I can’t believe I’ve been blogging about forest gardening for two months now and haven’t mentioned the p-word yet. In the unlikely event that you’re interested in forest gardening and haven’t heard of permaculture already, it’s a design system that can be used for designing forest gardens, amongst many other things.

If forest gardening and permaculture go together well, it’s no surprise, as forest gardening was the original inspiration for the whole permaculture system. Its founder, an Australian lecturer called Bill Mollison, had become disillusioned with the mainstream agriculture that he taught and was looking for more sustainable, less dehumanising possibilities. The best example he found was the Indonesian home garden (or forest garden), with its recreation of the natural forest structure using edible, medicinal and otherwise useful plants and animals. The genius of permaculture is that Mollison didn’t just become a forest gardening teacher but generalised the lessons of the forest garden into a set of design principles that capture the ways in which forest gardens mimic natural ecosystems but can be applied far more widely to all sorts of design situations.

The best source in the UK for permaculture information is the Permaculture Association. In Scotland, there is a Yahoo group for Scottish permaculture and there in the north east there is a Google group for ASPeN (Aberdeen & Shire Permaculture Network).

The Permaculture Association now focus on the design principles of Mollison’s student, David Holmgren. Personally, I find these an unhelpful rag-bag, mixing up tips about the design process with principles to be applied to the thing you are designing. If you’re finding out about permaculture, I’d recommend digging around for something that uses Mollison’s original principles, which are a much more coherent set, focusing on the ways in which a permaculture design should draw on the strengths of nature’s own systems.

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