Grow an Edible Landscape with a Permaculture Food Forest

a permaculture garden with large kale leaves and other plants
  • 10-100 hours
  • Beginner
  • 0-500

It’s time to shake up everything you know about gardening.

While you likely envision rows of your favorite herbs and vegetables when thinking about a garden, resetting those ideas can provide a low-maintenance, natural balance of greater and healthier abundance for both you and the environment.

It’s called permaculture.

Stemming from the idea of "permanent agriculture," the phrase permaculture was created in Australia by the father of permaculture, Bill Mollison, and a then graduate student, David Holmgren.

The duo coined the phrase, wrote a book, and gave birth to the concept of permaculture in the 1970’s, but in essence, the practice has been in service for thousands of years.

What Is Permaculture?

It’s a little difficult to succinctly define, but permaculture is basically self-sustaining gardening.

It’s a balance of natural materials combined with well-chosen plants that work together in natural harmony.

Permaculture can be used to support the growth of food or medicine, attract animals, deter pests, improve the soil and add beauty.

It’s more than just the plants themselves though. It’s a lifestyle and a mindset.

It might be best to understand permaculture through other types of agriculture.

For example, you’re probably familiar with organic farming, which is the act of growing crops without the use of unnecessary fertilizers, insecticides, and pesticides.

You may have heard of regenerative farming, which takes organic farming a bit further by placing a focus on the health and biodiversity of the soil.

Permaculture takes that idea even further with the focus on a lifestyle that extends beyond the landscape alone.

mixed vegetable food garden with colorful chard

Step 1 - Decide Your Priorities

Permaculture incorporates things like rainwater collection as a natural resource.

For some designs, water might be collected and filtered from a home’s gray water and funneled into the garden for efficiency.

Someone practicing permaculture may also focus on renewable energy practices, selection of natural materials and even conscientious purchasing.

Step 2 - Observe and Research Plants

healthy golden wheat plants

This is where permaculture may not give you the results you anticipate from a garden. The idea is to work with nature rather than against it.

For some, that means not being able to grow the types of foods they normally would.

It’s just too resource consuming to grow plants that don’t match the environment.

For this reason, the system relies on perennials more than annuals, and plants that will grow well without the need for additional care.

Choose native plants whenever possible.

Work with the concepts of vertical gardening, edible landscapes, and wildlife gardening, which are all under the permaculture umbrella, when selecting your plants.

Step 3 - Create Layers

permaculture landscape with edible plants

Think of a standard forest and imagine the array of heights represented.

Plants are close together, intermingled, and growing above and below each other. They benefit from that arrangement so work it into the plan.

Choose fruit and nuts trees for the tallest layer. Then work in shorter berries and finish off the lowest level with herbs or flowers.

Step 4 - Plant Your Permaculture Food Forest

No-dig gardening is one aspect of permaculture. This simply means leaving the soil intact and planting above ground instead.

This commonly takes the form of raised beds.

However, it might also look towards keyhole gardens, hugelkultur, or sheet mulching, which are all types of gardening systems that start with a layer of nutrients and build up to the planting layer.

Step 5 - Maintenance

A properly managed permaculture system doesn’t require weeding or other ongoing maintenance with the exception of possibly watering and occasionally adding mulch.

The process can make use of compost for a full-circle system where the plant scraps feed the compost, which in turn helps grow new plants.

Step 6 - Enjoy the Benefits of Your Food Forest

permaculture garden with squash and flowers

Choosing native plants and creating layers of compatible plantings adds the proper balance of nutrients to the soil, requires fewer resources, invites pollinators, and eliminates the need for fertilizers.

A permaculture garden brings diversity in a self-supporting way, eliminating the need for chemicals and naturally reducing pollution as a result.

Growing your own food also avoids contributing to transport emissions and deforestation taking place around the globe, and by encouraging carbon sequestration in developing root systems, permaculture supports efforts to reduce and even reverse global warming too, which benefits us all.