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!


  1. An example of a design process becoming less organic in the very act of imposing an organ! For an organ is a harmoniously functioning part of the greater whole it unfolds within, not something that can be copied and pasted from one whole to another (as often happens in the case of leaf or flower-shaped garden beds).


  1. So when’s the book coming out? 😉 You’ve unpacked so much in this post and the previous; your design process is much more clearly articulated than what I learned in my PDC. But it deserves a more stable and structured medium than a blog! So much good stuff; I want to be able to refer back to it!

    (I realise that you’re using this blog to flesh out your own understanding — in a generative way, no less! So I guess it truly is a good medium. Still, despite the fact that your ideas are still ‘unfolding’ (see what I did there) they seem awfully ready-to-use already.)

    1. Good to hear from you Paul! Thanks for your encouraging comment. Re the book, maybe check in a few years, see how I’m going with it 😉

        1. Oh wow! Congrats! Looking forward to seeing an update. I’ve been out of touch with this conversation lately — been involved in a couple projects (including a crypto app platform whose community is full of a lot of systems thinkers — currency designers, permaculturists, and even someone who studied under Alexander! Pretty exciting stuff!). I really want to get up to date sometime soon — really enjoy your writing.

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