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Taj Scicluna is working to create a fertile and abundant world, where the earth’s resources are distributed fairly, with care and responsibility.

Her passions include beekeeping, primitive living skills, herbal medicine – which she studies – and spoken word poetry. And she aims to bring back people’s medicine, people’s food and people’s freedom, not only through a passionate voice, but through individual action and community empowerment.

Taj has run Permaculture Design Courses, with co-teacher Tamara Griffiths in the Dandenong Ranges, which incorporate interactive and creative teaching methods for all kinds of learning styles.

Through passionate permaculture education and regenerative environmental services – such as permaculture design and the creation of delicious ornamental edible gardens – Taj aims to nurture diversity, and to protect ecology through healthy and resilient communities and ecosystems.