Permaculture and Edible Rooftops above Apartments: A Radio Interview

A friend just sent through a link to this recent radio interview I did with Jonathan Green from Radio ABC’s Blueprint for Living Show.

Here’s the link to the show on the Radio ABC website and here it is as an MP3.

Dan Palmer being interviewed by Radio ABC’s Jonathan Green for Blueprint for Living.

If you get through it, you’ll note I didn’t need asking twice at the end when asked about my greater ambitions with this stuff :-).

Here are some of the plans of the rooftop areas we discuss (see here if you’re wondering why Dan Palmer is sharing master plans right now) :

Along with a recent drone shot of the build-in-progress:

When I’m better, hopefully this coming Saturday, I’ll get onto part three of Introducing Phase Two of Making Permaculture Stronger. Can’t wait!

Introducing Phase Two of Making Permaculture Stronger: From Solving Problems to Developing Potential (E27)

Note: This post may not make much sense unless you read (or listen to) the previous post first.

What I’ve been doing…

As reviewed in the last post, I have spent more than three-and-a-half years attempting to help strengthen permaculture’s weakest links, or, in other words, solve permaculture’s biggest problems.

In this approach, success is tacitly defined as the degree to which the weak link or problem is made to go away.1

The Problem with Solving Problems

Phase Two of Making Permaculture Stronger starts with my realisation that focusing on problems, even if the problems are getting solved, does not and cannot solve the problem that the whole approach of solving problems is itself, well, problematic.2

Joel Glanzberg has summarised the situation perfectly:

We are so accustomed to machines and the mechanical world of Newtonian Physics that we can barely think about how to address the problems of a living world. We try to fix them as we would an old truck: We identify the bad part that is to blame for the problem and repair, replace, or remove it. This is our general approach to everything from medicine to foreign policy to justice. We try to get tumors, dictators and other “bad guys” to reform or we simply replace them. Then, we are continually surprised when new tumors, symptoms, or bad guys promptly arise to take their place. Changing the manifestation of living systems without shifting the underlying causal patterns will always be an uphill battle and often takes us in the wrong direction, like super-gluing the cracks in a hatching eggshell.

As has Carol Sanford (in this article):

When you start well-intended efforts by identifying a “problem,” you are trapped into thinking that you have to fix it. This leads you on a search for the causes and results in efforts to try out many solutions. It pulls all of your energy toward an endless effort that is based on the mindset that got people into the rut in the first place. Einstein warned us about that.

Hmmm. This is exactly the sense in which I have been trying to ‘solve permaculture’s problems.’

Oh well, it’s not like nothing good has come from this approach (and yet it is time for a fundamental change of direction)…

Now I do not think all this effort has been a waste. Absolutely not! I have learned a heap that has really boosted my ability to serve as a permaculture design process facilitator.

I know this is also true for permaculture colleagues around the world. Almost weekly someone reaches out with gratitude for how this project has inspired and supported them to deepen their own design process understandings and practices.

Nonetheless, I’m clear it’s time Making Permaculture Stronger explicitly extracts itself from the business of dabbling in problems. Where I spend countless hours focusing on aspects of permaculture that I don’t even like. On weak links. On problems. Problems that worry me. Problems that demoralise me. Problems that as best I can tell are getting in the way of permaculture’s ability to evolve toward deeper and fuller expressions of its potential.

I’m glad for everything this effort has created and I want to make a clean break from the whole mentality. It is time for something different. Thankfully there is an alternative that resonates so deeply it brings shivers to my spine.

Regenerating from the Core

Having spelled out the futility of the problem-solving mentality, Carol Sanford brilliantly illuminates an alternative approach:

Okay! Okay! So what do we do? As crazy as it sounds, we skip over what exists. We act as though the problem doesn’t matter. This sounds harsh, even cruel, but consider: within regenerative processes, problems are not useful information. Nature doesn’t care that rat populations are exploding in the suburban countryside. Regeneration in this instance occurs when this niche within the ecosystem is filled by returning populations of foxes and owls. Circumventing problems is how much real change comes about and particularly the kinds of change that disrupt markets—and also history, for that matter.

Instead of lamenting a problem, ask, “What are customers (or the planet or social groups) seeking to achieve and why?” This is the route to the creation of something that doesn’t yet exist. Don’t look at why current methods aren’t working. Keep your eye squarely on the your buyer’s intention, on the intentions of living systems and social groups.

What problem?

Wow! What an idea! Instead of lamenting the problem or problems, to take this approach we’d ask “what is permaculture’s core intention” and we proceed directly toward helping to realise that as if all the problems weren’t even there.

For Carol, this entails, “going back to base material and regenerating from what is at the core.”3 Where we move from strengthening weak links or solving problems to unfolding potential:

Seeing true potential requires us to go back to the DNA of our intentions, conscious and unconscious, back to first base, where the uniqueness of the opportunity exists. What is screaming to be realized directly? â€¦

The same is true for engaging with people. For example, when we pay attention, we see loads of potential in the children around us. We see their shortfalls as well; there is no end of shortfalls to fix. But if you start with who a child really is, deep inside, what makes them unique, and you help them realize more and more of that, to become closer and closer to their own singularity, then they thrive. Who wants to make a child “less bad”? Don’t we instead want to support them in their quest to realize their unique potential? And don’t we feel the same about each new business and each watershed? No two living systems are the same; each is pursuing a unique potential. Find that and you become a great business leader or a great biologist.

As a colleague of Carol’s, it is no surprise that Joel Glanzberg is once again on the same page:

Life is by nature creative. She never goes back but only forward. Repair or restoration may work for antique chairs but not ecosystems, eggs or countries. They will never be what they once were, any more than you will ever be a teenager or Humpty Dumpty will be put together again.

Living systems, whether organisms or organizations, ecosystems or economic systems, resolve their problems not by “fixing” them but by outgrowing them. The maturing chick running out of food and space in her egg does not add on or send for take-out. She does not fix her cracking shell but uses this breakdown to break through and emerge into another world, one of air and light where her parents feed her. Then, when the chick and her siblings outgrow the nest and their parents’ ability to feed them, they fledge and fly into the wider world where they can feed themselves and migrate to more favorable climes as the seasons change.

Time to shift things up…

I also just love the way Robert Fritz talks about this stuff:

There is a profound difference between problem solving and creating. Problem solving is taking action to have something go away – the problem. Creating is taking action to have something come into being – the creation. Most of us have been raised in a tradition of problem solving and have had little real exposure to the creative process.

For this reason many people confuse the two. It doesn’t help when some ‘experts’ talk about ‘creative’ problem solving. They think that the creative process and problem solving are the same. They are completely different.

The problem-solvers propose elaborate schemes to define the problem, generate alternative solutions, and put the best solution into practice. If this process is successful, you might eliminate the problem. Then what you have is the absence of the problem you are solving. But what you do not have is the presence of a result you want to create (The Path of Least Resistance, p. 31)

How beautiful are all these statements? How exciting are they! What is screaming to be directly realised in permaculture? What would it mean for permaculture to crack open, fledge, and fly? What is the result that we in permaculture want together to create? Now we are talking. And this brings us right up to where this little project called Making Permaculture Stronger is going to be heading next…


Fritz, Robert. The Path of Least Resistance: Learning to Become the Creative Force in Your Own Life. Fawcett, 1984.

Learn about Carol Sanford’s books (with free sample chapters) here and her podcast here.

Visit Joel Glanzberg’s website here.


Introducing Phase Two of Making Permaculture Stronger: Recapping Phase One (and its problems)

Making Permaculture Stronger is about to cross a pivotal threshold in its evolution as a project.

Let me explain…

This project launched three and a half years ago with the intention to be…

…a space where permaculture practitioners come together with a spirit of strengthening the design system aspect of permaculture by clarifying its weaknesses and coordinating efforts to address them.


The best way I know of strengthening something is to identify weak links and then to direct energy toward making them less weak.

An early requirement for the project was to create a framework for thinking about all the different aspects of permaculture. Some way of holding the whole so that weak links could be honed in on and strengthened…

Permaculture Tree (take three)

Remember this? I sure do. I still find it helpful way of mapping out how all permaculture’s different aspects sit in relation to one another. I introduced my original illustration here and what follows is a new (draft) version beautifully illustrated by my friend and permaculture illustrator Brenna Quinlan.

Note – the arrows leaving and entering the tree represent permaculture bringing foundational understandings in from outside and creating solutions that go out to become part of other approaches or the culture in general (as isolated things)

To recap the main idea:

  • permaculture has general foundational aspects that are universal in their relevance (roots)
  • permaculture has specific solutions (design configurations, strategies, and techniques) that are appropriate in some situations and not in others (limbs, branches and leaves)
  • the only thing that can get you from the foundations to the appropriate solutions for a given situation is sound design process (trunk)

I can’t resist sharing two further aspects of the tree before I move on, given I just rediscovered Brenna’s lovely sketches of them. First, here’s a view from above where you might recognise something familiar. Second, the cyclic patterns of movement I’m using the tree to highlight are an instance of the pattern Bill Mollison called the core model.1

Brenna Quinlan’s sketches of two additional aspects of the Permaculture Tree (Take Three)

The Original Plan

Having created the original tree diagram, I hatched a cunning plan for the future of Making Permaculture Stronger. I was going to complete, and indeed have completed, a few inquiries myself. Each was to start with something permaculture seemed to have got wrong in terms of design process and end with some better alternative to it. I went so far as to prepare the below plan. I was going to put this out there once I had the ball rolling (as in about now). A diagram to set the parameters to invite others to come play this same game over and over. Together we were going to remedy permaculture’s issues, one strengthened weak link at a time..

My early masterplan for Making Permaculture Stronger

Why I started with the Trunk

I spent a few posts explaining why I chose to start my weak-link work in the region of the tree’s trunk, as in design process. I described the apparent lack of a deep, coherent, shared, widely used understanding of sound design process in permaculture as a foundational weak link. Foundational in the sense that all sorts of other littler weak links flowed from it. Foundational in the sense of a Type One Error.

Here is how I originally diagramed it, noting that “the image I get is of a huge oak tree teetering on a feeble little stem”:

The First Two Inquiries (and where they led me)

I then started the first of two epic, in-depth inquiries where I honed in on problematic aspects of the shared understandings of permaculture design process that were available in the literature. In that sense I identified design process as a weak link then went looking for little weak links within the big weak link that were presumably making the big weak link weak! I dove deep into two of them…

From Assembling Elements to Differentiating Whole Systems

I have such fond memories of the opening post of the first inquiry, which drew on the work of Christopher Alexander to identify an initial problem: the common permaculture understanding that design is a process of assembling or combining parts or elements into whole systems.

In doing so I shared Alexander’s alternative suggestion that systems and landscapes with the character of nature are achieved by a process of differentiating wholes into parts. The post stirred up a lot of fantastic commentary and dialogue. It was a great experience and so gratifying to have the interested attention and appreciation of colleagues (including the likes of David Holmgren, Dave Jacke and Toby Hemenway). If that particular post hadn’t been so well received I wonder if the project would have even continued.

In any case, it did, going on to look into this issue in some depth, where ten posts later it had arrived at a different conception of design that was not only articulated theoretically but applied and documented in two practical design project examples (see here and here). So I guess on its own terms the inquiry achieved its intent. It started with a problem or limitation and ended with way of approaching design that resolved or avoided the problem. The dialogue this inquiry catalysed also helped me arrive at a new take on the whole matter that was a pivotal stepping stone toward the more recent work on designing via transformation.

From Detailed Up-Front Design through Concept Designing to Generating

In Making Permaculture Stronger’s second inquiry I honed in on the dominance of up-front master planning in the permaculture design literature. I first showed the seemingly universal consensus that “in a sound permaculture design process one completes a detailed design before starting the implementation of that design.”

I then pointed out how problematic this idea is in light of permaculture’s aspiration to create nature-mimicking systems. As in the first inquiry, I ended up, in striking contrast to the standard permaculture mantra of:

  • observe (people and place or whatever)
  • concept design
  • detailed design
  • implement
  • evaluate/tweak

…with either a hybrid (or concept designing) approach or the fully-fledged generating approach2 where you:

  • Immerse in the overall context of the design
  • Decide on what high-level features or aspects to tackle first
  • Rapidly generate then iteratively test or prototype a first step until something feels solid and relatively certain
  • Adaptively implement that step
  • Re-immerse in the new reality of the just-transformed whole

Again, I started with a perceived problem and arrived at some alternate understandings that appeared to resolve the problem.

Generative Transformation

I had no idea that after these two inquiries what would emerge next is the chart I then developed. This chart brought the outcomes of both inquiries together into one place where any design process could now sit in one of nine different spaces. To me, the most important outcome of the whole project so far is a fairly clear initial articulation of the space called generative transformation. I have argued that generative transformation is permaculture’s home turf.


Aside from a few other bits and bobs (including the podcast and videos) this pretty much sums up the entire journey so far.

In the next post, I’ll share why and how I’ve come to realise that it is time to let go of this whole idea of finding and strengthening weak links. Before, in the post after that, sharing in the post after that the alternate approach Making Permaculture Stronger will be taking from here on in.


Exploring Developmental Pathways for Permaculture Designers with Jason Gerhardt (E25)

I’m sure you’ll enjoy this rich, deep yet lively second conversation with Jason Gerhardt (first chat was here). Jason directs the USA’s Permaculture Institute and Real Earth Design. As it turns out we continue exploring the ordering framework I introduced in Episode 24.

Here’s the framework diagram, slightly updated thanks to a suggestion from Bill Reed. Or download as pdf here.

Oh yeah I also mention this recent recreate of Making Permaculture Stronger’s purpose that Joel Glanzberg helped me with and that uses the pattern I explored with Bill Reed here:

MPS inspires creative exploration and dialogue around permaculture design in a way that develops our ability to think and act creatively as and with community to effect the large scale systemic change we need.

Oh yeah Jason mention this amazing white paper on the four levels of Regenerative Agriculture by Ethan Roland Soloviev & Gregory Landua. I can’t believe I haven’t read this yet. Do check it out if you’ve not seen it and leave a comment telling me what you make of it.

I also mentioned the Permaculture Home Garden by Linda Woodrow.

Bringing it all together in just. one. diagram. (Part Eleven of Eleven) – Generative Transformation is part of what it means for Permaculture Design to come back to Life

Here I’ll wrap up and declare this series done. I explained at the beginning that:

The diagram introduces and suggests a name for a space that I believe is permaculture’s core businesshome territory or primary purpose. While no doubt the language can be improved, I’m tentatively calling this space generative transformation. As we’ll see, generative transformation is a way of going about doing or creating anything, be it a garden, farm, organisation, livelihood, or life.

Where my intention was to argue that…

…to the extent it identifies with the bottom-left part of the diagram (what I call fabricated assembly) permaculture diminishes its potential. The invitation and the challenge of this framework is actively exploring pathways toward the top-right. Toward generatively transforming whole systems in life-enhancing directions

In the course of the ten preceding posts about this, I have said all I need to say (probably more than). Here, after a brief lead-in I’ll sign off with a few closing reflections.

Brief Lead-In

I mean it is all so simple really. Permaculture says it aspires to mimic nature.1

What this really means, I believe, is that it aspires for us humans to drop back into being the life we already are and in that sense to drop back into being alive.2 At the very least, I’m sure we can agree that the rest of life creates itself via generative transformation, or that generative transformation is the most accurate way of framing what the rest of life is and does as far as the terms of reference the chart has to offer. There are no master plans.3 There are no concept plans. There are no parts separate from wholes. There are no wholes seperate from parts. Period. I mean, just watch a tree germinate and grow…

…or a tadpole coming into being from a zygote…

Tell me what you see, what you feel as you watch these. You will have just described an instance of generative transformation.

Now, for those closing reflections.

Generative Transformation is Applicable Everywhere

One thing that happens in this space is that designing stops being something separate from life, something we do in advance, something that we do only in a professional capacity. Generative transformation can apply to everything we do. To every space or landscape we work with. To every day we live, to our life as a whole. To how we show up as parents, as partners, as colleagues. To how we develop our own homes and all the spaces we inhabit, to how we plan and roll out parties, courses, any and all kinds of events. We even tried this kind of thing out with our wedding!

This was a shock to me when it landed some years back. To realise there wasn’t this specific set of skills I turned on and off as I arrived and left my work as a permaculture designer. To realise that in every situation I am ever part of I can choose to be alive to the wholes-and-their-parts I am participating in. I can choose to be alive to my intentions with regard to these wholes, and I can choose to be and act in ways that honour what is already there while drawing it out and developing it so as to add, enhance, increase its life and beauty and function and flow.

Everything you do, every process you are part of, everything you help create, can be located somewhere within the nine portions of this diagram. I’d love to hear about your experiences, but I’d wager that the more alive the process felt, the more connected and respectful it felt, the more it flowed and the more its outcomes were beautifully adapted to the situation, the more you were approaching the top right corner. The more you were in the space of generatively transforming whole systems in healthy, life-giving, life-enhancing, life-welcoming directions.

Generative Transformation is Easier (and more Fun!)

This is an interesting one. On the one hand it can be really hard to get out of the same old rut of masterplanned assemblies into the flow of generative transformation. On the other, once you have a taste the current kind of drags you along and and in my experience it eventually becomes the easiest option and a non-brainer.

One recent experience that comes to mind is that I was I was using a generative, transformative approach with three lovely clients on thirty lovely acres a month or two back. The two adults are performance artists. We were marking out a new driveway by hauling bales of straw into a line then moving them till they felt right. There was no pens and no paper and certainly no computer screens. As we worked, one of them said something like “hang on a second, this is exactly what we do in working with community members to create a performance!” It was like the penny was dropping as they realised that they were allowed to have that much fun developing their place. It didn’t have to be all serious and where is the master plan and where is the permaculture expert to tell us what do to and that whole kind of act. Actually I just remembered I made a little video that same day:

As far as fun goes, it is a no-brainer. I remember so clearly how much I used to hate having to go home after a consultancy and spend countless hours drawing up detailed plans to deliver back to the client. I actually did it again recently as an experiment for some clients who I failed to talk out of wanting a detailed plan and I tell you it was gruelling. It took all my willpower to force myself to do it (that said I’m not even quite finished, darn it, I had been repressing that fact till now!). To make up all this arbitrary stuff to dazzle them with, knowing they were going to love it and knowing that it was nowhere near as wonderful as what would have been generated if we were generating and transforming rather than fabricating and assembling and partitioning.

After sessions working with generative transformation I feel more alive, more energised, as do the folk I’m working with. Rather than being the expert who needs to manufacture brilliant solutions on the spot, I am a process support team, a facilitator, where so many of the decisions become effortless to make because we make them at the proper time in the unfolding process, rather than attempting too much guesswork up front. All plans are guesses, after all, and master plans are a whole grab bag full of guesses shoved in together. Generative transformation is largely about systematically eliminating guesswork and hence design decision arbitrariness.

Then the sheer satisfaction to have collaborated with others to reveal the most unexpected yet beautiful and perfect steps forward. I mean those of you who know what I am talking about know that it doesn’t get much better than that!

This seat emerged from a spontaneous bout of generative transformation – alive and in-the-moment

Generative Transformation is What Permaculturalists are already doing when they are doing their best stuff

I have said this before, but I want to make it clear that I don’t think that generative transformation is in any way a new thing. It is an attempt to describe not only life’s default operating system, but what already happens when permaculture is at its best. As in generating real, adapted solutions that wrap themselves beautifully into and around the specifics of given situations. The thing is though, I know respected permaculture designers who talk, teach and write about permaculture design as a process of assembly and at most partition-based fabrication who in practice especially at their own places are doing something far more akin to generative transformation! Have any of you noticed this phenomenon? It is like we say what we need to say for professional credibility then when we think no-one is watching we do what it is we really love.

What I am suggesting is why don’t we just do what we really love, ALL THE TIME!

Don’t Leave – Come Back – Permaculture Needs You!

There is a part of me that has something to say to anyone (and I know there are so many of you) who have felt isolated by design, who have felt incompetent because they can’t or don’t draw impressive up-front plans, who have assumed they have nothing to offer to this conversation. What I have to say is this: “please, turn around – please, come back!” Permaculture needs you! Permaculture needs your intuition, it needs your native abilities to observe and be present to the deep patterns at play in any situation. It needs your life and your energy at its core and at its helm. We have so much work to do, and we all need to be collaboratively figuring this journey of humans becoming alive and nested in life again. We need all of us.


Permaculture, meet generative transformation. I’d like to think you’re going to become ever the best of friends.4

Over and out.


Exploring a Framework for Thinking about Permaculture Design in conversation with Meg McGowan (E24)

I’m excited to share here the beginnings of a (Carol Sanford inspired) framework in my second conversation with perma-powerhouse Meg McGowan (the first was here). It is a framework I feel is going to inform much of Making Permaculture Stronger’s evolution moving forward. Here is a preliminary sketch laying it out as a starting point to crash test and improve together (or download as pdf file here). Huge thanks to Meg for taking the time to help me share and start developing it. Oh yes in this episode I also share my brand new project Designing for Life that will be developing in conversation with Making Permaculture Stronger moving forward. Exciting times my friends, exciting times!

Visit Meg’s blog here, the interview on the other podcast she mentioned here (episode three), her pyramid of wisdom here (note: compare with this). You can also go listen to the mentioned chats with Carol Sanford and Joel Glanzberg and Bill Reed by clicking on their names (where you’ll find further links to their sites and work). Finally, if you would consider supporting Making Permaculture Stronger financially, then visit our support page and mega-thanks in advance for what you are making possible in terms of supporting and fast-tracking the evolution of permaculture’s wildly exciting potential in the world.

Bringing it all together in just. one. diagram. (Part Ten of Eleven) – If you’re designing for life, Transformation isn’t Optional – But Sometimes Fabricating is Fine

Before I bring this diagram/chart series home and tuck it into bed, there is a subtle nuance I want to try and convey.

It is this. First, in my opinion, once we have a feel for what is meant by transforming, there is no reason to ever devolve back to only assembling or only partitioning. Transforming transcends and includes both these things (read more about this here). As far as I can see it will always support a deeper and more rounded appreciation of the whole being worked within, and thus the uncovering of better, more adapted steps in the design and creation process.

Second, the axis going from fabrication through hybrid to generative is different. Why? Because there are times when you’ll draw concept plans, and there are times when you’ll draw detailed plans. There is nothing in any of this suggesting anything inherently wrong with drawings! Heck, I draw things all the time.

Indeed, I have discovered that generative transformation is almost more an attitude than a specific set of practices to do or not do (such as draw plans up front). Sometimes when I work with generative transformation I use drawings, sometimes I don’t.

In prior posts I have given examples of both hybrid transformation and generative transformation in which drawings played their role (either a concept design or simple a sketch of the next thing to be implemented).

An Example of, err, Generatively Fabricated Transformation

I’ll now give you a different example, one where I consciously fabricated a detailed plan. About three years back I took on a commission (ongoing) to design all the green spaces for a 700-apartment suburban development.1 Rooftops, podiums, streetscapes. I took it on as an experiment in seeing how far I could push my process (in a hyper-conventional context with established protocols) toward generative transformation. I didn’t think I’d get so far as I’ve gotten.

Here, detailed up-front drawings were essential. There was no way I could avoid them. They needed them for their promotional brochures. They needed them so the architects could get them into the formal construction master plans for the builders to quote from. They needed them for getting council approval. There was no way I would have got the job if said “sorry, no plans from me.” Even if my ideal scenario would be to wait till the spaces were built, then mock up and hone in on the first thing to install, install it, decide on the next step, and so on.

Now I hope this isn’t too confusing, but while this was on the surface a clear example of a fabricating transformation or C1 (top left in the chart) process, the first place I used the attitude of generative transformation was in how I went about drawing the detailed plans. I used a specific process where I immersed in the intention or what I call the project DNA and what I could access about the actual physical spaces before unfolding the suggested layouts using Christopher Alexander’s pattern language approach to unfold a particular layout. Where I was consciously transforming the space in my mind, on paper, and by mocking up various areas in real space as best I could, and thereby in a sense I’ll discuss more, actually generating the fabrication. Here is what emerged on one pair of rooftops, excluding plants…

…and with plants…

Where even though it was being drawn and not actually made at this stage, each little detail was unfolding out of my grasp of the whole situation and what had unfolded before (in a carefully laid out unfolding sequence). Which contrasts dramatically with how the prior landscape architects had used full-blown fabricating attitude and reality to come up with…

To me this is a very clear example of what I mean by fabricated assembly or A1 (in this case so blatant that it is perhaps one reason these designers were dismissed before I was brought in). Even though I was clearly fabricating, it is like, as I suggested above, that I was generating the fabrication. It is like there is a whole other order to these ideas, where there can be fabricated fabrications, generated fabrications, fabricated hybrids, generated hybrids, and so on. There may even be fabricated generations! Yes, it is confusing, but as Bill Reed says, life is complex. So dig in!

Back to the plans I developed, here are the construction diagrams…

…and 3D renders for promotional purposes…

I trust all this makes it clear I am not suggesting that detailed plans are inherently bad (I still struggle to use the word master plan, however, and I never saw these plans as masters but as required reference points along the way). I see them as risky, yet sometimes essential.

A big part of what made this different from conventional fabrication (aside from how I created the plans) was that I did not then hand over the plans, take my fee and move on. Nor did I treat the plans as something to blindly impose, as some kind of master. I held them very lightly and I chuckled at how seriously everyone else took them. To me they were a loose guide (in that sense they were a hybrid design in a detailed design’s clothing) that I consciously told myself were full of mistakes that I was going to then do my best to weed out as we went along.

Every step of the way, as further information came to light, as the actual spaces were built and I could go visit them, as I saw samples of soil and mulch and paving options etc, the plans were changed to better fit the emerging reality. I spent countless hours mocking up and imagining different shaped and sized planters when it came time to lock these things in. I injected as much life, as much generation as I could into what happened after I drew the plans (which are now up to something like version 20).

Indeed, a non-negotiable condition of my accepting the job was that the builder and landscaper would be contractually obliged to have me supervise and sign off on each part of the gardens as they were built.

Here is a shot from last week showing these rooftops and another, smaller rooftop where you can see the initial garden planters going in…

Which brings me back to my point. Transformation is a no-brainer, yet sometimes, fabricating is fine. It is all about how you create your fabricated drawings and then the specific role those drawings play in the rest of the process. Indeed, I believe it would be quite possible for a process using detailed upfront plans to more authentically honour the spirit of generative transformation than an approach avoiding any plans and yet doing so from the mindset or attitude of fabricated assembly (and/or winging it).

If you are confused right now, I am sorry. Do ask me questions in the comments below and let’s inch down this rabbit hole a little further together. I trust you can see why I felt I needed to share this.

I should also share that one thing I don’t want this to land as is me saying “actually, I take it back, whatever you are doing with master plans, that’s fine, keep going and maybe just think more about transforming wholes than assembling parts.” That is not what I’m saying. I am still challenging myself and others to ask whether and to what extent upfront plans are required or appropriate. Then, if they are, both how they are created and how they feed into what follows.2

Anyways, this version of the chart shows the zone and the rough sort of allocation of time in each zone that in my opinion befits a permaculture really grabbing ahold of and developing its potential. It is true of how I’m working lately. Always transforming, mostly straight-out generating, sometimes drawing up front concept plans, occasionally up-front detailed plans (though always with a generative attitude).

Over and out, and catch you in the next and final post in this series. It has been fun, though I tell you I’m looking forward to getting stuck into the rather exciting layers of what appears to want to emerge next 🙂

Note – I thank Jason Gerhardt (USA) who in many ways inspired this post. Either in episode 28 or 29 of the podcast you’ll hear Jason and I talking about this stuff – a talk that happened before I wrote this, even though this is coming out first. I also thank Finn Weddle (UK) and Emma Morris (NZ) for helping me decide to pull this chunk out of the upcoming final post in the series which will be much tighter as a result. Huge thanks also to Making Permaculture Stronger’s latest several patrons for supporting this work!


Bill Reed on Aligning around Purpose, Levels of Thought, and Transforming the World (E23)

Hey all. In this episode I share my second conversation with Bill Reed from Regenesis Group and the Regenerative Practitioner Seminar (our first chat is here). It is a conversation I highly recommend in which we look in detail at several aspects of how the rubber hits the road in the regenerative development or living systems approach Bill works with.

I also get a bunch of things off my chest at the start around bumping this whole conversation up a notch and inviting your input into where and how Making Permaculture Stronger evolves from here. Hope to hear from you (whether via a few bucks via our patreon page and/or your reflections and suggestions in the comments below or through the contact page).

I have to say all this focus on the likes of Bill and Joel Glanzberg and Carol Sanford is starting to rub off on me. I have noticed that the language I use is on the move, the thoughts I think are on the move, and even my entire understanding of what the heck Making Permaculture Stronger is and could be about are on the move! Heed this warning my friends: these people are dangerous radicals who consciously mess with minds. As Bill says, they see what they do as a mental technology that is intended to frustrate and destabilise you out of your automatic patterns.

Bill mentions this article by Jonah Lehrer in the New Yorker, I mention possibility management, and you can find out more about Regenesis Group here and Carol Sanford here.

Example Purpose Statements including Function, Being, and Will

As promised, here are the function, being, and will based purpose statements Bill shared:

The Yestermorrow design / build school’s purpose is to learn together through shared inquiry and hand-on experience the ways of making human habitat… (function)

…in a way that expands our understanding of who we are and how to live in beneficial interrelationship with the earth and each other… (being)

…so that we all can thrive in a world with limited resources and unlimited potential (will)


I’m going to take raw ingredients and transform them into a meal for my family… (function)

…in a way that we sit down with our children and share our love for each other, or at least our daily events around the table… (being)

…so that our children have the psychological wellbeing and nourishment to grow into responsible adults (will)

As a recap the function aspect is about what are we doing and transforming?

The being aspect is how do we want to be and what do we need to become to do this? Or as Joel Glanzberg has put it to me, what are the capacities to Be you are aiming to develop during this task?

The will aspect is what is the larger field we wish to shift or positively impact? As Bill put it this is like asking what is the purpose of the purpose?

Keep in mind also, if you can handle it at this stage (I barely can!) that Bill talked about paying attention to the so called three lines of work at function, then again at being, then again at will. The three lines of work are the immediate whole you are working with (might be you, or your school garden), the proximate whole (might be your team, or the school community) and the greater whole that you envisage being able to positively impact through your work (might be the farm, or the community the school is nested within).

Here’s a preliminary attempt I made at an upgraded purpose statement for Making Permaculture Stronger:1

Making Permaculture Stronger exists to hold a unique space for intelligent, collegial, and rigorous inquiry and dialogue into the subject of permaculture design process… (function)

…in a way that respectfully honors permaculture’s incredible depth and value and openly explores ways its potential might be more fully and rapidly developed… (being)

…so that it continues to thrive, grow and evolve in its ability to contribute positively to humanity and the earth (will)

After some reflections on this from Joel Glanzberg (thanks Joel!), I tried:

Making Permaculture Stronger holds space for intelligent, respectful, collaborative exploration and dialogue into permaculture as a socio-ecological design science… (function)

…in a way that is alive, authentic, inclusive and yet gently disruptive… (being)

…so that it continues to thrive, grow and evolve in its ability to contribute positively to humanity and the earth (will)

Running this past Joel he came back with what I consider an excellent example of cutting to the chase. This fully resonates with my understanding of why MPS exists, and it is so much more clear, concrete and direct (how much punchier is the ending! YES!):

MPS inspires creative exploration and dialogue around permaculture design… (function)

…in a way that develops our ability to think and act creatively as a community… (being)

…to enable permaculture practitioners to effect the large scale systemic change we need (will)

Here is another example Joel and I worked on after a session with an organic farming co-op:

The purpose of our co-op is to continue to develop and articulate an agro-ecological cooperative system that grows our businesses and the health of the land… (function)

in a way that inspires and enables others to do the same… (being) that we can build the health of the foodshed, food sovereignty and a viable option for the future of aging farmers and their land (will)

Here is an example Joel and I worked on after a session with staff at my kid’s Steiner school where I’m helping facilitate the garden redesign process:

The purpose of the garden is to enable children to experience the magic of elemental alchemy with their heads, hearts and hands… (function)

…in a way that inspires them to use this way of being and learning through their entire lives… (being)

…so that the school community and beyond are imbued with abundant life and health (will)

In this case Joel also suggested a few example principles which then act as guides to decision making:

  • Ensure all four elements are present throughout the garden in transparent ways
  • Inspire mystery through containment, separation and creating intimate spaces
  • Make the gardens places of ease, comfort and excitement
  • Everything is child scale

I sincerely hope these examples help.

Levels of Thought

The levels of thought thing Bill shared was:




Where do you usually start?


Jascha Rohr on the Cocreation Foundation (E22)

Jascha Rohr, Oldenberg, Germany, July 19, 2019

In this episode (recorded July 19) Jascha Rohr returns to catch us up on his recent, current and upcoming adventures in taking healthy generative process and applying it to cocreating new modes of global governance!

Check out the Cocreation Foundation here, our last chat here, and Jascha and Sonia’s amazing article on their field process model here.

You can sign up to the Cocreation Foundation’s e-newsletter here and check out their youtube channel here. In this clip Jascha fleshes out something we discussed during our chat:

Jascha also shared a white paper for the Cocreation Foundation’s Global Resonance Project you can download as a pdf and read here or by clicking the image below.

Here is a link to the book by Hanzi Freinacht’s book The Listening Society that Jasha mentioned.

Oh yes, I make mention in the chat of a few complementary approaches that have been rocking my world lately, namely the work of Carol Sanford (who I interviewed here), Regenesis group (which includes Joel Glanzberg and Bill Reed) along with Possibility Management (created by Clinton Callahan who I interviewed here).

Enjoy and catch up with you in episode 22.