Permaculture Designers Manual




Section 1.3 –

Permaculture In Landscape and Society


As the basis of Permaculture is beneficial design, it can be added to all other ethical training and skills, and has the potential of taking a place in all human endeavors.

In the broad landscape, however, Permaculture concentrates on already-settled areas and agricultural lands.

Almost all of these need drastic rehabilitation and re-thinking.

One certain result of using our skills to integrate food supply and settlement, to catch water from our roof areas, and to place nearby a zone of fuel forest which receives wastes and supplies energy, will be to free most of the area of  the globe for the rehabilitation of natural systems.

These need never be looked upon as “of use to people“, except in the very broad sense of global health.


The real difference between a cultivated (designed) ecosystem, and a natural system, is that the great majority of species (and biomass) in the cultivated ecology is intended for the use of humans or their livestock.

We are only a small part of the total primeval or natural species assembly, and only a small part of its yields are directly available to us.

But in our own gardens, almost every plant is selected to provide or support some direct yield for people. Household design relates principally to the needs of people; it is thus human-centered. (Anthropocentric)

This is a valid aim for settlement design, but we also need a nature-centered ethic for wilderness conservation.

We cannot, however, do much for nature if we do not govern our greed, and if we do not supply our needs from our existing settlements. If we can achieve this aim, we can withdraw from much of the agricultural landscape, and allow natural systems to flourish.

Recycling of nutrients and energy in nature is a function of many species. In our gardens, it is our own responsibility to return wastes (via compost or mulch) to the soil and plants.

We actively create soil in our gardens, whereas in nature many other species carry out that function. Around our homes we can catch water for garden use, but we rely on natural forested landscapes to provide the condenser leaves and clouds to keep rivers running with clean water, to maintain the global atmosphere, and to lock up our gaseous pollutants.

Thus, even anthropocentric people would be well-advised to pay close attention to, and to assist in, the conservation of existing forests and the rehabilitation of degraded lands.

Our own survival demands that we preserve all existing species, and allow them a place to live.



We have abused the land and laid waste to systems we need never have disturbed had we attended to our home gardens and settlements.


If we need to state a set of ethics on natural systems, then let it be thus:

Implacable and uncompromising opposition to further disturbance of any remaining natural forests, where most species are still in balance“;

Vigorous rehabilitation of degraded and damaged natural systems to stable states“;

Establishment of plant systems for our own use on the least amount of land we can use for our existence“; and

 “Establishment of plant and animal refuges for rare or threatened species“.


Permaculture as a design system deals primarily with the third statement above, but all people who act responsibly in fact subscribe to the first and second statements.


That said, I believe we should use all the species we need or can find to use in our own settlement designs, providing they are not locally rampant and invasive.

Whether we approve of it or not, the world about us continually changes.

Some would want to keep everything the same, but history, paleontology, and commonsense tells us that all has changed, is changing, will change.


In a world where we are losing forests, species, and whole ecosystems, there are three concurrent and parallel responses to the environment:

1. CARE FOR SURVIVING NATURAL ASSEMBLIES, to leave the wilderness to heal itself .

2.  REHABILITATE DEGRADED OR ERODED LAND using complex pioneer species and long-term plant assemblies (trees, shrubs, ground covers).

3.  CREATE OUR OWN COMPLEX LIVING ENVIRONMENT with as many species as we can save, or have need for, from wherever on earth they come.


We are fast approaching the point where we need refuges for all global life forms, as well as regional, national, or state parks for indigenous forms of plants and animals.

While we see our local flora and fauna as “native“, we may also logically see all life as “native to earth“.

While we try to preserve systems that are still local and diverse, we should also build new or recombinant ecologies from global resources, especially in order to stabilize degraded lands.

In your own garden, there are likely to be plants, animals, and soil organisms from every major landmass and many islands. Jet travel has merely accelerated a process already well-established by continental drift, bird migration, wind transport, and the rafting of debris by water.


Everything will, in time, either become extinct, spread more widely, or evolve to new forms. Each of these processes is happening at once, but the rate of extinction and exchange is accelerating.

Rather than new species, adapted hybrids are arising for example as palms, sea grasses, snails, and micro-organisms from many continents meet, mix, and produce new accommodations to their ‘”new“‘ environments.

The very chemistry of the air, soil, and water is in flux. Metals, chemicals, isotopes, gases, and plastics are loose on earth that have never before been present, or never present in such form and quantity before we made it so.


It is my belief that we have two responsibilities to pursue:

Primarily, it is to get our house and garden, our place of living, in order, so that it supports us.”

 “Secondarily, it is to limit our population on earth, or we ourselves become the final plague.”


Both these duties are intimately connected, as stable regions create stable populations. If we do not get our cities, homes, and gardens in order, so that they feed and shelter us, we must lay waste to all other natural systems.

Thus, truly responsible conservationists have gardens which support their food needs, and are working to reduce their own energy needs to a modest consumption, or to that which can be supplied by local wind, water, forest, or solar power resources. We can work on providing biomass for our essential energy needs on a household and regional scale.


 It is hypocrisy to pretend to save forests, yet to buy daily newspapers and packaged food; to preserve native plants, yet rely on agrochemical production for food; and to adopt a diet which calls for broad scale food production.

Philosopher-gardeners, or farmer-poets, are distinguished by their sense of wonder and real feeling for the environment.

When religions cease to obliterate trees in order to build temples or human artifacts, and instead generalize love and respect to all living systems as a witness to the potential of creation, they too will join the many of us now deeply appreciating the complexity and self-sustaining properties of natural systems, from whole universes to simple molecules.

Gardener, scientist, philosopher, poet, and adherent of religions all can conspire in admiration of, and reverence for, this earth. We create our own life conditions, now and for the future.


In Permaculture, this means that all of us have some part in identifying, supporting, recommending, investing in, or creating wilderness habitats and species refuges.

The practical way to proceed (outside the home garden) is to form or subscribe to institutes or organizations whose aims under their legal charter are to carry out conservation activities.

While the costs are low, in sum total the effects are profound. Even the smallest garden can reserve off a few square meters of insect, lizard, frog, or butterfly habitat, while larger gardens and farms can fence off forest and wetland areas of critical value to local species.

Such areas should be only for the conservation of local species.

Permaculture as a design system contains nothing new. It arranges what was always there in a different way, so that it works to conserve energy or to generate more energy than it consumes.


What is novel and often overlooked, is that any system of total common sense design for human communities is revolutionary!

Design is the keyword of this course: design in landscape, social, and conceptual systems; and design in space and time.

I have attempted a treatment on the difficult subject of patterning, and have tried to order some complex subjects so as to make them accessible. The text is positivistic, without either the pretended innocence or the belief that everything will turn out right. Only if we make it so will this happen.

As will be clear in other Modules of this course, the end result of the adoption of permaculture strategies in any country or region will be to dramatically reduce the area of the agricultural environment needed by the households and the settlements of people, and to release much of the landscape for the sole use of wildlife and for re-occupation by endemic flora.

Respect for all life forms is a basic, and an essential, ethic for all people.