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Perma…what?

As a way of saving the planet, Permaculture is unlikely to be much more than a tiny blip on your radar. Which is a shame, because it has the potential to be a great way of allowing us all to live well in an age of global meltdown.

If you have heard of it, it’s probably as a way of gardening and growing food.

But Permaculture is so much more than that. It’s a way of designing that can be used on homes, gardens, communities and regions. In each case it helps us get maximum return for minimum input.

Based on the idea that nature is pretty well sussed, it teaches us to learn from and copy natural systems and to work with the natural behaviours of things – to create an endlessly abundant and elegant design for our lives. Permaculture encourages us to ‘aikido’ the landscape – to work with the strengths of the terrain (natural or human) and turn these to our advantage.

The first rule of Permaculture is ‘Do Nothing’. That I like. As someone who does a great headless chicken, it’s a relief to be told to sit and stare. Once you get bored with that, Permaculture encourages you to look around at the resources you already have and use them in new and creative ways. That’s fun too. Anyone from the Blue Peter generation should reach for their sticky back plastic now… but the real lesson is that we already have the tools we need at our fingertips to make things better.

Permaculture teaches us to design with an awareness of the relationships between things and how the whole system will develop over time, something absent from much of modern thinking.

Above all, it teaches us to see everything as a gift – though I confess I have yet to find ‘the gift’ in couch grass – and to find benefit in things we normally see as problems.

All this probably sounds very airy-fairy, I know, but you’re as likely to enjoy a good ceilidh, knit a jumper or share a great meal with friends with Permaculture as you are to end up discussing bioregions and the best way to build a berm.

We’ve been practising Permaculture since the 1980s – and one day we may even get good at it. Since then, it’s been interesting to see Permaculture trying (but failing so far) to break into the mainstream. Yet, if ever there was a time when we need Permaculture to step up to the mark, it’s now. A good friend of mine, and the grand-daddy of Permaculture in the UK, says Permaculture is ‘just common sense that isn’t common enough’.

Isn’t it’s time to make common sense more common?

blog by Jane Gray

first printed as the Green Scene Column in the Annandale Series newspaper