On the Relation between Designing and Implementing in Permaculture – Part 23

Two posts back I summarised the key discoveries of an inquiry into the relation between designing and implementing inside healthy permaculture design process (starting here).

In the last post I shared a podcast with Ben Falk in which we chatted about this relation (as well as a bunch of other stuff).

In the next couple of posts I want to share a few examples of how a couple of different permaculture designers have responded to or adapted some of the outcomes of this inquiry into their own design process understandings, models, or diagrams.

I would love to hear from others about this too. The way I see it, either you already had something quite different to what is available in the existing permaculture design literature, or, if the conclusions of this inquiry have any validity, a wee bit of revision is in order!

In this post I’ll share an example from the permaculture design firm I run with my friend Adam Grubb. We call it VEG or Very Edible Gardens. In the next post I’ll share an example from some colleagues who run Resilio Studio over in New Zealand. Then, if you’d care to submit something, perhaps in the next post I’ll share your take.

VEG’s Design Process Diagram

Okay, let’s look at VEG’s example.

After many years of trying to diagrammatically summarise the design process we were using and evolving we ended up with this1

…which we were most proud of, and used to train quite a few workshop participants. Yet in the terms of the foregoing inquiry, just like all the other examples I have reviewed, this is a clean example of fabricating, in which designing up to a detailed level precedes implementation.

As the results of this inquiry started to illuminate crippling deficiencies with fabricating as an appropriate approach to permaculture design, I realised that things had to change. The above diagram just didn’t sit right no more. It felt like I was misleading people if I suggested this was the most effective way to go about organising one’s process. Furthermore, it was losing its correlation with my own processes of designing and developing, both personally and professionally.

So in a spare minute before a course I changed it2

…so that it at least now reflects what I’ve been calling a hybrid process (if not going as far as fully fledged generating). In a hybrid process, you get as far as a concept design before launching into implementation and let all the detail emerge from an iterative dance between reflecting, acting, and evaluating. Head, hand, and heart, all moving forward together. See an example here.

Personally I’m only just edging into the territory of feeling comfortable of bringing fresh designers straight into a fully generative process.3 I’m there with my own process, but in terms of an on-ramp for others, the above diagram is about as far as I’ve pushed it. But I can feel a completely fresh diagram emerging, starting from scratch rather than trying to retrofit what started out as yet another linear fabricating sequence, with the addition of more and more little feedback arrows trying helplessly to hold it all together. More on that in due course, no doubt.

Anyways, that’s it folks – one example of translating the outcomes of this inquiry into our work as designers and design educators.

In the next post I’ll share another example. Meantime, a good day to you.

ps. Again, if you also care to share your current best effort at a diagrammatic summary of your take on sound permaculture design process, then right about now is a particularly good time to give me a nudge. I mean I’ve just shown you mine, right? Surely a little reciprocation is in order?

More broadly, I’d be thrilled if this site became some kind of sharing place where permaculture design educators from around the world could share and co-evolve design process understandings. Permaculture’s lone wolf era is over, people, let’s catch up with the times here! Any ideas on how this might be facilitated (and in particular anyone with energy to help make it so) are welcome!


In Dialogue with Ben Falk (E04)

In this episode Dan Palmer from Making Permaculture Stronger enjoys a rich dialogue with Ben Falk from Whole Systems Design. Dan and Ben explore issues and themes around:

  • heathy living processes of design and creation
  • working with clients
  • the relation of necessity to beauty
  • part of what it might mean to enjoy an authentic, healthy, connected life.

On the Relation between Designing and Implementing in Permaculture – Part 22

Okay, we are on the home straight here in what is the twenty-second post in an inquiry into the relation between designing and implementing inside permaculture design process. It is time to somehow sum all these adventures up and bring home the key discoveries. Here goes.

The Standard Permaculture Approach

I started this inquiry by showing that differences aside, every description of a coherent permaculture design process I could find (including my own) treats design and implementation as two separate phases. I mean two separate phases in the sense that you complete the entire design, typically to a high degree of detail, and only then implement it. After Christopher Alexander, we’ve been calling this widespread view of design1 process a fabricating approach.

Here it is diagrammatically (click here for the key to this and the similarly formatted diagrams below):

Design happens first. Implementation happens second. You come up with the design. You actualise the design.

In a fabricating process the rhythm is decide-draw-decide-draw-decide-draw before moving on to a big chunk of (post-design) DOING

Implementation brings up new information that feeds back into the design, yes. Some writers emphasise this fact less, others more. None deny that such iteration happens. That the design evolves based on what happens as it is sequentially actualised. But this feedback-driven evolution kicks in only after the design has been completed.

Issues with this Standard Approach

In this inquiry I’ve shared some compelling arguments2 that this fabricating approach cannot fail to compromise the quality of our design work, and of the gardens or whatever else coming out of that design work.

Indeed, drawing on the work of Christopher Alexander, I’ve tried to show how any attempt to complete a detailed design before implementation involves so much premature and hence arbitrary guesswork and imposition that the quality of the design process is almost necessarily crippled. Though Alexander was mostly interested in buildings, his point applies equally to everything permaculturists design and create. In Alexander’s approach to making things:

…it is theoretically impossible for a successful [thing] to be built from a set of drawings which specify every detail, because that would cripple the capacity of feedback to help shape the elements as they are built (Christopher Alexander 2005, p. 485)

Indeed, as we gleaned from a brief chat with an acorn, the idea of a separate up-front detailed design before implementation flies in the face of how living systems themselves come into being and grow. This is a little bit embarrassing for a design approach supposedly committed to mimicking natural systems!3

These are not the sort of issues to be downplayed, ignored, swept under the rug. They are issues worthy of shining a spotlight on, of bringing out onto the table. Of sorting out.

So where to from here?

Unsatisfactory ways of Resolving these Issues

One approach is to try and patch things up.

We can add more arrows. We can continue propagating idealised linear sequences requiring multiple disclaimers about how non-idealised, how messy, iterative, interrelated the reality of using them is.

I don’t find that approach satisfactory.

Neither is the alternative of what I’ve been calling winging it. While one might use phrases such as “going with the flow”, “being organic” and so on, in this context such phrases are euphemisms for doing shit semi-randomly and generally steering oneself directly into chaos.

The upshot is that we have found both winging it and fabricating to be fundamentally flawed ways of understanding the essence of a sound permaculture design process. Hence the big red crosses. Thumbs down, dude.

Two Promising Leads

The bulk of this inquiry has been an investigation of two alternative framings of permaculture design process. Framings which avoid the issues inherent in both fabricating and winging it. I have been calling these two alternatives the hybrid and the generating approaches, as shown to the right of this diagram:

In exploring this space, in addition to the voices shared below, I owe a debt of gratitude to the action-centric and specifically the agile movements in software development, inside which much development in these directions has been going on for decades.4

The Hybrid Approach

In the hybrid approach, which I happened onto thanks to a nudge from Bill Mollison, you complete a concept-level design only before commencing implementation. The detailed design then emerges from within the implementation. As Bill put it in the Designer’s Manual:5

Break up the job into small, easily achievable, basic stages and complete these one at a time. Never draw up long lists of tasks, just the next stage. It is only in the design phase that we plan the system as a whole, so that our smaller nucleus plans are always in relation to a larger plan.

In the below diagram the hybrid approach entails a little run of decide-draw-decide-draw up front and then jumps across to decide-draw-do-decide-draw-do for the bulk of the journey (The idea being that you do just enough fabricating to make sure you’re not about to get yourself in trouble, and then it’s generating time):

I shared an example of a hybrid approach starting here.

In this example, we only got as far as this concept design before commencing implementation:

Guess what? It worked a treat. Nothing went wrong. In fact a lot more went right than my hundreds of past experiences trying to make a fabricating approach work. The outcome fits its context beautifully, and really feels like it belongs:

It was also just really nice, to the point of being relaxing, to not have to worry about making detailed decisions ahead of time with a pencil. By making them inside the moment of implementing them, we instead used the bobcat, shovel and rake. This way, each detailed decision was so fully informed by the actual 100% real reality of where the system was at, that it was unquestionably better than we could ever have predicted up front.

Needless to say, I left the experience all but convinced that the way designing and implementing are related is absolutely crucial to the quality of the outcome.

I also left with the question of what would it feel like to start implementing before even a whole site or area concept plan was done.

The Generating Approach

In a generating process, such as that shared here, not even a whole-site concept plan is drawn up before implementation begins.

Here, even more differently to the standard permaculture mantra of:

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

The process, as exemplified in this practical example, is instead something like:

  • 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

Furthermore, all these things end up overlapping in time, with the idea of a linear sequence losing all relevance.6

This is the process as used to generate the emerging Mayberry Woodend landscape:

Here the rhythm is decide-draw-do-decide-draw-do-decide-draw-do such that the designing and drawing only get ahead of doing by a decision or two:

In a generating process, apart from the first decision, all key decisions are directly prompted by the just-updated reality of the actual real situation.

Christopher Alexander equates a generating process with an unfolding process, arguing that:

The more one understands the idea of unfolding, and the more one understands the key role which sequence plays in the unfolding process, the more it becomes clear that the process of design and the process of construction are inseparable” (2002, p. 322)7

Generative Whisperings from Within Permaculture

Because a generating approach appears at first glance to be the most radical departure from what the permaculture books say, I want to share here some fascinating statements from well-known and respected permaculture design authors in which a generating approach is clearly (to me at least) being hinted at, if not explicitly spelled out as such:

David Holmgren

Master planning, (where detailed plans are implemented producing a final fixed state which is a copy of what is on paper) has been discredited in the planning profession due to its failure to deal with complex evolving systems such as cities. Many attempts at farm planning by consultants, including soil conservation officers and landscape architects, have tended to be master plans which encourage the notion of a final state for the landscape and farm. It might be noted that the final state for everything is death.

In strategic planning, the emphasis is on processes of development which are on-going and respond to changing circumstances. It recognises that complex systems can never be completely described, predicted or controlled but that forces can be identified and worked with to develop a more balanced and productive system. Most importantly, strategy planning can help pinpoint the initial step to get the desired processes moving without later having to undo what has already been done. (1994, p. 21)

The living, evolving system which we call permaculture can only come about as a result of the continuous interaction between the client as designer/practitioner and the elements of climate, soil, plants, animals, buildings and people (p. iii) Melliodora: Hepburn Permaculture Gardens (1995, republished as ebook 2005)

Ben Falk in The Resilient Farm and Homestead

Early in his design process and site establishment chapter, Ben shares a simple diagram showing the planning and design process as an endless cyclic interplay between analysis (see, observe, study), interpretation (consider, decide, affect, apply, mimic) and action (disturb, construct, implement, manage). The diagram blurb reads:

site planning should be continuously fed by a never-ending process of analysing, interpreting, and acting.

In a 2013 podcast with interviewer Scott Man, Ben said:

More and more every year I rely on the planning process as identifying general steps and starting points and trying to visualise … an idealisation of what a place might be in 10 -20 – 50 years, but really using the planning process to identify starting points and letting those starting points then organically drive the actions following those starting points.

If this is not a generating process, I don’t know what is!8

Note: See also this more recent podcast in which Ben and I probe these issues directly and deeply.

Toby Hemenway

Although in his book The Permaculture City Toby recommends a fabricating approach, I was struck with this statement which to me is as, if not more, consistent with a generating process:

The point of any design is to move toward some desired outcome-a productive garden, a rewarding business-with as much certainty as possible, some sureness that we’re taking the right steps. … The design process, then, is a program for articulating that purpose and for giving us a sure set of procedures for choosing steps toward it (pp. 25-26)

Jascha Rohr & Sonja Hörster (The Field-Process Model)

It would be an unforgivable oversight not to pay respects here to Jascha Rohr & Sonja Hörster who in this important article not only make the distinction between fabricating (or what they call procedures) and generating processes but explore the characteristics of generating processes in much more detail than I have got to here. Hopefully some day the rest of permaculture will catch up to these exciting thinkers and design practitioners!


Here is the upshot. In terms of a sound approach to permaculture design process capable of reliably achieving the adapted, nature-mimicking systems permaculture aspires toward, winging it and fabricating get a big thumbs down.

The hybrid and generating approaches get a thumbs up (or big red tick, as the case may be).

In future discussions about permaculture design process, I would love to start seeing the hybrid and generating approaches at the very least being offered as equally viable approaches to permaculture design process.

It is my firm conclusion, however, that the hybrid and generating approaches are not only more viable. They simply are viable, whereas the fabricating approach is unviable as far as reliably realising permaculture’s promise in the world.

I sincerely hope that this effort contributes, even if it is a tiny little nudge, toward a stronger permaculture.


I would love to hear what you make of all this, either as a comment below, as an email through the contact form, or, even better, as a guest post which I invite anyone to submit.


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.
Alexander, Christopher. The Nature of Order: An Essay on the Art of Building and the Nature of the Universe: Book Three: A Vision of a Living World. Vol. 3. of 4 vols. The Center for Environmental Structure, 2005.
Falk, Ben. The Resilient Farm & Homestead, 2013.
Hemenway, Toby. The Permaculture City. Chelsea Green, 2015.
Holmgren, David. Trees on the Treeless Plains: Revegetation Manual for the Volcanic Landscapes of Central Victoria. Holmgren Design Services, 1994.
Holmgren, David. Melliodora: Hepburn Permaculture Gardens. Holmgren Design Services, 1995.
Mollison, Bill. Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual. Tagari, 1988.


Thanks to James Andrews and Alexander Olsson for their feedback on a draft of this post.


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…