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Permaculture Design Approaches  RSS feed

 
Cory Allan
Posts: 61
Location: Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
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I'm working my way through the backlog of podcasts on richsoil.com and, in this case, the reviews of the recent 2nd edition of Gaia's Garden (which I've recently acquired). The use of maps and diagrams as part of the design process brought up some discussion and debate between the participants (Paul, Jocelyn Campbell and Dave Bennett). Some good points were raised by all.

What are your thoughts on the usefulness of maps and diagrams as part of the design approach? I'm most interested in hearing are how those of you that don't put a lot of effort into this approach tend to work through the design process, but I'll stop here, as I don't want to lead the discussion to far in any one direction. I'm more interesting in soliciting a discussion on different opinions and experiences on this topic.

Assuming you have a vision of what you want to achieve in 5, 10, 15+ years, how do you get there? Do you stick to your plan, find your original goals and expectations change along the way, or do you simply find that you need to follow a different path to get there, based on intermediate results?

 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9742
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
184
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Virtually every plan I made has become a total failure due to our recent extreme drought conditions.  So, as conditions change, all the plans in the world may not help one bit if the assumptions they are based on are faulty, like my assumption it would rain.  Sticking to my original plans would be foolish.  So I'm making new plans, which might also become completely useless. 



 
Benjamin Burchall
Posts: 182
Location: Long Beach, CA
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I do use diagrams as a part of my process, but it's just a tool - not something I feel like I have to stick to. I usually spend a far amount of time just "listening to what the space has to say to me" as I call it. I do a bit of research on the local climate. After I do my initial assessments I make lists of plants for each microclimate around the space I'm gardening in. Then I make a rough diagram of how I'll arrange my plantings. I usually reserve a lot of space for just broadcasting a bunch of mixed seeds. I've had the best success broadcasting seeds and letting them grow wild. That gives me an opportunity to really see what grows best in which of my areas and which ones don't do well at all. Then the next time around, I don't bother with the ones that don't thrive in my space.

I put more care into where I plant perennials. Since they will stay in place rather than dance around the garden like my annuals will, I want to make sure I get their planting location right. They are the first things that go on my diagrams. That has been even more important for me because I've always had small spaces to work with. The smaller the space the smaller the margin of error you have. Of course, other things might go on a diagram: where rabbit cage, pond, rain barrel, compost piles, etc.
 
John Polk
steward
Posts: 8019
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
289
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Every project (gardening or otherwise) should have a beginning point (DUH!), and an ultimate goal.  Maps, diagrams, flow charts, etc are essential tools to steering the project towards the finish line.

With that said, make certain that you use a pencil with a good eraser!  You will use it.
 
Paul Cereghino
gardener
Posts: 856
Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
15
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This depends a lot on scale.  At a small scale plantings I'll usually just do mockups, or draw on the ground with lime or my toe, or gather a mix of species and plant until its "done" -- each 'treatment' is a combination of disturbance and propagation inspired by the resources at hand.  Even when I was doing landscape install, it was usually more efficient to have a conceptual design, and then see what you could find in stock at a few nurseries.

At larger scale I'll doodle on base maps, but often while on site.  Then let them sit, and then reiterate.  I sometimes doodle cross-sections to ponder a conceptual vegetation guild as see what is missing and what fits.

At big and abstract scales the topographic design gets more important, but even then you see things on the ground that change design during layout.  Accurate topography gets more important.

As I get more and more comfortable with a concept by drawing it I get more and more comfortable doing field work without representation.

When teaching or working collectively the representations become more important because otherwise you have to rely on words to describe complex concepts and interpersonal relationships can become overpowering when you can't divorce 'the whole design' from 'the people who want the thingy we're talking about in the moment'. 
 
Russ White
Posts: 35
Location: north eastern us
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I have only designed for myself so I don't use maps or charts or anything else. If I had a complicated plan in front of me the question of where to start might scare me off. I plant a tree where I think it might look good then add in other plants to help it out. Add a few rocks, a trellis to hold vines, and pretty it up with some flowers. Then I simply add plants as I acquire them. All of this of course is in a plan in my head from observations of how things are going, with the simple goal of growing as many edibles as possible.
 
Doug Owen
Posts: 17
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I am a firm believer in plans.  I map out actual measurements and graph them to scale.  Plants have a habit of exceeding the size of what the little stickers say (IMHO).  It is sooo easy to plant to close, then you end up managing the plant all the time via cutting back or pruning or walking around it as it blocks a path.

With respect to 5-10 year cycles....I used to be anal regarding not 're-purposing' mistakes.  By this I mean when a plant has 2-3 years on it I just hated to take it out or move it.  Now not so much.  If a plant is not the right variety or in the right spot then I dig it out and either move or give it away. 

With respect to cycles of planting I am "all in".  I love the idea of planting in a way that respects and takes advantage of succession.  As an example I start with the final tree in the perfect spot (walnut) but for the first 3-5 years plant quick growing hardy pioneer stuff like clover or oats or strawberries and maybe a birch or 3.  Then after the nurse tree is getting a decent size harvest then I the birch for firewood.  I have yet to try biochar or hugelyadda.
 
Paul Cereghino
gardener
Posts: 856
Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
15
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I especially use bubble diagrams when positioning components... after I know all the different structures and functions I want to try to fit in a place (i.e. water storage + potting bench + vege washing + cooking herbs + outdoor cooking + shaded seating + roof water overflow + Trellising), diagrams let you experiment with different spatial configurations to try to find maximum beneficial relationship through to management of flows and patterns (as in the above: fuel, water, circulation surfaces, sun)... This is not really permaculture, but rather just good design practice and alternatives analysis.  See also the random assembly suggestions by Mollison and others.
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
Posts: 4437
Location: North Central Michigan
10
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i think that a lot of diagrams we see are actually diagrams of things that worked for someone successfully, however, in our climate or area they may not work for us..but they are ways to get "ideas" of how things are done.

We should always be open to changes
 
Hugh Hawk
Posts: 225
Location: Adelaide, South Australia (Mediterranean climate)
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One of the dangers I think is designing off the plan.  "The map is not the territory", as Mollison and others are fond of saying.  It is also hard to find solutions sometimes when designing off the plan.  The better way in my opinion is to do the design thinking on site whenever possible, then draw it on a plan if you need to.  The plan might help solidify some of the spacing, light access angles, etc. and help communicate your ideas to others.
 
                      
Posts: 76
Location: Austin,TX
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Plans are good as long as you don't get hung up on playing on paper instead of playing in the dirt.

Way I set my FF up was to live on site (in a crappy 14' trailer during the winter no less!) with my guineas and really get to know the land.
Developed the site in my head (pen never hit paper) then adjusted it on the fly as needed. Might not work for everyone but I find I'll just get lost in the details when developing a paper plan...paralysis by analysis.

If you do do a paper plan then remember to remain flexible to changes when the need arises.

ape99
 
Paul Cereghino
gardener
Posts: 856
Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
15
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I'd agree that to design by paper rather than site observation is a type 1 error. 

The reason I see paper sketching as valuable is that it can create a contrasting reality that can provoke creativity. 

When you are a monkey with a stick living in a point in space around 5 feet off the ground you can start developing a fixed idea of what things are or could be.  Existing structures, fences, and vegetation can influence the potential of the space.  You want your intial layout to be something 'really right' and in harmony with flows and sources.  So by taking it in and out of reality (on the map, off the map) you can sometimes shake free of a single fixed mental image of your place.

This being said, the map is then placed in an appropriately subservient role to the territory, and primarily as a tool for manipulating your own senses and consciousness.

Another big issue is that different human consciousnesses are equipped with different tool sets for both spatial and conceptual analysis, so the use of diagrams may or may not suit individuals well.
 
John Polk
steward
Posts: 8019
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
289
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I agree.  Not everybody can see the picture on a map the same way.  Some people have difficulty seeing direction (NESW) on the land as they can on a map.

A good topo map can be very useful, but only if you take (a copy of) it with you as you walk your property.  Make pertinent notes on it as you roam.  Then when you sit at the table, devising your plan, you can establish a generalized plan.

Design is both an art, and a science.  The map helps define the science, while only your eyes can define the art while walking the land.  Used together, you can maximize the two.
 
Derek Brewer
Posts: 113
Location: Hatfield, PA
2
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A map is a great part of a design, but bubble diagrams work well too. This technique is especially useful when you know certain things you want, but don't know how to put them together. They can also be super-imposed on a map. My SO uses this technique when designing houses to better understand a client's ideal flow through the space.
 
Jordan Lowery
pollinator
Posts: 1528
Location: zone 7
12
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im going to have to go against everyone personally, i don't like the maps way of doing things. of all of the maps ive done(dozens), no matter how "well planned", i get better results just observing the land and adapting to those observations. knowledge of systems comes next so you can fit a technique to a problem for a quick solution. that way you dont have to go back to the drawing board each time something stops you or things change.

maps and layouts do help at first though for most people, until they can get more of the sense of how to be observing and interacting by feel and sight.

not for everyone ill say.
 
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