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.


    1. I’m so glad Linnéa and thanks for dropping by! Would love to see some examples of your processes and whatever it is that happened to come out of them.

  1. I really enjoyed the photos of this design unfolding. As I look at these, what strikes me is how playful the process is. It’s like those life-sketching classes where you work quickly to capture the essence of a pose. Something about the speed prevents you from becoming too self-conscious, keeps you a few steps ahead of your rational mind which wants to squash the fun out of everything with its guidelines and procedures.

    When you’re doing BDUF, there’s a tremendous pressure to get everything right because there’s no going back to the drawing board. More rational mind stuff. There’s a time for that — you want to do your engineering due diligence so your retaining wall doesn’t break and send thousands of litres of pond water gushing out over your neighbour’s yard — but it can be quite destructive too. You end up getting quite obsessive over the details, and analysis paralysis can slow you down.

  2. Really nice to see an ‘iterative’ design process going on, I’ve found that I’ve been doing the same in my urban back garden redesign, my only ‘wish list’ point is that I should have designed a bit better around the wind factor (we get hammered). I didn’t bank on the neighbours clearing quite a few trees from a boundary area before my plantings got established. Any learnings from the design process for you?

    1. Lovely hearing from you Vidya. Yes isn’t breaking wind an important function! Main learning I recall was how pleasant this style of designing is, where one can relax out of the space trying to be a design “expert” responsible for coming up with the answers and simply help the design emerge from its context :-).

      1. Main learning I recall was how pleasant this style of designing is, where one can relax out of the space trying to be a design “expert” responsible for coming up with the answers and simply help the design emerge from its context

        Sounds like a very gracious way of treating yourself and the whole design process. I myself get so hung up on feeling like I did something wrong if there are any contingencies that pop up. Maybe if we clearly reframe the process (for both ourselves and our clients) as an interative, responsive thing that’s dealing with forces way out of our control, that’s all we need. In a way I feel like it’s all we can do, because it acknowledges the reality that we’re small meat-based creatures that are doing our best in a chaotic universe 🙂

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *