Last week, on my way to a seminar with Sepp Holzer (more on that soon), I had the happy opportunity to spend some time in Lisbon, Portugal. On several occasions during my wanderings around this beautiful city I stumbled upon a little oasis amongst the meandering streets and tumble-down buildings.
‘Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture’ is the work of a man of unique sensitivity and imagination. Holzer has combined a lifetime of practical experience with clarity of expression and intellect to produce a book which will satisfy a practically-minded farmer or gardener as well as the student of agroecological design. With gentle strength, Holzer would make designers and practicioners of us all and entrust to us neither task unless we join him in the school of nature.
He makes us want to join him in that school. He describes the techniques of what he calls “Holzer Permaculture” with surety born of concrete success and the observation of ecological health but without the urgency of someone trying to convince us that he is right. Any urgency the work posesses becons us to join with the author in the “joy of cultivation” which comes from working together with nature.
The use of natural patterns in permaculture was brought to the front of my mind when recently I re-encountered the beautiful drawings of Ernst Haeckel after they had been released into the public domain. Haeckel’s drawings of diatoms, jellyfish and other facinating organisms are intended to provoke us to consider questions of order in nature by their astounding symmetries. I was struck by how many of them possess variations on the classic “keyhole” pattern suggested by Bill Mollison for garden access. One panel in particular could almost bear the title “Meditations on the ‘Keyhole Pattern’”. These drawings provoke the questions which must be asked of all patterns if they are to be useful in design — why are they like that? To what problem are they a solution? By what force have they been shaped?
Our goal is the development of a palette of plants which can be used to develop permaculture systems which are sensitive to the climates they are in. In the last post we looked at developing the scope of our palette. In this post we will look at ways to limit that scope to the plants to the plants with the highest degree of utility for a permaculture system.
I have been interested in Masanobu Fukuoka’s ‘do nothing’ approach to farming since reading ‘The Natural Way of Farming’ some years ago as a part of early studies in permaculture. My interest was especially piqued in October last year when I watched the first three videos shown here in which Fukuoka applies his seedball method to Mediterranean climate Greece.
Most often the starting point for developing a set of plants for a permaculture will be to look at lists of useful and edible plants in regional permaculture or related books. Sometimes, however, there are few or no such lists available. Or, like me, you may have a perverse inclination towards first principles and wheel re-invention in the hope of small gains in understanding or the development of new possibilities. If either of these is the case, you will need some way of sifting through the many plant species of the world.
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