Penny on Permaculture

It is difficult to explain in a few words exactly what Permaculture is. Most people have never heard of it, and are often rude and dismissive. The word was coined in the 1970s from the words Permanent and Agriculture, but it has since incorporated the concept of Culture. It is now a philosophy of life, concerned with creating a culture of permanence.

Bill Mollison, one of the founding fathers, described it thus:

  • Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against, nature.
  • It is protracted and thoughtful observation, rather than protracted and thoughtless labour,
  • And it is a way of looking at plants and animals in all their functions rather than treating any area as a single-product system.

In essence, it is about designing our lives around the principles of Diversity, Stability and Empowerment.

I have just returned from a brief visit to the city of London, where I used some of the principles advocated by David Holmgren, another founding father.

  • I observed crowded spaces, unhappy looking folk, polluted air and much noise.
  • I interacted with diverse people who are tired and stressed, and who talk a lot about money. Maybe they suffer from protracted and thoughtless labour.

The principles of Permaculture are:

  • Observe and interact
  • Catch and store energy
  • Obtain a yield
  • Apply self-regulation and accept feed back
  • Produce no waste
  • Design from patterns to details
  • Use and value renewable resources and services
  • Integrate rather than segregate
  • Use small and slow solutions
  • Use and value diversity
  • Use edges and value the marginal
  • Creatively use and respond to change

So how are these principles affecting my life? I certainly have some personal ethics, which resonate with them.

At retirement, after a long career as a physiotherapist, I ‘responded creatively to change’ by changing my life.

In Swaziland, I had been running a small farm, where I was responsible, with my husband and helpers, for an orchard of fibreless mango trees and a small herd of beef cattle.

This experience gave me the courage to opt again for a more holistic and sustainable lifestyle. I envisaged a fresh look at my life, and set myself the challenge of living in new country, speaking a different language.

After a great deal of reflection on how Geoff and I wanted to live in our Third Age, in 2014, I finally retired from my career as a physiotherapist.

My work in various institutes for the elderly in the UK convinced me that the care system disabled folk, resulting in social separation and physical deterioration. ‘Stay well connected to Life’, became my mantra. ‘Keep active, but remain creative.’

We envisaged our new life with this in mind, using our skill set for the best outcome. Geoff loves building and has great ability. I am an enthusiastic gardener, and keen to growing fresh produce. I also enjoy interior makeovers; my main skill being painting.

Dovetailed into this is the inspiration of music, which is where my principle creative energy resides. I have been playing the piano seriously since the age of 6, and also love singing. Imagination and dreaming are the power house of tomorrow. As Stephen Paul writes in his inspirational book Interactions:

  • Dream your dream, focus your intention, take each step to make it real
  • Take total responsibility for the fulfilment of your vision
  • Create the world you dream of with every choice you make.

Geoff and I pursued our desire for change by understanding the importance of sustainable living in community. We researched co-housing and other concepts of integration.

The Dream

  • A large house in the country, near an established community, with enough space to establish separate modest living quarters.
  • The house would Include ‘common space’, big enough to accommodate others, where spontaneous, creative activities could occur.
  • A garden, where we could practise permaculture and obtain a yield.

In our creative thoughts we were sowing the seeds of a common goal. With all of this resonating in our minds and, knowing action speaks stronger than thoughts and words, we ventured forth.

The Journey

The first decision was the location. As we had spent much time In Africa, it was tempting to return. However, we had now spent 15 years in England. To find such a place there would be prohibitively expensive. Being pro-Europe and Francophiles, and always ready for something new, we finally decided to research and find a suitable home in Southern France.

“Follow your heart and trust”, say the great spiritual leaders. African peoples have such trust in the Great Spirit, Umkhulunkhulu.

Penny Douglas

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *