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Permaculture design brings nature and people together

“An ecological garden both looks and works the way nature does. It does this by building strong connections among the plants, soil life, beneficial insects and other animals, and the gardener …”

— Toby Hemenway, “Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture,” 2009

Four years ago, Jerry and I decided to replace most of our front lawn with edible and ornamental plants. It wasn’t a difficult choice because the yard was a hodgepodge of grasses, moss, dandelion and clover, all of which eked out a miserable living by becoming waterlogged during winter and burning up in summer.

Since then, we’ve been striving to make our individual garden plots work together as a whole, or as Toby Hemenway puts it, “a resilient, natural webwork.”

Such is the goal of permaculture, a term that was coined in the 1970s by Australian field naturalist Bill Mollison, who wrote “Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual” in 1988. Permaculture uses a set of principles and practices for designing ecologically sound and productive landscapes. The focus is on creating relationships among landscape elements so they coalesce into a functioning system that is healthy, sustainable and beautiful. That is exactly what Jerry and I want to achieve in our front (and back) yard gardens.

We’ll have help accomplishing our goal by participating in some of the classes that will address permaculture at the Winter Dreams/Summer Gardens symposium, taking place Nov. 5 at the RCC/SOU Higher Education Center in Medford. For more details, see www.jacksoncountymga.org.

One such class is “Urban Homesteading” presented by Richard and Tresa Jarel. As an Oregon State University-certified Land Steward and Master Gardener, respectively, the Jarels have transformed their city property into an urban farm by utilizing permaculture principles. Tresa, who also earned a permaculture certificate from OSU, says, “What I love about permaculture is that the philosophy considers all of the systems we live in, how we affect those systems, and how we can nurture them, create them, or just get out of the way of them.”

Tresa says much of what they have done in creating their “urban utopia” is to create self-renewable systems. For example, the Jarels raise mealworms in oatmeal and keep them happily reproducing by feeding them kale and root vegetables from the garden. The protein-rich worms are used for feeding the chickens and tilapia that are also raised on the property.

“I don’t need to purchase so much commercial feed, which further cuts down on my consumerism,” Tresa says.

Another class aimed at sustainability is “Chickens and Ducks for Suburban Gardening” taught by OSU Master Gardener and Master Food Preserver De Davis-Guy. De raises chickens, ducks and bees on a small property in Gold Hill where she fertilizes her vegetable and flower gardens only with duck and chicken waste. De says ducks and chickens are also useful in gardens because “they eat insects, scratch up weeds, and their bedding makes excellent mulch.”

Their eggshells return calcium to the soil and can be used to deter soft-bodied garden pests such as slugs, De says.

Local ecological landscape designer Andy Fischer will also address permaculture in his session titled “Food Forests.” He’ll focus on planting food-producing trees, shrubs, perennials, herbs and vines to create a visually pleasing and productive landscape that mimics a natural forest ecosystem.

I’m also excited about botanist Linda McMahan’s class, “Are You an Ecological Gardener?” Linda, who worked for OSU in the Department of Horticulture until she retired in 2014, will provide practical tips for conserving water and other natural resources, including wildlife.

With so many experts on hand at the symposium, I feel confident I can create a landscape that, as Hemenway describes, “feels like nature but provides an abundant home for people as well.”

— Rhonda Nowak is a member of the Jackson County Master Gardener Association and teaches writing at Rogue Community College. Email her at rnowak39@gmail.com.