all theory thread DESIGN PRINCIPLES used in our course notes.

askpv askpv at
Tue Aug 22 03:41:50 EDT 2000

some years ago i had discussed this on this mailing list and was given some
wonderful evaluations by Dan Earle who completed his PDC at Ovens Natural
Park in Nova Scotia USA in July 1995 and redefined the principles whilst he
was a student (it was part of his thesis), they helped formulate my ideas.
so i feel happy to share my work with you all. [copyright of this paper
belongs to A. Sampson-Kelly at Permaculture Visions International]

Permaculture Principles:

Relative location

Aim to position elements in the design so that there is minimal transport
between them. Use natural forces where possible to work for you. (Eg. Leaves
carried by wind fall onto mulched beds, rainwater collected and fed into
watering trough, Sunlight to warm wall behind seedling trays).

Multiple functions

Each Element in the design should be used and positioned to perform a range
of functions. For Example: a tree is planted to provide food, mulch, and
shelter for the garden or house, soil conditioning, water harvesting.
Another example: A driveway for vehicles can also be used to harvest water,
and low growing plants can be planted onto the driveway and the vehicle can
control their spread. (avoid eating from these plants as they may harbour
toxins from fumes, they may serve as plant stock for propagation)

A hen house may also serves as a compost bay and worm farm. It is a
structure capable of performing many functions. This hen house was designed
by A. Sampson-kelly. It was part of an overall design by her for a
Sustainable Living Centre in Kuala Lumpur. The ventilated roof serves as
roosting area, hens forage amongst family scraps and garden weeds at chest
height, a compost drawer is beneath this then a worm farm with tap for
nutrients at the base. The aquaculture expert Mr Ng Kok Hong,
kokhong at utilised this hen house as a source of nutrients in his
aquaculture section of the design.

Multiple elements for each function

Try to satisfy a function with more than one element (Eg. use a tent of
branches as well as a low windbreak of oats; and a planting of nurse trees
to protect frost sensitive trees.)

Energy Efficiency

Use existing physical materials to maximum potential: share resources such
as cars, support local transport, build structures that can work to shelter
the garden as well as store heat for night time, require minimal energy in
maintenance, and are durable. Avoid abandoning machinery or computers that
are not competitive without first examining ways to update/expand and
increase their efficiency. We bought second hand memory to expand our
computer memory size. Many users do not use their equipment to full
potential, they are still learning the potential of the current one while
considering a new model.

Biological resources

Maximise the use of biological and physical materials. Where possible select
items for long term impact on the system (plastic is not as useful a
resource as biodegradable alternatives that can be used as mulch or compost)
A wide-spreading tree is a more efficient use of resources for a shade house
than one made of wood and nails. Selecting seed that shows greatest
resistance to pests is better than resorting to pesticide (organic or

Energy Flow

Design to capture existing energy flow (Eg. solar or running water. Even
animals can be channelled to compact and stabilise slopes on contour.)
Minimise the need for human energy input (Eg. position chickens to
distribute mulch, to weed an area). Letting nature do the work.

Natural Succession

Imitate nature in your plans to help a system evolve to meet your needs.
Allow the grasses to become seeded with herbs and flat ‘weeds’, grow tall
grasses and pioneer species that act as green manure (Oats, Wheat, Sorghum)
to protect climax species (eg. fruit trees) from frost and insect attack.
This is discussed further in Cultivated Ecology.


Aim to include a variety of each species of food plants or animals.
Diversity in nature builds resilience and resistance to pest attack. It also
lets us find which variety works well in our own particular climate and


This concept aims to maximise the productivity of a system. A garden system
can have numerous layers:

  a.. bulbs such as onions, ginger, carrots, turnips, beetroot;
  b.. low grasses such as sedges, wheat, oats, and
  c.. tall grasses like corn banana, arrowroot, cassava, cardamom;
  d.. Ground covers such as pumpkin, Warrigal greens;
  e.. Fungi such as Mushrooms, growing in the mulch beneath
  f.. Herbs such as lettuce, spinach, parsley, celeriac;
  g.. Shrubs such as wormwood, currants and bramble berries;
  h.. Small trees such as Macadamia, feijoa, carob, avocado, oranges, small
  i.. Epiphytes and Aerial plants hanging on trees and in branches. They
include stag horn ferns, bromeliaeds, orchids and epiphiliums with edible
  j.. Vines such as Kiwi fruit, grape, passionfruit.
  k.. Climax Species such as Lilly Pilly, Mulberry, Plums, Oaks, Ice cream
bean, and Nut trees.
  l.. Parasitic plants such as figs, mistletoe.
Appropriate Technology

Maximise the use of a technology by sharing or having it work to full
potential without overload.

Choose simplest and effective technologies.

 Information and Observation replaces Energy

Look for the best fit between means and an end. Eg. Our Intensive systems
are more productive, diverse and can be positioned with little waste
involved in transporting produce to consumer.

Two years ago we constructed a mandala garden on a gentle slope. The
neighbours feral chickens attacked the plants’, lifted the deep mulch, and
destroyed the paths. We re-built the garden and again it was attacked.
Finally, we solved the problem of the feral chickens (that’s another story)
and left the plants where they were. Of course the plants had become more
densely situated at the lower edge, these plants acted as a mulch trap,
water also collected in the mulch there. The path ended up on contour rather
than perfectly central. Many plants are still self-seeding prolifically. In
essence, we had decided to work with natural energies, we reduced human
energy into that site and have a more productive site.

Robyn Tredwell became Australian Rural Woman of the Year 95-96, after 10
years work she became a phenomena, her station finally became profitable and
her work is copied by many. Most of her success is linked to her keen sense
of observation, she read much about other peoples practices, but few were in
her same situation. Her station is in the Northern Territory of Australia -
a tropical climate with wet and dry seasons. Her soil was compacted, denuded
and full of invasive and dominating native and introduced species. She
observed that she could use the weeds to regenerate the soil so that more
desirable species could be introduced, she then went on to use the resources
she had at hand, namely the cattle to weed and spread the seed.

Look for optimum production with minimum intervention.


Fit the design into its surroundings (avoid planting trees whose seed are
carried by birds if the design is within an area of natural fragility - e.g.
Rainforest). Look at the wider social environment as a key to what will
work - plantings with expensive crops in may require more human intervention
such as security whereas a design which meets broader social needs can work
well for the design, welcoming workers and sharing produce encourages others
to share. If the area is arid, try to establish a rich, mixed system in
areas natural site advantages (E.g. water collection, condensation trapping,
shelter, sediment) as occurs at an oasis.

Work with the landscape.

Acknowledgment to Dan Earle who completed his PDC at Ovens Natural Park in
Nova Scotia USA in July 1995. He brought to our attention the need for us
all, in Permaculture training, to more clearly define Permaculture


Permaculture Visions International.
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-----Original Message-----
From: Myk Rushton [mailto:permaculture at]
Sent: Saturday, 1 July 2000 5:05
To: permaculture
Subject: Re: all theory thread


David Holmgren Wrote:

> Perhaps inevitably  working on the principles has led me into
> a further reorganization and clarification of my
> own understandings.

How do we define what a permaculture principle actually is or does? As
opposed to, as Toby says, rules of thumb, guidlelines, design tools or
physical and biological laws.


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