Skip to main content

By Cary White (JMMDS Intern, January 2013)

Julie and Cary at work in the JMMDS studio. Photo: JMMDS.

As the snow falls down hard here in Saxtons River, it is difficult to imagine that in just a few short months, the ground will be green again and we’ll be back to preparing our landscapes for the coming year.  But as we consider planting those ornamentals or installing our new patio, it is important—now more than ever—for us to be conscious of our role as gardeners in the natural environment.

It is not unusual for us to feel depressed and powerless about our own abilities to combat the ecological crisis our world now faces.  Sure we can drive a hybrid car and keep reusable shopping bags, but just when we start feeling good about this, we hear that carbon emissions continue to rise and that the rainforests are being cut down as quickly as ever.

There is something that all of us can do, though, to create an immediately observable and powerful benefit for the plants and animals around us.  Permaculture has become a big buzzword in the landscaping world in recent years; however, the term (coined by Aussie farmer Bill Mollison in the 70s) essentially just describes a collection of practices and concepts that have been in use for thousands of years and that have allowed countless civilizations to live practically and sustainably on the Earth.  Permaculture begins with a series of core principles (such as “recycle your waste,” “exert the least effort for the greatest change,” and “start small and build off your success”) and emphasizes the use of systems that will produce useful services for the landowner and for the restoration of the environment.  Practices such as sheet mulching are relatively simple to do and yet will help attract an variety of microorganisms to your garden that will support an abundance of healthy plants and that will go a long way in promoting biodiversity on your land.

Proponents of permaculture often stress that its methods are meant for both professional and unprofessional landscapers alike.  As any environmental scientist will tell you, it is the people who work directly with the land who are in a unique place to bring about tremendous environmental change.  Their intimate knowledge of how plants and animals interact with one another is the key to helping our ecosystems to reach their full potential.  Permaculture is something that we can see the gains from almost immediately and does not require us to purchase more products and services.  Nor does this practice require us to spend hours of frustrating time vying for government funding.  In fact, we only need to step into our back yard to start this real environmental revolution.  Nature is an extremely powerful and resilient force; the only question about its future is whether we will give it a home in which to thrive.


Permaculture Resources

Permaculture Institute website (“the largest permaculture site on the Internet!”)

Hemenway, Toby, Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, 2nd ed. (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2009).

Tallamy, Doug, Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants (Timber Press, 2009).


Editor’s note: In January we were fortunate to have Cary with us as an intern at JMMDS. Cary, a senior and American Studies major at Williams College, is considering a career in landscape design. Last summer he completed the Permaculture Design Course at the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center in Occidental, CA.  We enjoyed having him with us and wish him luck in his studies and future career!


Join the discussion 2 Comments