Permaculture Hastings


Permaculture is dead, long live permaculture

Filed under: Uncategorized — gbell12 @ 9:42 am

In some ways, I’ve lost faith in permaculture.  Here’s why.

Bad Rep

The more people I talk to, the more people I realise think of permaculture as a pseudo-scientific, crystal-infused hippy movement.

That’s a shame, since the biggest names like Bill Mollison and Geoff Lawton have worked hard to refute that view.

Now, when I meet a scientist, I don’t tell them we’re employing permaculture practices because I don’t want to be dismissed.  I put other words around it.  We’re using Nature to heal this land.  We’re attempting to bring productivity back to it.  We’re planting trees.

Unmovable Culture

The more people I talk to, the more people I realise don’t really care.  They care about size of their TV screens, and all the usual stuff our consumer culture is criticised for.

Disappointing Results

In seven years, our results have been mixed, and slow.  What we have gained has been the result of lots and lots of labour.  Weeding, tree guards, wallaby chasing, more weeding, grass pulling, experiments, hauling water… you get the idea.

You know, for most of human history, Nature was seen not as a gentle, wounded, creative force in need of protection, but as the source of death, destruction, pain and illness.  While humanity now seems to have “won”, and Nature’s clearly on a back foot, I’m not sure she’s really changed her outlook on humanity and our activities much.

Some examples:

  • “Easy” plants get eaten by rats (sure, even with a cat, maybe we have a “cat deficit”.  The problem is the solution, we’ll just barbeque rats.)
  • Create some habitat, and the pests come in droves – finally a food source!
  • Not all weeds are opportunistic healers – some are dominators and destroyers (privet).
  • Plant a tree, feed a wallaby.  Plant a hundred trees, fee a hundred wallbies.
  • Leave things be, enjoy your resulting Kikuyu or privet monoculture.

So to get any gains, we find ourselves battling Nature.  That’s not keeping the faith.

False Advertising

It’s clear that the most prominent permaculture successes are fuelled by large amounts of inputs – money, time, effort, materials, seeds, plants.  And I think there’s been some false advertising.  In Geoff Lawton’s DVD on building swales, he shows a head-high, diverse swale planting that’s 6 months old.  Excited by this, we set out to do our own in a similar climate.  Six years on, ours are just starting to look like that.  When I bring this up with the experts, without evidence they accuse us of not planning right, or not executing right.

Working for Money

And finally, living cheaply is hard to do.  All family members have to be on board, and have to be willing to swim against the dominant culture.  You have to eschew most/all of the shiny gadgets, and the services that go with them.  You have to take risks by not having insurance.  You probably have to limit you life experiences by not travelling to far away places.

How many frugal living examples do you know of?

If you don’t live cheaply, then you must work for money, and that can easily take most of your time – that’s time away from working on your permaculture property, and your results will suffer.

Long Live Permaculture

And yet, permaculture is, by definition, exactly what it takes to save humanity.  It’s not married to any one technique or ideology.  If something else comes along that matches the three principles, then that’s permaculture.  Logically, it’s as unassailable as its ethics are.

So we continue on, perhaps not proudly aligning ourselves with the term and the baggage that goes along with it.  Chemical free, nature away, systemically thinking, because that’s the only ethical way, while we hope we have enough time – more than 6 months – to reap the benefits.



  1. It’s a shame to hear a permaculturalist write this, because as we know in Permaculture it’s all about small and slow solutions so don’t worry or compare yourself to anyone else! Whilst we might not be sitting back on a hammock like Bill Mollison, Permaculture has definitely taught me that good things take time and it’s truly worth the wait. We have been building a Rammed Earth Home and Permaculture Gardens for the last 10 years and whilst we have been working hard, earning some money, building the house and raising kids, for us it’s about the journey along the way. We are now reaping the labours of our fruits. Today we picked olives, feijoas, guava, banana and tomorrow it could be oranges or strawberries. Sure you have to make a sustainable living earning money along side your Permaculture dream but it is possible to do both. My husband has a company building Rammed Earth Walls whilst we both look after our property with the valuable help from Woofers (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) and I teach Edible Garden Workshops, host a seasonal harvest lunch and rent out our Rammed Earth Studio on AIRBNB. The saying, Don’t put all your eggs in one basket rings true and it’s good to make an income being self employed from varied sources. We just had Better Homes and Gardens film at our property so I’m assuming that means that Permaculture is stepping up in the world and more every day Aussies want to know about it!

    Comment by Megan Cooke — 28/03/2016 @ 9:00 pm

  2. Thanks so much for writing, Megan. It’s good to hear success stories – they always recharge me. There’s a strong confirmation bias in permaculture – the success stories get published, leading everybody to have incorrect estimations of their own chances for success. I wouldn’t say we’ve failed, but I will say our experience hasn’t been like the best success stories we were exposed to in the media. Not a big surprise, when looked at that way.

    I love Better Homes and Gardens (or “Better Homes Than Yours” as the Simpsons puts it) and look forward to seeing you profiled on there.

    Comment by gbell12 — 29/03/2016 @ 8:04 am

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