by Ann McCulloh
The word “permaculture” rears up like a mighty monolith: imposing, enigmatic, encoded with a message that will change the world, if we can just decode it and get our heads around it…
My own struggle to define permaculture amuses me, really, because some of the inherent joy in this wonderfully empowering design philosophy/practice is in ceasing to struggle. When we slow down and begin to really observe and understand how the natural systems around us are functioning, we begin to see how we can just fit ourselves into those existing ecological processes with minor adjustments to them and us.
I’m a concrete thinker who appreciates material examples more than intellectual constructs. So, a small example:
The Ithaca Children’s Garden was fighting a perennial flooded soggy place in the lawn where the sloped parking lot channeled water into the grass. What to do? Fill it with gravel? Add dirt, level it and seed with grass? Build a dam or install curbing? Dig a drainage system? All solutions that involved expense, long term maintenance, and commitment to an extended struggle.
Instead, their permaculture perspective suggested digging out a little more, planting bog-loving plants at the edges, building a little boardwalk, and, Voila! A mini-wetland that attract dragonflies, birds, frogs -and children- in droves. As usual, the problem WAS the solution.
On my property, I use all of my autumn leaves as mulch and fertilizer. (Rather than blowing, raking, bagging and hauling, then purchasing commercial fertilizer and mulch.) Dandelions, purslane, violets and other “weeds” are groundcover, bee forage, butterfly hostplants, food and medicine for me, and green manure for the compost. (I could drive myself nuts digging them out or killing them with toxic herbicides, I guess.)These are small-scale adjustments, not permaculture design on a grand scale. But practices like these keep me in the right frame of mind: observing, appreciating and working with the incredible systems of abundance that surround us.