Gardens

A Basic Look at Permaculture

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By Sarah Mooney

While weeding recently, I remembered something a friend had said about sustainable gardening. A sustainable garden system makes use of a plant's natural tendencies and creates a garden that can virtually take care of itself, which is usually referred to as permaculture.

Why Create a Permaculture?

1. Nature creates sustainable plant systems independently, so by designing a permaculture you are promoting the natural tendencies of the world around you.

2. Once you have established your permaculture, your time commitment will be less than that required by a conventional garden.

3. Creating a permaculture can enhance your appreciation and increase your knowledge of gardening strategies. Developing an understanding will require research and may require time, but the experience can be very rewarding.

Things to Consider When Planning Your Permaculture

Which plants support each other? Try to find plants that grow well together. For instance, potatoes grow well with eggplant, but not with squash. If two plants are competing for the same nutrients in the soil, chances are that both will not thrive. However, if you see that one plant can replace the nutrients in the soil that another plant needs, or attract certain helping insects, then this can be a successful relationship.

Is the space functional, formal, or both? While permaculture refers generally to the idea of a plant system sustaining itself permanently, there is a more specific kind of sustainable gardening for individuals planting non-food bearing gardens that are intended to be mostly visually pleasing. This is called matrix planting. Matrix planting creates a beautiful space while naturally deterring weeds and supporting companion plants.

How will you lay everything out? Positioning is key as permaculture gardens are based on plant groupings. Ideally there will be little maintenance, however, if there are certain components of your garden that may need more attention you will want to consider placing them in an accessible location.

What thrives in your area? Familiarize yourself with plants native to your location, and then seek information about the characteristics of each species. Taking the time to investigate what promotes or impedes the success of a plant will help you make more informed decisions about your permaculture. Selecting native plants can help ensure your garden will be healthy and thrive.

You will also want to take note of the soil in your area. Even if you have made great plant pairing choices, having soil that is not suited to a particular plant's needs can stunt the development of an otherwise great permaculture plan.

There are different approaches to gardening, but what attracts me to the permaculture method the most is the level of consideration is gives to the unique personality and needs of each plant in the garden. Taking on this style of gardening may be difficult, but it is a great choice for someone looking for a new challenge. Ultimately the reward for becoming competent in permaculture is worth the time investment, because you will end up with a low maintenance garden as well as a new breadth of knowledge.