Planning with permaculture principles

There is a lovely book written by a permaculture teacher in Herefordshire – Looby Macnamara. The following are some extracts from “People & Permaculture” published by Permanent Publications. Looby’s website is well worth visiting, and I highly recommend getting hold of the book yourself – available from Looby through the website.

Looby acknowledges that there are as many meanings of permaculture as there are permacultures, but offers these commonalities and key points:


  • Uses nature as our guide
  • Thinks holistically
  • Is solutions based
  • Is a design system
  • Is based on co-operation and connections
  • Creates abundance and harmony

I don’t feel there’s too much problem with translating these principles to planning for learning and professional development.

There are three underpinning ethical principles to applying permaculture to one’s planning:

  1. Earthcare (living sustainably and thinking about the environment)
  2. Peoplecare (looking after ourselves, and the people around us, valuing diversity, empowering those around us)
  3. Fair shares (two aspects to this – living within limits, and giving away surplus)

Further thoughts – two words:

Allowing, and Abundance

Allowing implies giving permission to ourselves to experiment, be, and connect. But also allowing others around us to do the same.

Abundance is a recognition of the way we sometimes view resources in a false way, expecting everything to be in short supply, and finite. Of course, this is not always true at all – many resources will increase with use (for instance friendship, self-esteem, knowledge, skills). It is also valuable to recognise the abundance we do have rather than focusing on the shortages of other things.

Permaculture and Healthcare

As someone who has spent their whole adult life learning and working in healthcare, I am very nourished by the way thinking about permaculture helps me to think about health and illness. “Allowing recovery” is a more apt term for what I do than “treating illness”.

The permission to heal is often granted by the individual in need of healing themselves. But there is a facilitative role for a practitioner in enabling that permission to be granted. My job too is to create the environment for healing – this might involve observation, tolerance of uncertainty, empowerment, reassurance, specific interventions or advice, conversations with families, or explanations. And it is the balance between all of these that creates that environment for healing.

There’s tons of useful stuff in this book! I’m going to list now the 12 principles suggested by David Holmgren, as described (with proverbs) by Looby:

Twelve Principles

  1. Observe and Interact

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. Everything has different viewpoints and it is up to us to where we stand to look. When we look with appreciation we can normally find the positives.

Ask: “What do I see or feel in myself, what’s my body feeling, what’s my intuition saying? What can I change?”


  1. Catch and Store Energy

“Make hay while the sun shines”. It is easiest to work with the energy of the time. Or as new mums know, sleep while the baby sleeps. Niches in time and space open up and finding the best-suited activity produces the most efficient results.

Ask: “What gives me energy? What activity would best suit this niche or time and space?”


  1. Obtain a yield

“You can’t work on an empty stomach”. Achieving short-term goals, getting results and meeting immediate needs entice us to work towards longer-term visions.

Ask: “What are the yields available? Am I currently harvesting them?”


  1. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback

“The sins of our fathers are visited unto the seventh generation”. Not only do we reap what we sow, it has effects on future generations as well.

Ask: “Where am I receiving feedback from? (e.g. my body, people around me, written, verbal). How can I monitor my progress?”


  1. Use and value renewable resources and services

“Let nature take its course”. Be patient and allow natural processes their own pace, reaping the benefits at the appropriate time.

Ask: “Where can I meet my needs with renewable resources?”

  1. Produce no waste

“Waste not, want not – a stitch in time saves nine”. Timely maintenance can significantly reduce waste, whether it is our health, relationships, tools, or clothing.

Ask: Where is my time being wasted? What needs maintaining in my life?”


  1. Design from patterns to details

“Can’t see the wood for the trees”. When concentrating on the details we can miss the bigger picture of what is going on.

Ask: “What are the patterns at play here? Am I getting lost in the details?”


  1. Integrate rather than segregate

“Many hands make light work”. Moving a wardrobe by yourself can be impossible, with two or three people it is achievable. Together we have the power to move mountains.

Ask: “are there aspects of my life I can bring together?


  1. Use small and slow solutions

“Slow and steady wins the race. The bigger they are, the harder they fall”. Quick, big fixes are not necessarily the best or long lasting.

Ask: “is there a small step I could take today? Where am I likely to trip up if I go too fast?”


  1. Use and value diversity

“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”. Contingency plans can protect against loss.

Ask: “How many roles do I have? What areas of my life would benefit from more diversity?”


  1. Use and value edges and the marginal

“Don’t think you are on the right track just because it is a well-beaten path”. The most obvious solution is not always the most important and correct. Just because everybody else does it, doesn’t mean there aren’t preferred, viable alternatives.

Ask: “Where are the edges of my comfort zone? How can I expand these limits?”


  1. Creatively use and respond to change

“Vision is not seeing things as they are, but as they will be”. Change is inevitable. How we deal with it is important. We can use our imagination to see our lives, and the world, as we would like them to be.

Ask: “How can I use the change to my advantage? Where and how am I resisting change? What gifts did the last big change in my life give me?”


Mark Waters, 2015

With thanks to Looby, who really likes the idea of permaculture integrating with healthcare, and gave her permission for me to use the above quotes.