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10 Essential Things for Any Backyard Permaculture Garden

The perfect permaculture garden is a garden that cares for people and our planet. It is a resilient space that helps you live sustainably and take only your fair share – returning the surplus to the system. And nature.

But the concept of a permaculture garden is often misunderstood. Permaculture is certainly not a one-size-fits-all approach. So to help you understand how to embrace permaculture in your space, we’ve come up with this list of ten essential things for any permaculture garden.

Ten Essential Things for Any Permaculture Garden

  1. A holistic plan which works for you and your site. 
  2. The right plants grow in the right places. 
  3. Food-producing growing areas. 
  4. Biodiverse ecosystems.
  5. Wise water management.
  6. Healthy, living soil. 
  7. Systems to feed plants and soil.
  8. Features to maximize yield and make the most of your space. 
  9. Habitat for native wildlife.
  10. Habitat for human occupants. 
colorful blooming garden rose arch evergreen shrubs
Nature is the best authority for permaculture design. What local shrubs, evergreens, fruit trees, and wild herbs flourish in your area? Start there. Then ask – what is your food forest lacking? For example – many western homesteaders lack ample water. Each fallback provides room for your garden to improve.

What is a Permaculture Garden?

To understand this list, you first must acknowledge what we mean by permaculture garden.

Permaculture comes from merging permanent and agriculture, or, more broadly, culture. Permaculture got coined by Bill Mollison in the 1970s. 

Bill Mollison and David Holmgren developed a blueprint for sustainable food production and sustainable societal systems. Their vision grew into the global permaculture movement seen today. 

The key thing to understand is that when we create a permaculture garden, we aim to create a garden that can stand the test of time while adhering to the three core ethics of this movement. The three core ethics are planet care, people care, and fair share. Also – the return of surplus to the system. 

Read More – Perfect Fruit Tree Guild Layouts for Permaculture!

How Does a Permaculture Garden Look?

If you are vaguely familiar with permaculture, you may have some images in your mind. When picturing a permaculture garden, you may envision popular permaculture methods and techniques. Forest gardening or no dig/no-till gardening are two broad-spectrum ideas. You may also imagine common elements like on-contour swales or terracing. 

The primary thing to remember is that permaculture is not about taking a very proscribed method. Instead, it involves taking a design-centric approach that follows certain principles rather than demanding specific features. 

This philosophy means that no two permaculture gardens will look exactly alike. Permaculture gardens will differ depending on the specific geographical location. And also on personal preference. You may envision a naturalistic Eden with wildness and abundance. But a garden can adhere to permaculture ethics and principles and be very different in feel and style.

beautiful flower bed permaculture garden colorful
Permaculture design offers many blessings. It helps sustain nature and makes the best use of your land. You also summon multifarious beneficial flying insects. That’s a big deal – since we’ve noticed a 60% decline in flying insects since around 2004. Local wildlife and indigenous crops benefit tremendously from sound permaculture design, too. Everyone wins.

What Should Be in a Permaculture Garden?

While certain specific features exist in various permaculture gardens, it is important not to shoehorn in elements where they do not belong. As long as you work with nature, rather than fighting it, and think about the following essential things, your garden will never go far wrong. 

1. A Holistic Plan: How to Design a Permaculture Garden

First and foremost, it is essential to note that permaculture gardens are pre-designed spaces. You always work from the twelve permaculture principles. You (or a permaculture designer) strive for and plan for a holistic plan as your permacultural foundation. 

This plan should consider the climate, micro-climate, and other environmental conditions where you live and the sectors acting on the site. Consider your goals and how these can get met. And move from the big picture to gradually hone in on the details of the design. 

Following the design process will help you determine where to position elements and the optimal layout for the space. Permaculture zoning gets used to help create a garden laid out for efficiency and style. 

2. The Right Plants for the Right Places

Plants make a garden. And one of the most vital things to bear in mind as you design a permaculture garden is that you need to find the right plants for the right places.

A permaculture garden will never include plants inappropriate to place. Each plant gets carefully chosen regarding its specific needs and interactions with other plants and other elements within the space. Often, native plants are best suited to the particular environment in which you live. 

Read More – Okinawa Spinach Growing and Harvesting Guide!

3. Food-Producing Zones

Before choosing plants for your permaculture garden, you need to consider which growing method or methods to adopt. 

One primary decision in any permaculture garden is how you will obtain a yield. Usually, food production will be central to any design. But exactly how and where food will be grown can alter dramatically depending on decisions made at the design stage. 

Permaculture gardens can get filled with layers of perennial plants. Imagine breathtaking schemes like perennial polycultures and forest gardens that produce plentiful food – year after year. 

They can also include areas for annual production – growing typical crops like potatoes, cabbages, carrots, tomatoes, peas, beans, et cetera in the ground, in raised beds, or even in containers. 

beautiful peach trees blooming in spring garden
Fruit trees summon troves of beneficial pollinators to your backyard food forest or garden! They kickstart your permaculture designs into a buzzing hyperdrive. Want more bees? Plant more trees! Fruit trees especially. Fruit trees are also surprisingly hardy – many of them tolerate sandy or rocky soils. And – they take off readily once they begin developing.

4. Biodiverse Ecosystems

Here is one way permaculture gardens stand apart from many other food-producing spaces. They combine plants and other elements – looking holistically at the garden as an ecosystem rather than just thinking about specific crops on their own. 

Creating polycultures, companion planting, and other organic gardening strategies boost biodiversity. These things make the system far more resilient overall by increasing the number of beneficial interactions within it. 

5. How to Prepare Land for Permaculture: Water Management Systems

In gardens with holistic design, water is often a central consideration. You may have too much of it or too little where you live. What matters most is that you manage it wisely. Water management is vital.

As a permaculture gardener, you should always consider where water comes from and how it sustains your backyard ecosystem. You should harvest rainwater and take steps to catch and store water on your properties in plants and soil. Of course, you should also think carefully about irrigation and make water-wise planting choices. 

6. How to Prepare Land for Permaculture: Healthy, Living Soil

One thing that most permaculture gardens should have is healthy, living soil. (Aside from those employing hydroponic or aquaponic systems and growing in water rather than soil!)

Soil is something many overlook – but soil health is one of the most important things for healthy plant growth and abundant production. 

Permaculture gardeners need to adopt ongoing practices that safeguard the soil food web‘s health and all the life within it. 

Ongoing procedures include minimizing soil disturbance, covering soil and keeping a living root within it as much as possible, companion planting and rotating annual crops, and maintaining and building fertility by mulching and other sustainable gardening practices. 

7. Systems to Maintain Garden Fertility

A permaculture garden should aim to create a closed-loop system, where the organic and self-sustaining garden can provide all required to keep it fertile and perpetuate growth long-term. 

Establishing sustainable fertility systems means we should plant to generate the biomass required to perpetuate nature’s cycles and keep the garden growing over time. 

All permaculture gardens should also have functioning composting systems. There is a range of diverse ways to compost – in place, in hugelkultur or lasagna beds, in a cold composting heap or bin, in vermicomposting or hot composting systems. And more. 

But to avoid food waste and maintain fertility – composting is essential in any permaculture garden. 

(PS: If you’re unsure what hugelkultur means – it’s like core gardening!)

ripe walnut tree with bright sun shining
Walnut trees are one of our favorite permaculture companions! Nut and fruit trees provide shelter for your local wildlife and help provide food for your entire homestead. Walnut trees and other tall nut and fruit crops play a critical role in any permaculture garden or food forest. They help establish the understory and canopy layers.

8. Features to Maximize Yield & Make the Most of Your Space

Permaculture gardens always aim to make the most of all the space available, however large or small that area may be. 

Permaculture aims to find the opportunity in any challenge, and limited space is no exception. A frequent saying in permaculture is that yield is technically unlimited. Or, limited only by the imagination!

Vertical gardening solutions, stacking functions, layering plants in space and time, and maximizing the most highly productive edge environments are just a handful of the methods and strategies employed in many permaculture gardens.

Read More – 11 Beautiful Shrubs for Growing Zones Seven and Eight!

9. Wildlife-Friendly Features

Above, we have already spoken about the importance of biodiversity in our planting schemes. Plant biodiversity will also foster biodiversity in wildlife.

 It is paramount in any permaculture garden to recognize the symbiosis (beneficial interaction) which can be achieved within ecosystems when we welcome native wildlife to our spaces and take steps to keep these creatures around.

In addition to planting for wildlife and creating vibrant and thriving ecosystems below and above the soil, it is also wise to include specific habitats for local wildlife. Consider wildlife ponds, wetland systems, brush piles, leaf litter, rockeries, and stump gardens. These are all wildlife-friendly features that permaculture gardens may include. 

10. Spaces for Recreation and Nature Connection

Finally, it is critical to remember that in a permaculture garden? You and other humans using the site are also part of the whole.

So any design should contemplate how you and your household will interact with all the other elements of the site. 

Creating those spaces to allow for recreation and nature connection is vital for the harmony of your permaculture garden. When we unpretentiously connect with the natural world around us, we can reach our full potential. And only then can we begin to give back – reciprocating for all that nature provides.

Our Favorite Permaculture Design Books

Upon discovering the magic and harmony of fruit tree guilds and accommodating permaculture design theory, you always hunger for more.

So – we penned the following list of the best permaculture books that we love.

These resources can help you launch a breathtaking permaculture garden that’s organic and self-sustaining – and it doesn’t matter where in the world you live.

We hope these books help!

  1. Think Like An Ecosystem: An Introduction to Permaculture
  2. Think Like An Ecosystem: An Introduction to Permaculture
    $16.99 $16.07

    Here's a thorough resource to help design your backyard landscape - regardless of your growing zone or water landscape. Amélie des Plantes brings the reader on a 9-step journey to permaculture growth.

    It's an excellent resource if you're curious about starting a permaculture garden from scratch, collecting the tools required for creating nutrient-rich soil, grouping plants in complementary guilds, and more.


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    11/29/2022 07:40 pm GMT
  3. Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture | 2nd Edition
  4. Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture | 2nd Edition
    $21.99

    Want to leverage your backyard crops so that you become a permaculture powerhouse? Or maybe you want to learn more about the ecosystem of your backyard garden?

    If so - Toby Hemenway deserves tremendous credit for explaining plant ecology, soil life, water usage, and creating an economic and self-sustaining garden system. Toby also writes in a way that's easy to understand. Bonus points!

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    11/30/2022 02:37 am GMT
  5. Building Your Permaculture Property: A Five-Step Process
  6. Building Your Permaculture Property: A Five-Step Process
    $21.99

    Are you overwhelmed by your permaculture garden or backyard growing options? Start simple. Takota Coen and Rob Avis want to help you clarify your permaculture vision. They start by analyzing and diagnosing your plants, garden, and land.

    How can you amplify your garden's strengths while also improving its weaknesses? And - what's the best way to ensure sustainability in your garden? Their holistic approach to permaculture design shows how.

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    11/29/2022 03:51 pm GMT
  7. Creating Your Permaculture Heaven: How to Design Your Backyard Food Forest
  8. Creating Your Permaculture Heaven: How to Design Your Backyard Food Forest
    $9.99

    We love this book because it helps gardeners and homesteaders waste fewer resources! Nydia Needham's permaculture book emphasizes improving the planet via permaculture. She teaches new permaculture enthusiasts how to make the most out of their land and leverage their water in the best way possible.

    Her book also reveals how to summon beneficial pollinators and birds to your garden - plus how to monetize any extra crops.

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    11/29/2022 07:00 pm GMT
  9. Practical Permaculture for Home Landscapes, Your Community, and Earth
  10. Practical Permaculture for Home Landscapes, Your Community, and Earth
    $14.99

    Here's a book perfect for homesteaders who want to learn about permaculture. Authors Jessi Bloom and Dave Boehnlein write about their most critical tips for sustainable garden ecosystems, including the permaculture design process and ecological systems such as water, energy, shelter, plants, wildlife, and animals.They also reveal a massive list of fifty plants for permaculture settings. Perfect!

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    11/30/2022 10:41 am GMT

Conclusion

Permaculture gardens are one of the best ways to help local wildlife, enhance your local ecosystem, and grow crops to feed your family.

We know that starting is tricky – and you may have many questions.

Or – maybe you have tips to help enhance local plant life, fruit trees, shrubs, and food forest layers?

If so – please share them with us in the comments below.

We’re happy to brainstorm permaculture design, food forestry, and all things beneficial pollinators. (It’s true. We love summoning hummingbirds!)

Thanks again for reading.

Have a great day!

Author

  • Elizabeth Waddington

    Elizabeth Waddington is a permaculture designer, consultant, and writer. She has been a keen gardener for many years and has a 1/3 acre garden with a food forest, rescue chickens, wildlife-friendly woodland garden and pond, polytunnel, and vegetable beds. As well as working to grow her own food at home, she also helps others around the world on their journey towards a more sustainable way of life through her design and consultancy work, and through writing articles about organic gardening and sustainability.

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