Permaculture: A better approach to gardening for your health, wealth, and environment

By Christopher Vieau

If you want to be an environmentally conscious gardener or homeowner, it may be worth considering an alternative method to planning your property. The traditional North American suburban lawn and garden typically requires much maintenance, generous amounts of watering and the addition of fertilizers and chemicals in order to be successful.

These activities degrade land and incorporate pollutants into the local environment. Quite recently, around the world, a new movement has brought hope for the future of our planet, and it starts with the homeowner.

Permaculture, is a set of principles adapted from the sustainable agricultural systems practiced by indigenous peoples worldwide before the era of modern agriculture, widely credited to the author Bill Mollison. The goal of these principles is to create reciprocity between an individual and the environment in a physical manner, implementing nature with the individual.

The benefits inherent in the adoption of these principles in home and garden design include much more than the generic North American lawn and garden offer. Benefits include the reduction of labour, increased edible yields, and enrichment of the local environment in which the property is associated.

With careful planning and experimentation, one can develop an almost entirely self sufficient food garden system, reducing the need to purchase food, while also substantially enhancing the environment. This is in contrast to today’s traditional methods of lawn and garden treatment, which in principle, force nature with chemicals and intensive watering.

Greater care and attention for the natural processes in simple and conscious designs can reduce ecological harm and reinforce environmental health. This is proving to have a multitude of potential benefits for the individual homeowner. In fact, a recent study of permaculture practitioners in European cities found evidence that persons who participated in urban permaculture experienced many benefits associated with their home garden activities, socially, economically and physically.

The concept of permaculture has also created some controversy over the value of property. Should having a food forest in your front yard decrease or increase property value? I would argue it should increase it’s value. The modern traditional urban lawn in North America was only conceptualized recently in the 1950s, by early American real estate agents with intentions to display new homes, where formerly these areas were rural, inhabited by tall grasses which would obstruct the view of the home from the roadside.

From this time, an industry around lawn and garden care has perpetuated the tradition. Today, in The United States, the turfgrass lawn occupies more land than any single agricultural crop, while the nutrients added are also much higher than in agricultural production. With climate change and environmental disasters becoming increasingly prevalent, maybe it’s time we relieve ourselves of this generic turfgrass tradition.

One doesn’t need a lot of space to establish a permaculture system. Christopher Shein, the author of ’The Vegetable Gardeners Guide to Permaculture’ now grows an abundance of a wide variety of edible plants on a mere 40 by 50-foot property. In his book, he also provides examples of basic backyard permaculture designs which a homeowner can apply to their own property.

Efficient placement of crops in relation to natural processes, diversity of crop type and designs with multiple functions are key. Imagine cultivating a multitude of edible herbs fruits and vegetables grown right from your own property, with a reduced physical labour requirement while also having a positive environmental impact.

A simple online search for home permaculture will yield a variety of interesting and inspirational projects such as rooftop or vertical surface gardening in small spaces, and self sufficient, geothermically heated greenhouses for inspiration.

There are are now even some design experts such as ‘Wildcraft Permaculture’ or the ‘Backyard Urban Farm Co.’ who can assist you in developing a system, regardless of the scale of project.

Jane Hayes, founder of ‘Garden Jane’ is mapping a network between the many centres of permaculture that exist in Ontario. Her progress can be viewed here.

It may be worth investing time into implementing the concept on your property, as a modern, creative and environmentally conscious homeowner and gardener.

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