On the Relation between Designing and Implementing in Permaculture – Part 21

I’ll here keep sharing an example of permaculture design and development as a generating process. In the last post we saw the first round of reflection and action.1 Here I share the second.


Having made the first move the process now really kicked into a generative rhythm or dance between designing (or thinking and feeling into the best next move) implementing (or making it), and evaluating where things were at now.

We moved our focus to what now felt like the right next step – a configuration of perimeter tree plantings towards addressing tensions around exposure generally and wind specifically.

As with the earthworks planning, the process here was led by being out on the site, marking out and tweaking from many angles.

We (the four clients, the tree planting contractor, and myself) started with some very high-level musings on a whiteboard…

Which was spontaneously made a little tiny bit more real by having some little paint pots pretend to be trees. We fiddling and jiggled before…

…heading outside (into a rare snow fall happening at that moment) to walk and look for issues. The next session we marked and stringed out the edge of the proposed main shelter belt planting around the entire ten-acres. Here Anna captures part of that process:

Here during another session Adam Grubb and I play with possible high-level configurations:

Here I talk through what had been happening (referring also to how we went about differentiating the whole space into treed and non-treed parts ah la our first inquiry):

Eventually we got a sketch of what was emerging onto a computer. Here is version one (each ‘m’ is a request for the Mayberry crew to measure from the fence to the stake-and-tape line so I could update the image based on the real design sketch which was drawn out 1:1 across the whole site with pigtail stakes and fencing tape):

and two:


The first round of trees now went in (this shot from the south-western corner of the property), thanks to local tree-establishment legend David Griffiths:

Leaving the site looking like this:

Earthworks Round Two

A bit later, in March 2017, machines came back to finish what they had started, including cutting the new entrance driveway (the location of which in the meantime had been further finessed).

Leaving the site (during a post-machine phase of evaluating and soaking up what had happened, exactly) looking like this…

…or from the other direction:

The development process at Mayberry continues today. It is not finished and of course really never will be. But I hope this has been enough of a chunk of it to achieve its purpose.


This concludes what is hopefully a clear example of an attempt at a generating process. Not even a whole-site concept plan was devised or drawn before implementation began. The patterns (both concept and detailed) emerged or unfolded out of the whole process rather than being predicted on a piece of paper up front.

This is not to say that pieces of paper were not involved, but that they were very much secondary in importance to the process of laying out and making changes on the ground.

So we have, I hope you’ll agree, just turned this question mark…

…into a tick.



Thanks heaps to the Mayberry crew (Anna, LJ, Tom, Menno, Rhys and Ren) for taking and sharing most of the above footage and photos – very much appreciated.


On the Relation between Designing and Implementing in Permaculture – Part 20

Continuing on from the last, this post continues sharing the early stages of the (ongoing) Mayberry Woodend project.

In the last post I showed that having immersed in people and place, the focus was not on developing even a concept-level design for the whole site, but simply clarifying and crash testing the right first move.

Drawing on Yeoman’s Scale of Permanence, and with parallels to the agile/lean concepts of TSTTCPW (“the simplest thing that could possibly work”) and MVP (“minimal viable product”) the process honed in on an update to the existing driveway and dam configuration.

There are a couple of points I want to emphasise here.

The first is that at this stage there was no whole-site concept design.

Apart from passing allusions here and there, we hadn’t systematically considered tree systems, animal systems, irrigation systems, vegetable gardens, etc at even the concept design level, let alone in any kind of detail. It was almost like we forgot that stuff existed. For now. In order to focus 100% on the next best task at hand. All we had was clarity to the point of feeling all-but-certain that we had honed in on the best first move.1

The second is that we didn’t get to this point lightly or flippantly. As you saw in the last post, this clarity was hard-earned!

It was now time for a bit of…


At this stage implementation commenced, bulldozer style:

Earth being taken to a better place:

Before the works the main house dam looked like this:

After like this:

Here is a shot from a bit later again, thanks to the increased catchment via diversion drains:

During these earthworks implementation and design were co-evolving in tight partnership. With input and feedback from the clients and project co-manager David Griffiths, the earthworker (Graeme Jennings) was making thousands of decisions whereby the detailed design and layout of the works arose only from within the process of completing them.

As you have seen there was only the vaguest picture of what it was all going to look like before hand. Afterwards we updated the picture to reflect how it all turned out. So the on-ground development preceded and dictated the after-the-fact drawing up of the details.

Due to the wet weather the earthworks stopped at this stage and were completed about eight months later when soil moisture levels were again conducive.

To find out what happened next, well, you’ll just have to wait for the next post, won’t you!


On the Relation between Designing and Implementing in Permaculture – Part 19

In the last post I summarised the processes of tuning or immersing into the people and place aspects of a particular design and development project (Mayberry Woodend).

I shared how we clarified the overall vision for the project, the areas and activities initially envisaged as contributing to this vision, and the existing structure or layout of the site and its surrounds.

In this post I continue the story of this process as it steps into the question of what move to make first?

For this is a story of experimenting in the space of generating, where rather than fabricating a whole-site design up front (whether to the concept or detailed stage) the focus is on clarifying a sensible first move, making that move, clarifying the next best move, making it, and so on.

Here, in Christopher Alexander’s words,

Each … decision,1 is made in sequence and in context. It is worked and reworked right then and there until it is mistake-free, i.e., it takes into account all the connecting relationships. This must be done in sequence and in context because the necessary information for a successful decision is not available prior to that step in the unfolding. (2002, p. 201)

The idea is that, taking natural processes as our model, we don’t bother trying to predict the future in the sense of making premature decisions about what happens down the line. We instead focus everything on being present to where we are now and what the right next step is from here.

In this sense a generating process is an unfolding process, where design and implementation are inextricably intertwined, and once things are in motion, co-exist as co-partners in an ongoing dance.

Getting High-Level Tensions on the Table

Some of the highest-level tensions to emerge during the analysis and assessment phase were to do with:

Water (lack thereof)

The site was very dry over the summer months and the two existing dams (ponds) were not holding water well at all, evidently due in part part to very limited catchments. Helping those dams better catch water falling as rain during winter and then store it for summer irrigation was an obvious design priority.

Wind (excess thereof)

The site was very windy to the extent of often unpleasant for food-producing plants, people, and other animals. In summer the strong winds exacerbated this tension around dryness. One could feel one’s skin desiccating, during a short walk, so one can imagine the effect of the skin of the earth (topsoil)

Visual Privacy and Property Integrity

Related to wind was the tension one felt around being fully exposed in all directions not just to wind but to neighbour’s eyeballs (including the neighbours yet to move into a large adjoining suburban development). Part of this two was the feeling of the place sort of bleeding into the surrounds without any kind of framing, any indication (apart from just anther fence) as to where the place started and stopped.


The existing driveway and main entrance to the houses was chronically tension-ridden. Here it is indicated on the aerial photo then with a photo of walking in:

Some of the tensions were:

  • as a guest arriving it felt very uncomfortable in that the driveway shot you into the most sheltered, private area tucked in behind the houses such that you couldn’t see where you were heading until you where there and it felt inappropriate as if you were bursting into the resident’s private space unannounced
  • on top of this as a guest arriving it felt very unclear where you should park both as you approached the homes and after you had entered the private-feeling space around the back
  • as a resident it felt uncomfortable to not be aware of a car arriving until it was at the back door, and sometimes not even until the guest knocked on the back door.
  • as a resident it felt unsafe to let the young children play in the most obvious, sheltered, shaded and accessible place given that at any moment a car could come flying into the space
  • the driveway was pushed up against one boundary meaning you didn’t get any kind of feel or view of the property you were entering
  • the driveway felt unbalanced in that on one side there was a semi-dense cypress hedge and on the other a line of large blue-gum eucalyptus & pine trees at much wider spacings meaning the driveway felt like a lop-sided, incomplete avenue (not to mention that the gums and pines were like a massive wick leading from the direction of highest fire-risk directly toward the homes)
  • the semi-dense cypress hedge on the boundary still allowed very partial vision through into the neighbour’s place which because it was mostly concealed felt somehow inappropriate
  • The Mayberry crew had from early on envisaged an additional dwelling of some kind, such as a bed and breakfast, on the property, and it seemed likely this would end up down he back. The current driveway meant guests would have to drive almost right through the main houses to get to their getaway – not ideal!

The First Move: honing in on, clarifying, and crash-testing from multiple angles

Now it was clear, a no-brainer if you will, that trees would be involved in addressing the tensions around wind. However, drawing on the idea underlying Percival Yeoman’s scale of permanence, we knew that the changes we made around water sat at a higher and more permanent level than trees. Same for the primary access ways into and through the property.

For after Climate and geology/landform, which we’d tuned into earlier, Percy’s2 scale run water, access, trees, and on from there.

So though we knew trees would be in the mix, we forgot about them for now. We knew we could get them fitting in with the higher-level water and access program later on.

This left us with water and access, which we also knew tend to work together to define a sort of skeleton for the site, that you subsequently can flesh out with trees and all the rest.

So we now focused 100% of our energy on this question:

how might we reconfigure the existing dams and access in order to fully resolve (or dissolve) the high-level tensions currently felt of each, and in a way that takes us toward the project (place and people) vision, and harmonises with and extends the existing deep structure of whole site?

It was game on and the ideas started flow.

One idea that emerged early on, and that emerged independently for a few of us, was the idea of re-routing the driveway such that it wound through the centre of the front of the property in such a way as to also define a drain enlarging the catchment for the largest dam.

Thanks to Tom for penning this recollection of how the idea arose for him:

One thing I was reflecting on last night was how the idea of the driveway came to me from the client perspective.  On top of all of the analysis work there was an important factor in all of it – which was just ‘time’.
To use a cooking analogy – We threw all of the raw ingredients (area mapping, topo maps, tensions we felt, holistic context, wishlist, walking the property over and over and mentally noting certain observations) into a big pot and let it warm up, simmer (for a few months at least) and eventually it bubbled over.  I stood in the back paddock on that high convex platform and without forcing it, the idea of a private, ‘away from the homestead’ guesthouse arose – it felt like it couldn’t be anywhere else.  So then I wondered ‘how you would get to it without going through our private house area?’ – which was one of our big existing tensions anyway.  And almost immediately (thanks to countless walks around the dam wall) I saw this new driveway taking us around the dam, away from the houses and connecting us to the back of the property.  In that moment so many tensions related to Access just evaporated and I thought ‘Wow – this is the answer!’
Here is the sketch Tom drew after this moment (the large oval representing a vaguely-defined possible area for the b&b idea they wanted to keep open as a future possibility):

I should mention here a critical aspect of the attitude to new ideas as they arose: we assumed that everything we came up with could be wrong, and set out immediately to seek and find evidence that it was was wrong.

It was walked. It was driven. It was discussed. More sketches were made. Here is an early version in which you can see noted two remaining issues/tensions:

Here’s a version with a suggested resolution of those two residual tensions. This was sent through to the earth worker (Graeme Jennings)3 and tree systems guru and project co-manager (David Griffiths)4 for feedback:

But it didn’t stop there. Oh no. We sought to put the decisions we were testing through every grinder imaginable. While staking out and tweaking over and over with a lazer level was part of the mix, so was the Mayberry crew building a clay model of the property and crash testing different driveway and dam configurations this way:

At one point I enjoyed watching this youtube of a driveway test from the comfort my house bus in New Zealand:

Here is a video of one of the many testdrives:

Time for Action

Here’s a hint of what happened next:

More in a week. Catch you then.


Alexander, Christopher. The Nature of Order: An Essay on the Art of Building and the Nature of the Universe: Book Two: The Process of Creating Life. Vol. 2. of 4 vols. The Center for Environmental Structure, 2002.


On the Relation between Designing and Implementing in Permaculture – Part 18

In this post continues the previous introduction to the Mayberry Woodend design and development example of a generating process.

Here I’ll summarise the initial phases of immersing in and tuning into people and place, bringing out the deeper patterns therein as a basis for creating new form.


Tuning into the people had two phases. The first was the team articulating an holistic context for themselves, one way of responding to the questions what are we about? and what is that we want here, really? This acts as a high level magnetic north or overall destination for the people, property and project as a whole.

If used in a healthy way, this context itself continues to evolve, and that pictured here is a recent version that has now been through many iterations.

The second phase was tuning into, mapping, and organising the different areas or activities that LJ, Anna, Menno and Tom desired. Here we are making a start on this:

I don’t seem to have further diagrams to hand, but we iterated this collection of items toward being sensibly nested within one another and sensibly sequenced in terms of a provisional order in which to tackle their implementation.


Next we immersed in the place. Here again is an aerial photo of the ten acres:

Alongside mapping soils, sectors, water movements, current access ways, and so on, this phase culminated in a process of tuning into and diagrammatically portraying the structure of existing areas across the site.

Here is a diagram I used to get across the sort of thing we where after – just walking around, teasing out the pattern of pre-existing different areas across the site, using feeling as much as measurable observations, and roughly sketching the patterns up:

The real work was done by the crew there (whilst I galavanted around NZ in a house bus). They each separately walked the place and separately sketched and refined area maps for the property as a whole and the area around the houses.

In a bit more detail, they were tuning into not only the pre-existing structure of the place, but both the areas that had latent potential and any feelings of tension that arose in a given spot, such as the driveway, for instance.

They then came together to discuss, re-walk, and co-create a combined area summary for each. The homestead area:

The whole property along with a key:

In the next post, I’ll share how the process then started moving from immersing in what already was, to dipping our toes into the ocean of potential future – into what the place might become.

There, as we’ll see, as a generating process the focus was not a whole-site concept design, but simply a clear idea of what to do first.


On the Relation between Designing and Implementing in Permaculture – Part 17

Greetings all and welcome back to yet another (currently weekly) instalment here at Making Permaculture Stronger ;-).

The last post shared an example of completing only a rough concept-level design before commencing implementation. I know, I know, dangerously radical stuff, eh?

Now in the language we’ve been developing during this inquiry, this was a hybrid approach:

In the above diagram the hybrid approach is sandwiched between fabricating and generating. In the hybrid approach you start by fabricating a concept design, before generating the details in the process of implementation.

If these words are sounding downright weird, by the way, forgive me, and please see this previous post for a proper explanation.

Now I’m sure everyone knows what I mean by winging it, when you forgo any designing and do shit randomly whilst hoping for the best. As for fabricating, pretty much any book on permaculture design will give you an example of that (completing a detailed design before implementing it).

And now we have a clear example of a hybrid approach up our sleeve.

But what about generating? What does that look and feel like in practice? Is it even possible?

Besides, why should we care?

Well, for one thing, generating is the approach Christopher Alexander reckons has the best chance of creating life-filled systems. Systems highly adapted to their contexts and hence relatively mistake free. If that doesn’t sound like a bit of all right as far as permaculture is concerned, I don’t know what does.

In this post, therefore, I’ll introduce a design and development example that has and is being consciously conducted as an exercise in generating.

Introducing the Mayberry Woodend Project

The Mayberry Woodend project involves two families living in two houses on one ten-acre property in Woodend, Victoria, Australia.

Introducing the People

Here are the two families (minus one kid called Ren) with a face you may already be familiar with. From left to right we have Menno, Tom, Rhys, a familiar face, Anna, and LJ.

Introducing the Property

Here is an aerial photo of the property (taken December 2015):

Here are a few photos of the place as it was in the beginning. The larger of two existing (and notably low in water) dams…

…the smaller… 

…here I’m strolling around under big skies with my friend Adam Grubb…

Right, that’s it for now

In the next post I’ll summarise the processes of tuning into people and place.

On the Relation between Designing and Implementing in Permaculture – Part 16

In the last post  I shared the process of unfolding a high-level and delightfully messy concept design for the Oakdene Forest Farm homestead gardens…

…based on this concept design we made a rough sketch of implementation jobs for the mini-excavator and dump truck…

…which arrived and got to work…

…basing his cuts on the stakes we were banging in ahead of him. The main garden area in, we then felt into and on the fly articulated with stakes the rough shape of the mounded area defining the boundary of the garden…

…finessing the mini-excavator’s work with rakes and shovels as we went along…

…things were flowing nicely and feeling good and so we grabbed some stakes and using a spirit-level and a bit of wood marked out some double hand’s-width veggie beds in the space, the machine then bringing them into existence quick smart.

This was how the space was looking as the machine moved away.

At this stage mum grabbed some shrubs that had been in pots for too long and started laying them out. We did a quick design sketch out in the garden, differentiating the shrubs into taller through medium sized and shorter as you moved up the boundary mound.

Veggie seedlings started going in here too.

Then, within a few weeks dad had put in a little stone retaining wall to better define the edges.

Some wood chips were added to soften the path…

Dad decided to enlarge this opening a bit to allow his little tractor to sneak through…

And so on, as the plants grew and the space settled in and matured…

The newly established gardens achieving, in their own unique way, the starting intention that:

Our house garden is a colourful private sanctuary that wraps around us, is a child magnet, and produces massive amounts of food

Where this is as far as the design drawings got before we started:


This concludes what’s hopefully been a small-bite-sized and easy-to-follow example of entering an iterative cycle of implementation and design having only gotten to a whole-area concept design level before breaking dirt. All the details came out in the wash. Nothing bad happened as a result. Indeed, in my opinion the details came out a lot better than they would have if prematurely over-designed up front.

This is one simple example of what I’ve been calling a hybrid approach to the way design and implementation can be related inside permaculture design process:

In the next post we’ll share a clear example of permaculture design process in the currently question-marked generating space where not even a whole-area concept design is completed before implementation started.

And then, well, we’ll be on the home straight of this slightly-epic inquiry, won’t we?

Meantime, please consider leaving a comment – I’d really appreciate hearing any impressions, comments, or feedback you might have on all this.

On the Relation between Designing and Implementing in Permaculture – Part 15

Okay, continuing right on along from the previous post, here I share the three-phase unfolding of a concept design for the homestead garden area of Oakdene Forest farm. After that I’m going to be very naughty, ignore what the books about permaculture design say, and share how we went ahead and started implementing without any pre-formed clarity about the details.

In the last post we clarified the shared intention for the space…

Our house garden is a colourful private sanctuary that wraps around us, is a child magnet, and produces massive amounts of food

…along with organising the key desired areas both into a nested hierarchy (otherwise known as a holarchy) and a sensible provisional design & implementation sequence:

Here’s the area to be developed in a photo.

Here’s the area to be developed in a diagram.

Our next task was to unfold a provisional location for each of the above-specified areas in this space in a way that honoured the earlier site analysis work, (culminating in this diagram)…

…and took the space where mum and dad wanted it to go, which one more time was:

Our house garden is a colourful private sanctuary that wraps around us, is a child magnet, and produces massive amounts of food

Concept Design Phase One

Here’s the diagram showing the first draft concept design we came up with:

Now let’s zoom in and get a feel for the unfolding sequence, an essential part of any design process that is too often simply not mentioned. Even though we’d previously identified the water tank as the place to start, that idea was quickly dumped, given we could easily put that wherever later. So we started with foot access, as shown in orange. This was a no-brainer, just showing the essential places one needed to be able to walk:

Now a rough attempt at shelter trees encircling the space:

Moving on to some provisional spots for structures:

And that is as far as we got before going outside, mocking up these lines, and kicking them as in finding out what was wrong with them. Finding out which tensions they didn’t resolve or that they inadvertently created.

The major thing that arose at this point was mum realising she didn’t want people to enter the house through the only door visible in this photo:

Which I at first balked at given that it is not only the only door you can see as you approach from this angle, but it looks like the main door and a perfectly appropriate place to enter!

So at first I sort of scoffed and said that if they didn’t want people entering through this door then they ought to have built their house differently!

But mum persisted until I had a realisation. She was one of the clients. She was being clear about what she wanted. Once I accepted that this was what was wanted, the process flowed again. Rather than arguing with reality, the process now was all about accepting it yet at the same time finding a way of dealing with the fact the door currently had “enter here!” written all over it. We needed some way of smoothly diverting people around the side to the newly designated main entrance door.

Concept Design Phase Two

So began, on our next session, round two, resulting in this updated version:

Which, in sequence, started with access. You’ll note here another development fro last round – the extra parking area in the driveway, giving first-time car-borne visitors a parking place a comfortable distance from the house. Also the little footpath than shunts them into the same funnel as other arrivers.

Trees and shrubs changing their layout accordingly…

A few loose thoughts on structures:

Now for the first time thinking about lawn and veggie patch areas:

And even locating some patches for ornamental flowers and such like:

Concept Design Phase Three

Again, we sat with the outcome of round two, walked it, critiqued it, before commenced round three, which ended up like this:

Or in an after-the-fact prettied up version, like this:


In our design process so far we’ve gone from this…

…to this…

…to this…

…to this…

Or in the actual diagram we arrived and used to guide next steps, this:

I wonder, is anyone feeling it? Feeling what? Feeling the feeling of the different parts of the concept design arising and unfolding and evolving as if organs within a greater organism? Getting stretched and pulled and nudged until it all fits real nice. If so, isn’t it a lovely feeling, hey?

Time to Get a Wee Bit Radical

In the next post I’ll share how we went from this concept design (which no one could call any kind of detailed design) straight into implementation. Ye gods! How dare we ignore the advice in all the books!

I say a wee bit radical because after the dust has settled on this example1, I’ll share a completely different example, that, by the established standards of our discipline, is simply off the charts – some serious permaculture contraband!

Anyways catch you next time when we’ll be pushing some dirt around. For at this stage, as far as this Oakdene Forest Farm homestead example goes, the earthmoving machinery has been booked and is on its way…


On the Relation between Designing and Implementing in Permaculture – Part 14

In the last post we got as far as this high-level concept design for the central area of Oakdene Forest Farm.

Here we start focusing in on the area encircled in red. Here we start a full-blown, move-by-move breakdown of what I’m calling a hybrid design process. You might consider the last two posts a sort of scene-setting warm up exercise.

The Target Space

To start here’s a look-see at the target area through time leading up to where it was when we started this round of design:

Tuning into People


Mum and dad articulated the following intention for the space:


We next caught up with the different areas and sub-areas desired in the space, first in the form it was originally recorded:

Then here in a prettied-up after the fact version:

The above diagram is for me an example of what Christopher Alexander means when he describes a project-specific pattern language as a “word picture.” For the record, I find the above format way more helpful than drawing the same info this way: Creating a Draft Unfolding Sequence

Having tuned into where we were heading with the space and the different areas and sub-areas to be unfolded in the space, we focused on a sensible draft unfolding sequence.

Taking this modified version of Yeomans’ scale of permanence as inspiration…

…we generated this provisional project-specific unfolding sequence:

We then combined this general sequence with the specific areas we wanted to layout in the space:


In the next post we’ll get into the actual unfolding before in the next finally starting to bring implementation into the mix. Have a great week, and catch you then!


On the Relation between Designing and Implementing in Permaculture – Part 13

The last post set the scene for the permaculture design and development process I’ll continue to share here.

We got as far as this base map of the area to be designed and developed further:

In what follows I’d like to get as far as the whole-area concept design. Then, in the next post, we’ll be ready to go through the design and development process for the homestead gardens with more of a fine-toothed comb. For that is where we’ll find an example of designing in what I’m calling the hybrid fashion.

Articulating Intentions

On December 29, 2014, the extended family threw in words capturing things they’d like to be true of the broader project:

  • Fun
  • Sanctuaries
  • Diverse
  • Organic
  • Welcoming, inviting, comforting, nurturing (family/friends can come anytime)
  • Safe haven
  • Productive
  • Alive, full of life
  • Bountiful
  • Abundant
  • Model of a different way of feeding people
  • Adventure playground/mystery
  • Managed forest
  • Wonderful treasure hunt
  • Respectful of owners
  • Seasonally responsive
  • Structures/systems/spaces that follow the seasons
  • Fresh consumption (corn)
  • Feels like Christmas all the time
  • Well thought out
  • Considered and planned
  • Educational venue
  • Adaptability to any occasion (Devonshire teas)

I then supported the clients (my mum and dad) to start articulating an evolving vision statement for the place:

Desired Areas

We then tuned into the different areas desired. As we went along, we were both massaging these areas into a nested holarchy pattern and considering a sensible implementation sequence (indicated by the numbers):

Here is one of the earlier takes, with 20 top-level areas:

And here a later one, which has four (or with the private – public distinction, just two):

In the last post, alongside the to-scale basemap,  I showed a graphic loosely indicating the layout of the stuff that was already on the place:

Focusing instead on what was to come, we had a very rough play hinting at the obvious aspects of the layout in space of the four main areas (for example, details aside, the productive gardens and lawns etc were going to wrap around the house):

Now here’s a the same diagram with both what was there and what was to come, right down to the higher-resolution areas-within-areas:

here zooming in on the left…

here on the right…

Site Analysis and Assessment

We next turned our attention to the site, starting with sectors…

…existing access flow and frequency patterns… 

…lines of site wanted and not wanted…

…and finally the way different areas were currently patterned across the site (sometimes these are called microclimates or land units):

Here’s the design team, hard at it:

Unfolding the Larger-Area Concept Design

Having articulated a high-level vision for the project, tuned into the areas desired, and immersed ourselves in getting a feel for the site, the day came when three of us each picked up a different-coloured crayon. It was an exciting, suspense-laden moment!

Take One

It was time to start unfolding a sensible configuration for the three high level areas left standing (the communal camping area had in the meantime found a better place to live outside of this central area):

  • The homestead gardens (mum grabbed this crayon)
  • The barn and utility areas (dad grabbed this one)
  • The village green (my wife, Manda grabbed this one)

Here is the actual shapes that emerged…

…and here are some overlaid versions clarifying what happened. First, Manda outlined a provisional spot for the village green like this…

…Dad then outlined an area for the barn and associated utility area here (obviously including the barn)…

…then mum drew in a line enclosing the rough location of the homestead and gardens (obviously including the house)…

“ohh” she exclaimed happily, editing her first line a little to introduce a dip by the lake there, “its a heart shape!”1

Take Two

Before our next design session we all spent much time walking, feeling, and looking for ways in which the above sketch was wrong. Ways that it could better grow out of the site and take it toward the vision that had been articulated.

Quite a few issues with the foregoing layout came up, including:

  • the right-hand side of the barn was already set up as accommodation for guests, meaning it didn’t belong in the utility area.
  • same for the cabins

Here is where the second round got us:

This diagram brings out the high-level pattern:   

Where the spaces in between became vegetated “connective tissue:”

From this…

to this…

Now by this stage mum was itching to start planting out her homestead garden, meaning we left the other areas for the moment to focus in on the homestead garden design process…

…which we’ll start sharing in the next post. Good on you if you made it this far, and catch you then!


On the Relation between Designing and Implementing in Permaculture – Part 12

Following on from the last post, I’ll here start sharing a design and development process I helped facilitate in New Zealand several years ago.

My main aim is to share one example of what I’ve come to call a hybrid design process looks and feels like in practice. This is where, as discussed previously, one completes a concept design and then starts implementing, letting the details emerge from inside the implementation process. I’m not aware of a clean example of this in the permaculture literature or online, so want to try and start filling the gap.

A secondary aim is to get into the swing of finding suitable formats for communicating what actually happens inside design process experiences. These details are usually lost1 in the prettied-up after-the-fact accounts we see in the literature, and I’d like to be part of seeing that start to change.

I’ll start with the backstory and some context before sharing the key phases of this particular design and implementation experience.

The Oakdene Forest Farm Homestead Design & Implementation Process

To start, and for the time-poor folk out there who can’t read the whole story, here’s a video clip that shares the earlier stages of the process. Keep in mind it stops short of the real juice we’ll come to focus on below, namely how and when we eased into implementation, and how this was related to design.


My parents purchased a seven-acre property some nine years back. Fertile river flat, about 1400mm rainfall, hard frosts in winter.

The property is a funny shape – long and skinny – the lighter green strip running from left to right in this aerial photo. North is to the upper left.

Whilst there was some winging it2, a little hybrid action, and perhaps even a weeny early hint of generative unfolding, the centre of gravity of my design process approach at that time was fabrication – fleshing out the details on paper before implementing. Yes, I was a good student and had listened to my teachers carefully and read the books thoroughly!

Sometimes stuff was happening, such as a bunch of trees arriving, where we would lay them out and plant them, designing as we went. But it felt a bit naughty, and I was sometimes racing to try and make sure the details were being designed ahead of time.

I don’t have the original diagrams to hand, but this screen shot (taken from around 2m into the above video) gives a good feel for what I mean:

This sketch, while including some stuff that had already happened, includes many, many decisions made arbitrarily and ahead of time.

As a few more specific examples here I remember sitting on a computer agonising over to-scale gate, water trough, and shelter belt placement and dimensions3:

Or here my wife and I detailed up a house design for ourselves:4

In summary, my first attempt at designing the place was very much a fabricating approach, where I tried to draw up a detailed design before anything much had happened.

Mum and dad followed some of these sketches a bit, and mixed the process up with a fair bit of winging it. Kind of like salt and pepper (winging it) on a meal (fabricating it). Spiced it up a bit. Freaked me out a bit. And at times it wasn’t that clear which was the meal and which was the salt and pepper.

After a few years had gone by we came together for another round of design, focusing in particular on the area around their house and barn.

In what remains of this post I’ll share where this area was at when we commenced this new round of designing. Here is a to-scale base map of the focal area:

To give you a rough feel for where this area sat within the property as a whole, let’s start with a rough indication of the whole property…

…which mostly looked like this, a big empty paddock without a single tree…

…and which over time had distinguished itself into three main sub-sections…

…let’s now zoom into the middle region…

…which had by now again distinguished itself into two sub-areas, one more public, one more private…

…making for a transitional space in between these two…

…there was a pre-existing creek running through the area…

…and mum and dad had completed a barn that had been started before they purchased the place…

…they put in a driveway, and we planted some shelter trees around the perimeter, to the south…

…and north…

…and mum planted out what we’re now calling the communal orchard…

…dad and my brother-in-law built a few little cabins…

…dug a massive hole both to build an elevated platform for their house (this is a river flat, after all!) and dug a pond to its north…

…for reasons including this5

above photo taken the morning of May 13, 2011 from the future house kitchen site

…they then built their beautiful little redwood-clad house…

…right about here…

…bringing us back to the to-scale base map of the area.

Having hopefully oriented you to the site and where its development was up to, in the next post we’ll start reviewing the fresh round of design that then commenced. We’ll start with the process of tuning into the people involved, tuning into the place more deeply, and then unfolding a concept-level design for the whole area. I know, I know, isn’t it exciting to be getting into the nitty gritty of what different flavours of design process look and feel like on the ground!