Permaculture Designers Manual



Section 3.16 –

General Practical Procedures in Permaculture Property Design

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Except for the complex subject of village design, a property design from one-fourth to 50 ha needs firstly a clear assessment of “client or occupier needs“, and stated aims or ideas from all potential occupiers (including children).

A clear idea of the financial and skill resources of occupants is necessary so that the plan can be financially viable.

With a base map, aerial photograph, or a person as a guide, the designer can proceed to observe the site, making notes and selecting places for:

  • Access ways and other earthworks;
  • Housing and buildings;
  • Water supply and purification, irrigation;
  • Energy systems; and
  • Specific forest, crop, and animal system placement.
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All the above are in relation to slope, soil suitability and existing landforms.

By inspection; some priorities may be obvious (fire control, access, erosion prevention).

Other factors need to be tackled in stages as time, money, and species permit.

At the end of each stage, trial, or project, both past performance and future stage evolution should be assessed, so that a guide to future adjustments, additions, or extension is assembled as a process.

In all of this, design methodologies plus management is involved, and it is therefore far better to train an owner-designer who can apply long-term residential management than to evolve a roving designer, except as an aide to initial placements, procedures, and resource listings.”

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The restrictions on site use must first be ascertained before a plan is prepared or approved. In the matter of buildings, easements, health and sewage requirements, permits, and access there will probably be a local authority to consult.

If water (stream) diversions are foreseen, state or federal authorities may need to be consulted.

The homely, but probably essential process of building up real friendships between residents, designers, officials, and neighbors should be a conscious part of new initiatives.

Small local seminars help a lot, as district skills and resources can be assessed.

There is no better guide to plant selection than to note district successes, or native species and exotics that usually accompany a recommended plant. Nearby towns, in gardens and parks, often reveal a rich plant resource.

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As every situation is unique, the skill of design (and often of market success) is to select a few unique aspects for every design. These can vary from unique combinations of energy systems, sometimes with surplus for sale, to social income from recreational or accommodation uses of the property.

This unique aspect may lie in special conditions of existing buildings, vegetation, soil type, or in the social and market contact of the region. Wherever occupants have special skills, a good design can use these to good effect, e.g. a good chemist can process plant oils easily.

A design is a marriage of landscape, people, and skills in the context of a regional society.

If a design ended at the physical and human aspects, it would still be incomplete.

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Careful financial and legal advice, plus an introduction to resources in this area and a dear idea for marketing or income from services and products (with an eye to future, trends) is also essential.


Over a relatively short evolution of three to six years, a sound design might well achieve:

  • Reduction in the need to earn (conservation of food and energy costs).
  • Repair and conservation of degraded landscapes, buildings, soils, and species at risk.
  • Sustainable product in short-, medium-, and long-terms.
  • A unique, preferably essential, service or product for the region.
  • Right livelihood (good work) for occupants in services or goods.
  • Sound and safe legal status for the occupiers.
  • A harmonious and productive landscape without wastes or poisons.
  • A cooperative and information-rich part of a regional society.
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These then, or factors allied to them, are the test of good design over the long term.

For many regions, a designer or occupant can provide species (as nursery), resources (as education), services (as food processing or lease), or simply an example of sustainable future occupations.

Pioneer designers in a region should seek to capitalize on that pioneer aspect, and provide resources for newcomers to the region.