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!


  1. Part of which was ensuring we were not backing ourselves into a corner or dead-end


  1. Hi Dan, thanks for a great Sunday workshop!

    Since I’m a hands-on kind of guy, this example resonates really well with me. What I still ‘worry’ a lot about though is the dead-end thing that you describe in the footnote. Even though you seem to have worked through every possible way to simulate the implementation, it somehow feels safer to have the whole fabricated design on a piece of paper first…But this might be a cultural bias of mine and has probably nothing to do with how things actually play out.

    I have also been a bit troubled about the initial resemblance between ‘Winging it’ and ‘Generating’ and I think I can safely say that there are a few aspiring permaculture designers who feel the same way. This has become super obvious to me when meeting people with really nice and well-designed home gardens who are too afraid to take on the design of another person’s garden because their fabricated designs (the piece of paper) doesn’t look pretty enough. “Yeah I’d love to do another person’s garden, but I have to work on my design skills first” means “I have to work on my drawing/Photoshop skills”. The physical evidence that they are good designers is right in front of them, literally just outside their door. As I discussed with you on the weekend, I think this fear is a serious bottleneck for more space being conquered by permaculture. A generative design process could at least provide a lot of potential designers with just the tool they need to get started. But as you know, I believe it could do much more than that.

    1. Greetings Alexander and so lovely to meet you! – I look forward to meeting again. Yes I think you are right in (very compassionately ;-)) worrying on behalf of a culture that really is most anxious about relaxing into the generative flow too much least something terrible goes wrong. Why take the risk when you can have an expert perfect a masterplan first, make all the mistakes on paper, then simply hand the plan over to the contractors to actualise as drawn ;-).

      Also yes that is a fascinating issue that so many aspiring permaculture designers feel inadequate in terms of their drawing or computer rendering skills when in some cases they do indeed have the goods as evidenced by what they have actually created (in some case much more so than those who have been prioritising drawing ideal gardens rather than creating and managing real ones!). But then as you say moving forward then comes down to appreciating the distinction between authentic generating and merely winging it, where at the end of the day it might even be better to go the design on paper first route if winging it is the alternative…

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