Permaculture - connecting with nature, community and growing nutritious food

This is an initial post in response to Annabel who suggested a lot of people don't know what permaculture is.

I thought I'd start by explaining why I have found it so compelling.


But firstly a quick introduction

I live on Victoria Road with my wife Sophia (teacher at Rhodes primary), my daughter Olivia (sixth form student at Alexandra Park) and my father-in-law, George.  I work at Lloyds Bank as a freelancer helping transform their ways of working to become more effective and, ultimately, survive in increasingly uncertain times.

I found my way to permaculture when I was reflecting on the climate crisis and asking myself the question:

How can our thinking or our world view have helped us arrive at a place where we have created the conditions for massive destruction of  our environment and home?

I recognise this is not exactly a light topic but I'd prefer to be straight forward and open about my thinking. There is a tendency to pussy foot around in this country to avoid offence.

Anyway, in my research, which I won't detail here to get to the point, I formed a few conclusions on both what the problems were and the role that permaculture could play.


The problems

These are a few of the themes that emerged on our world view (this is not universal across the globe but is becoming more dominant)

  • we act as if we are separate from and need to control nature
  • we believe that resources are scarce so we need to compete for my share to keep me safe


What is permaculture?

Permaculture is a framework that includes ethics and design principles for how to live in harmony with nature.

3783455147?profile=RESIZE_710xThe ethics are as follows:

  • earth care
  • people care
  • fair share


When it was first conceived in Australia in the 70's by David Holmgren, it was a combination of 'permanent' and 'agriculture' and is summarised by this quote taken from the wikipedia page.

"Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single product system."

There are different ways in which it is realised but they all come back to the same basic idea of working with nature.

Epping Forest, for example, doesn't appear to need any input of fertilisers or pesticides to help the plants and trees to grow successfully. It is still very much managed but not to the same degree as required in modern agriculture.



One popular strand of permaculture is forest gardening which replicates the fertility and sustainability of a woodland ecosystem to grow food.

(Forest Garden at Dartington is shown on the left)

One of the features of permaculture is the reduced ongoing maintenance required - the phrase 'no dig' gardening is based on permaculture and understanding natural ecosystems.

No doubt you would be suprised if you were to see people regularly digging over the soil in Epping Forest!


How can permaculture help?

My interest in permaculture is that it provides an accessible way of reconnecting with nature. It is also a 'design system' that gives us a framework for how we might do that. It should, of course, be 'natural' for us to do this but I think we need some help to deprogram ourselves.

I am also very interested in supporting this as a community initiative because it helps build community strength and reslience which I feel is very much needed.

It provides us with the very relevant, practical skill to grow our own food and an appreciation of how nutritious it is or otherwise.

It is a way for us to help each other and those who suffer from food poverty.

Edible London is dedicated to providing nutritious food to those suffering from food poverty and is helping some allotment owners, schools and community gardens in return for donating a percentage of their produce.


Further investigation

You can read more about research into sustainable ways of growing food as Agrofrestry here (and even book a tour around one of their research sites).

You can volunteer (no expertise required) to gain some experience, learn and help with a community garden through Permablitz London.

Volunteer at one of the established sites running using permaculture principles:

Castle Cafe Garden

Meadow Orchard in Crouch End

Organic Lea Worker's Cooperative near Chingford

Edible London (specialise in forest gardens, Finsbury Park) (the website seems a bit flakey at the moment)


An easy way start to permaculture in your garden (which includes stopping digging and weeding!) is to take up mulching.

Permaculture tells us that soil is your most precious resource and an ecosystem that we need to nurture (and the science tells us that we are suffering a soil fertility crisis). I remember walking through pine trees recently and picking up a handful of pine needles to see the rich soil that is created naturally as these decompose. This layer or needles, leaves, dead wood or undergrowth that you will see in most natural environments is 'nature's mulch'. In fact, digging the soil can be very destructive - this article explores the true nature of healthy soil and why digging was a good idea but actually decreases fertility and forces us to supplement it artificially.

Mulching keeps the soil moist (reducing the need for watering), supresses weeds and provides nutrients for the soil.

You can start mulching by using wood chips although there is a whole variety of mulching techniques available (here's a website I have just found). I have been collecting leaves off the street as a natural mulch as well as sweeping the leaves from my garden directly into the bed. Shredding them through the mower is great to accelerate decomposition.

I am not an experienced gardener (I have only become interested in the last year or so) so I suspect you will have some great ideas for mulching which you can share.


Contact me if you've got a space (could be your back garden) where you'd like to try out permaculture. Or if you'd just like to know more and would like to talk.

I would love to start a conversation and share experiences - please comment below if you'd like to share.


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  • Another local place where people have started a project like this is at Priory Common Orchard at the junction of Priory Road and Alexandra Park Way (bottom of Muswell Hill) by the kids playcentre: website. For anyone who's by that way and doesn't know it, it is worth a look. It's a very pleasant corner just to sit (in spite of the traffic) but there are also all sorts of plants and growing methods to be seen. It's mainly run by volunteers, with the local residents' association and council providing some support.










    There must be quite a lot of other small corners around this district where something similar is possible - if the space is a public one, but moderately protected all the same, like the Priory Road site, then it's the sort of thing people can do whenever is convenient for them, share the work (and pleasure) and let other people see what's happening. If anyone interested can think of suitable sites, then do please post them here.

    • Thanks Alex. It's amazing how these little gems are hidden away.  Only by speaking to people or taking to the streets can these be discovered.

    • It puts me in mind of the first principle of pernaculture 

      Observe and Interact

      Being observant and responding to what we see is really important in moving towards a more ethical and sustainable way of life.

      We can learn from nature,and from other people, observing how others have moved to a greener and more ethical approach, and working with the world around us to succeed in our goals.


      I shall have a look at this garden next week

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