Permaculture Design Tree
a diagram of the process

A diagram depicting the permaculture design process.

The Permaculture Design Process.

In this diagram I liken the design process to a living tree. The process starts with a ‘seed’ of inspiration and develops in complexity as it grows. The seed is expressed as a combination of the vision that reaches inward and a goal that reaches outward. Surrounding the seed are the three core ethics of permaculture, a reminder to align our goals and visions before we start to grow them.  Outside and around the ethics is a circle of simple directives that that describe the design process: observe, develop, refine and apply. These directives remind us of the various phases we will pass through, perhaps in a cyclical pattern or perhaps making non-linear leaps and connections.

The below ground part of the diagram, the roots, represent the inward and developmental part of design that includes research, dreaming, planning and thought.  In the developmental direction there are four main areas that need to be tended: the elements that will be in the design, the timing, the people involved and the location.  Each root also points toward a design method: input-output analysis, options and decisions, zone analysis, mapping and sector analysis.  While not a complete list of the methods available, these four, if put to full use, are enough to complete a thorough design. At the very bottom are basic reminders to stop and smell the flowers.

The above ground portion of the diagram represents action and the end products of action. Each main branch is a general idea, or concept that  branches into smaller and smaller systems and elements until it expresses as a specific detail.  For example, a garden might contain a compost pile, a cold-frame, and have a wind break on the edge. Each of these elements would also have more specific details and elements. The compost pile would need materials with carbon, nitrogen, manures and water. As the design becomes more specific we will need to return to the roots and plan or design, think, observe, or reflect.

The results and yields of the design process are represented by fruits and leaves.  Both the fruit and the leaves of a tree, when finished growing are meant to be shared and enjoyed. They also naturally return to the ground and cycle ‘nutrients’ back into the system.

A tree doesn’t grow all its roots first and then grow all of its leaves. They are mutually supportive: more roots allow more leaves and vice-versa. Sometimes we need to design like a rampant vine, climbing quickly toward the heights, trying ideas, but knowing that they will probably collapse, leaving us with learning and yearning to reach out again. We can choose to design in a pattern like the growth of an oak tree: start with a couple of leaves to catch a bit of sun and focus on developing deep and strong tap roots.

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