Using permaculture to create sustainable landscaping
Jason Raish illustration
A garden that takes care of itself sounds like a dream come true. Many experts believe it can easily be yours by simply following the lifestyle and precepts of permaculture.
“Permaculture is a practice that mimics natural systems and relationships to create sustainable, productive landscapes from small urban-scale gardens to entire ecosystems,” says Demetria Christo, an ecologist and co-owner of EcoUrban Landscaping.
She and her partner, Travis Cleaver, a landscape architect, were inspired by a Permaculture Design Certificate course they took together to start EcoUrban, a company that specializes in eco-friendly landscaping. They saw a need and wanted to help make the New Orleans environment healthier.
Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren created permaculture in the 1970s. The crux of the system is a do-it-yourself approach to making households energy efficient, food producing and resource conserving environments. It uses organic gardening and other farming practices to integrate garden with home. Along the way it hopes to create a lifestyle that improves the environment and the world.
“Sitting at our back doorsteps, all we need to live a good life lies about us,” wrote Mollison in his book, “Introduction to Permaculture.” “Sun, wind, people, buildings, stones, sea, birds and plants surround us. Cooperation with all these things brings harmony, opposition to them brings disaster and chaos.”
Permaculture stresses the use of methods that have a minimal negative impact on Earth’s natural environment. This involves such things as making the effort to buy local produce and eating foods that are in season, and planting plants that thrive in your locality, composting and abstinence from the use of pesticides and commercial fertilizers.
“I think it’s also important to take the time to observe your space,” says Jordan Bantuelle, an environmental activist and director of The Urban Farmstead. “You need to see what your garden wants to be. For example, if you have a low spot, perhaps it’s best to turn that space into a rain garden. Permaculture is about working with nature rather than against it.”
Bantuelle and Ian Willson of Southbound Gardens work in partnership to offer naturally grown indigenous starter plants and veggies, consultations and garden builds. They also manage two school gardens at Sci Tech and Edgar P. Harney Spirit of Excellence academies. Additionally, they offer ongoing workshops on everything from raising backyard chickens to the basics of permaculture.
For permaculture newbies, Bantuelle suggests using sheet mulching to build up one’s soil. It’s also known as lasagna gardening. Rather than tilling up the soil, a weed barrier is created.
“You use such things as cardboard or wet newspaper to cover an area,” he says. “These will eventually breakdown and help enrich the soil.”
Christo says it’s also important to choose elements that stack the most functions. “For example a winterberry holly is a lovely winter accent plant that offers native shelter to wildlife, nectar for bees and butterflies, and berries for birds.”
Many permaculture gardens also implement recycling practices for watering. For instance, rain barrels are often used to catch rainwater coming from the gutter downspout. This not only conserves water but rainwater is loaded with nutrients. So it’s very beneficial to your plants.
“Storm water management systems also recharge the city’s water table and reduce pollution in Lake Ponchartrain,” Christo says.
In 1981, Mollison received international recognition with a Right Livelihood Award, sometimes called the “alternative Nobel Prize.” In his acceptance speech, he said: ”All my life we’ve been at war with nature. I just pray that we lose that war.”
Permaculture is easy to do, it gives you a meaningful sense of purpose and puts yummy fruits vegetables on your plate. It’s a gardener’s dream come true.
“Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture” by Toby Hemenway
Hemenway demonstrates that it’s fun and easy to create a “backyard ecosystem” by assembling communities of plants that can work cooperatively
and perform a variety of functions.