Permaculture for City Dwellers

Permaculture, the design and implementation of permanent or sustainable agricultural systems, was conceived in the 1970s by two  Australians, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren.  Their discussions on the relationship between people and gardening, as well as the social aspects of agriculture, inspired a worldwide campaign to improve ecosystems through water conservation, self-reliance and regional food production. 

Though true permaculture design methods are complex and require thoughtful design, the 12 principles of the movement can be adapted for city folk:

1.  Observe and interact.  Have a look at your growing conditions, such as patterns of sun, wind, rain, hail, snow, noise and animals.  Check out other gardens in your area to see what grows well.  The library has many books on gardening in Colorado, including:

Best Garden Plants for Colorado

The Gardener's Companion:  an Insider's Guide to Gardening in the Centennial State

Xeriscape Colorado:  the Complete Guide

Gardening with Less Water

The Complete Guide to Western Plains Gardening

2.  Catch and store energy.  Use simple technologies such as cloches, or make your own solar greenhouse to capture heat and extend the growing season.  Prepare sundried herbs, fruits and vegetables with a solar dehydrator or the dashboard of your car.  

3.  Obtain a yield.  Permaculture wants everything to be useful.  Even if you've only got pots or a small growing area, you can grow food or herbs for people, pollinators or animals.  Or, cultivate your own tiny crop of avocados, apples, mangos or tomatoes with advice from Plants from Pits:  Pots of Plants for the Whole Family to Enjoy 

4.  Apply self-regulation and accept feedback.  Sometimes things just aren't going to work out, whether it's due to a fundamentally faulty plan, or a mismatch with your lifestyle.  For example, many types of tomatoes take 90 days, and Denver's growing season is better suited to varieties that mature faster, such as Early Girls.  If something isn't working, try something else.  

5.  Use and value renewable resources and services.  You can save seeds from plants that have done well to plant next season.  The easiest ones to save are beans, peppers, tomatoes and flower seeds from dried flowers.  Don't have any seeds?  Visit the Ross Broadway Library and pick up free flower, vegetable or herb seeds through our seed exchange program (see video below). 

6.  Produce no waste.  Composting uses recycling to enrich your soil, and it can be as simple as covering your beds in leaves for the winter, saving kitchen scraps, or participating in the Denver's compost collection program.  Or, get the kids involved and check out Build a Compost Tumbler. 

7.  Design from patterns to details.  Pattern gardening is a way of designing gardens by incorporating patterns found in nature, such as the spiral.  You can create repeating patterns not only with plants, but also with paths, fences, or pots.  For inspiration, check out A Patch with a Pattern: Spruce up Your Vegetable Garden with a Simple Geometric Planting Design from Horticulture Magazine (available with your DPL card).     

8.  Integrate rather than segregate.   This principle is about designing your garden with the elements intermingled rather than isolated from each other.    Learn which plants are friends with a companion planting guide, such as Companion Planting:  Organic Gardening Tips and Tricks for Healthier, Happier Plants.

9.  Use small and slow solutions.  To keep things manageable, don't take on more than you can handle.  If you decide you'd like to try raised garden beds, start with a few and see how it goes.  Planting perennial plants (ones that come back every year) are a great way of using small and slow solutions.  Even though rhubarb or flower bulbs, for example, aren't immediately rewarding, once established they'll take care of themselves.  Not sure if you like to garden?  Try your hand with a small plot through Denver Urban Gardens.   

10.  Use and value diversity.  In natural ecosystems, living organisms co-exist to produce  sustainable, interactive and stable systems.  Try not plant in a rigid way, with sharply defined borders, strict rows, or large groupings of like plants.  If one variety of tomato plant doesn't produce, another might, and you can plan your flower garden so that something's in bloom from early Spring to late Fall.    

11.  Use edges and value the marginal.  You can plant things you need to touch, such as strawberries or tomatoes, along a foot path, or use edging plants to define features in the landscape.  To value the marginal, try to look at your yard in a different way and identify areas that might be overlooked.  Try growing some hollyhocks in the alley, for example.    

12.  Creatively use and respond to change.  As in life, change in your garden or yard is inevitable.  Changes can be things we can anticipate and can plan for, such as seasons, climate change or water shortages.  Or, it can be as immediate as some squirrel stealing your newly planted sunflower seeds.  Observing and then intervening can effect positive outcomes.   

Questions? Ask Reference Services or call 720-865-1363 today!

Written by Lisa on May 7, 2019