12 Principles of Permaculture

Let’s get things straight. ‘Permaculture’ is not gardening. It’s the conscious design of “landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fibre and energy for provision of local needs” (David Holmgren). In short, it’s a design system for creating human settlements that function in harmony with nature.

Now we’ve got that settled, let’s travel in time to Malin Hermitage, Transylvania: home of Philippe, Adriana, 7 donkeys, two dogs and one cat. You’ve arrived in time for the commencement of the 2012 72-hour residential Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC), taught by Pascale and a motley crew of 7 facilitators (representing 4 different countries).

Malin Hermitage, Romania


19 students are in the process of arriving. You know no-one. You know nothing, only that you’d like to live closer to nature, developing the skills and habits of mind that will help you materialise an abundant, connected and self-reliant future. Maybe you’re a student, an activist, unemployed, a builder, an engineer, a mother, or a grandfather – perhaps you’re none of these. The point is, you’re here to learn. So let’s get started.

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  1. Observe and Interact
    By taking the time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.
  2. Catch and Store Energy
    By developing systems that collect resources when they are abundant, we can use them in times of need.
  3. Obtain a yield
    Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the working you are doing.
  4. Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback
    We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well. Negative feedback is often slow to emerge.
  5. Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services
    Make the best use of nature’s abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources.
  6. Produce No Waste
    By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.
  7. Design From Patterns to Details
    By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.
  8. Integrate Rather Than Segregate
    By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.
  9. Use Small and Slow Solutions
    Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and produce more sustainable outcomes.
  10. Use and Value Diversity
    Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.
  11. Use Edges and Value the Marginal
    The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.
  12. Creatively Use and Respond to Change
    We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing and then intervening at the right time.

The principles are a rough guide. They incorporate traditional knowledge, modern science, and the ecological patterns of the living world. Have fun and adapt them to your particular circumstances. They’re applicable to farms, gardens, organisations, housing developments, towns and villages, or city neighbourhoods. 

If you’re feeling confused, just remember the 3 central ethics of permaculture – EARTH CARE, PEOPLE CARE, FAIR SHARE – and let them be your guide.



Building with earth

Sam and Richie examine soil jar tests

Building a synergistic garden. Mulch it!!!

18-day compost to inoculate the soil with life


Pascale, Chenli & Tino

Nina, Philippe & Richie

Dirk & Anna



Judith & Tino


Pascale, Sam, Edina and Mark prepare pizzas in the earth oven. Make sure there’s enough for all!

The communal dining table

Jesse & Dragos refill the solar shower. A few litres p/person and we’ll all get clean.

Letting everyone’s voices and ideas be heard

Why I love permaculture
Like most good things in my life I found my way to permaculture through literature – Masanobu Fukuoka’s One Straw Revolution. This text is dear to many permaculture practitioners in so far as it exemplifies: wisdom through observation, intelligent interaction with nature, design, and a holistic systems-based approach to living. What I personally like about the book is that it marries philosophy with natural farming techniques. If One Straw Revolution doesn’t float your boat, try The Worm Forgives the PloughWild Woods or Walden. 

Observing dragonflies by the pond

Malin Hermitage PDC 2012
From September 1-14th 30 people gathered at Malin Hermitage to share the experience of a 72-hour Permaculture Design Certificate. It was the 3rd PDC to be held on the site – a beautiful location for learning from nature and one another. When Richie and I arrived on site water was running short but spirits were high. What followed was an amalgamation of different learning styles, personalities, influences, outpourings and inspirations. Teachers became students, teachers students. Hands got dirty. Intentions deepened. Scepticism dissipated. Edges were pushed. Intense and exhilarating, exhausting and uplifting – like all rich learning experiences should be.

Having come 1,200km off route to the course, Richie and I were not disappointed. We found friendship, new skills, strategies, ideas, growing confidence in teaching, and renewed desire to design our lives in a way that maximises opportunities to gain practical skills, knowledge and new ideas about how to live harmoniously with others. It’s not about fast or clever solutions, but asking the right questions, observing, and learning from our mistakes.

Morning yoga, chi gong, night-time fires, spontaneous jamming, and spontaneous elderflower/plum jam-making made every day a celebration. I felt inspired by the open, enthusiastic and generous spirit of our hosts, and impressed by the adaptability and pragmatism of our students. This bright and diverse bunch of students overcame a number of personal and collective challenges in order to present their hosts, Philippe and Adriana, with a creative long-term design to enhance their lives on the land, and the lives of the plants, animals and peoples with whom they share this space. If that’s not permaculture, I don’t know what is!


To find out more about how Richie and I are applying permaculture ethics and principles to the design of our overland journey from England to Australia check out Patchworks Permaculture.

“Though the problems of the world are increasingly complex,
the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.” 
― Bill Mollison



Filed under Architecture & Design, Books, Culture, Earth Care, Food, Philosophy, Social Justice, Travel

3 responses to “12 Principles of Permaculture

  1. Kay

    well written, very informative and good photos, glad the teaching went well x

  2. Nina, That’s fantastic. I really enjoyed the PDC and now reading through your post it’s like re-living it again. Thank you… and good luck on your journey 😉 Anna

  3. Dragos

    Thank you for reminding me about the principles and most of all about the people. It was a real surprise to read that you and Richie were at the first teaching experience. Even now I am not sure that you are not kidding… Maybe that’s because when a person is talking about things, ideas and habits that were already experienced by oneself, his/her words are getting more power than those of one that is talking only about what was read in a book or internet.
    Might be a very good idea to continue to experience and teach about your experience.
    Have a safe and fruitfully trip to knowledge and please don’t forget to try to find out more about your Greek heritage.


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