When Mother Nature wants to plant a garden, how does she do it? Rent a roto tiller from the nearest Home Depot, chop up a whole plot of land including the worms living in it? Then meticulously planting seeds, watching for the slightest sign of life rather than the intended plants to immediately eradicate them? I don't think so.
Seeds are carried on the wind, by birds, replanted from the plants themselves. A wild garden looks just that way-- wild. The "good plants" are mixed in with weeds; the plants and leaves die off in the winter and guess what?!? They don't need to be raked or pulled or removed. In nature, there is no waste. This year's plants become next year's nutritious mulch, and eventually create soil.
Permaculture (meaning "permanent agriculture" and "permanent culture") was started in the mid 1970's by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. Permaculture is based three core values: Earth Care (Earth is the source of all life and our only home; we must take care of soil, forests, and water), People Care (take care of ourselves, family, and community), and a Fair Share for all (so the limited resources of the Earth are distributed wisely; set limits on consumption). Permaculture Ethics and Design Principles are applied first on an individual level, and then spirals out to the community level where we can create sustainable societies. Permaculture can be a way of life-- everything in life is considered a garden, and what you put in is what you get out-- but for these purposes, I will describe it in terms of vegetable gardening.
Permaculture has a set of twelve basic principles:
1. Observe and Interact: by spending time with nature, we can design to co-exist sustainably (like Pete watching his yard for sunny areas)
2. Catch and Store Energy: collect resources when they are plentiful and store for when they are not (growing food in the summer, preserving for winter)
3. Obtain a Yield: ensure you are getting something back for what you're putting in (grow edible foods so your garden will provide for you)
4. Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback: encourage useful behavior and discourage inappropriate behavior through feedback loops (what works, what doesn't?)
5. Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services: use renewable technology wherever possible and minimize the use of non-renewables (catch rainwater to water your garden)
6. Produce No Waste: output from one system is input to the next (the "waste" from beer production can become food for your garden)
7. Design from Patterns to Details (herb gardens are often grown in spirals; gardens are designed to make maximum use of space, then details of which plants are grown where are decided upon; mimic patterns in nature where possible)
8. Integrate Rather than Segregate (companion planting; find things that work together)
9. Use Small and Slow Solutions (look for long-term solutions rather than quick fixes; focus on soil building rather than chemical fertilizer/herbicide/pesticide. A well developed garden won't need to be weeded!)
10. Use and Value Diversity (reduces vulnerability and increases resilience-- even plant several varieties of the same crops)
11. Use Edges and Value the Marginal (edges are very productive--think of the edges of a pond or forest--so maximize edges to your benefit)
12. Creatively Use and Respond to Change (the only constant is change. Learn to flow with that change and learn from it)
To learn more about these principles, visit http://www.permacultureprinciples.com/ and http://www.holmgren.com.au/ or ask me for one of the several PowerPoint presentations, PDF's, or books I have on the subject.
If you are interested in learning much more, please consider attending the Northeast Ohio Permaculture Design Course this winter! I am attending, and looking forward to it! http://www.neohiopdc.wordpress.com/