Permaculture Design: Thinking Ahead to Fall and Spring

Designing the interior and exterior surfaces of a home is a challenge. The intense focus on these details and specifications can almost cause one to forget that spaces outside the home will impact future inhabitants nearly as much as the interior ones! This realization periodically jolts our thinking and recently motivated us to begin a full-scale permaculture landscape design. For those unfamiliar with Permaculture, Bill Mollison coined the term in the late 1970’s and describes Permaculture as this:

“The conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive systems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of the landscape with people providing their food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.

Every home our family has lived in thus far has been surrounded by imbalanced ecosystems/landscapes. We are fatigued by the routine of constantly doctoring our vegetation, watering extensively just to keep plants alive and maintain an aesthetic, and frequently replenishing nitrogen and other nutrients that leach out of the soils because no nitrogen fixing plants are there to do that job. As we move into planning our “landscape” design for Silver Rock, it is comforting to know that Permaculture and xeriscaping (low or no irrigation landscaping) offer solutions to these all-too-common problems. We are going to see if our approach to “landscaping” can link the need for aesthetic beauty with household food production, water conservation, sustainability, and self-stabilized plant ecosystems. 

We began our Permaculture design process last winter, observing the land around Silver Rock and tracking the patterns of light, water flow, native plant distributions, etc. Our observation has continued at the property throughout the change of seasons, allowing us to determine which areas likely receive “full sun,” “partial sun,” “part shade,” and “full shade” during the growing season March-Sept. Knowing these qualities of light helped us begin to contemplate where certain native and naturalized plantings would do best (while also considering soil quality, plants needs for water, drainage, etc.).

Along the way, we identified priorities for our Permaculture design, which dovetail nicely with Living Building Challenge imperatives for site-integrated agriculture and native plant restoration.

Priorities:

  • Nurturance of native edible plants already growing on site (salal berry, oregon grape, huckleberry) with supplementation with the same species to stabilize soils, increase plant density throughout the site
  • Introduction of native edibles not currently on site (American cranberry, 3 varieties of strawberry, beaked hazelnut, native blackberry)
  • Planting an edible “food forest” including naturalized species of fruits and veggies we consume throughout the year (herbs, apples, pears, blueberry, raspberry, greens, etc)
  • Addition of large areas of pollinator habitat in the form of pollinator meadows (xeriscaping with a native wildflower meadow instead of lawn)
  • Where necessary, use of ground covers that mimic “lawn” while fixing nitrogen and self fertilizing (Fleur De Lawn mix, developed by Oregon State University, requiring minimal irrigation). Additional benefits of this variety of “eco-lawn” are provision of pollinator habitat, suppression of invasive weeds and vines, and creating human spaces for running/playing/laying down in the sun.

The process has led us to the realization that Permaculture design is a very personal, intuitive, and enjoyable process.

Having priorities such as those listed above allowed us to narrow our focus to suitable/sustainable plant species, to avoid introduction of invasive or non-naturalized species, and it will make planning our landscape more common-sense and doable.

It helped us to visit our friends who have Permaculture gardens and to experience first hand the “feel” and look of their food forests and gardens. Once we experienced this, we had a clearer vision of want we want and need from our “landscape.”

I will discuss the specifics of our design and its implementation in a future posts, including lists of plant species and other more nuanced aspects of Permaculture as we “grow” into the process: planting plans, staggered harvest, complimentary plantings, etc. To be continued…

Salal berry blossoms, ripens late summer

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