Understanding patterns in nature with permaculture

Darren Doherty
Saturday, 24th December 2011

Ever wondered what pattern in permaculture design is really all about? Using nature's wisdom and understanding patterns is a powerful tool in permaculture design. RegenAg and permaculture specialist, Darren Doherty, explains how patterning work in nature and how we can harness this amazing resource and use it to design ecological systems.

Filmed on a Permaculture Design Certification workshop in Oberlin.

kerst ster |
Sat, 24/12/2011 - 20:24

You get more production out of a curved line than out of a straight line.... while showing a picture of curved garden beds.

I don't see why I should believe any of this. Do you mean a curved line is longer? Or do you mean more production per square meter? You at least suggested it... Has this been researched? That should be easily posible....

The story about maximizing edge in nature sounded sensible and reasonable but curved garden beds?! They certainly take a lot more time to maintain. And isn't this more religion than science? Then were no reasons why this maximizing edge should also work by making garden beds curved.

Maybe maximizing edge, in 3D by using the 7 layers of planting, will also work or have more effect? And perhaps you can have straight lined agroforestry for more production and a more realistic harvest time.

I hope the development of straight lined agroforestry will not be stalled by curved garden bed religion. Of course curved lines can be very pretty and ok to work with in small gardens.

But should we stain permaculture with a curved garden bed religion?

Maddy Harland |
Tue, 27/12/2011 - 15:35

I would agree with you that curved beds for the sake of it - as much a permaculture cliche as a herb spiral - entirely misses the point. What I learn from Darren and my own experiments is the concept of designing in 3 dimensions. ie. creating forest garden edges in the vertical as well as horizontal that mimic a woodland edge or designing a raised bed with attention to the vertical as well as the horizontal thereby maximising edge - as nature does. This creates more productive, fertile systems. We have to look at the subtler aspects of patterning to fully harness the advantages in designs.

Maddy Harland |
Tue, 27/12/2011 - 16:16

to add: agroforestry cropping systems that mix grain and treecrops also exploit the vertical but have by necessity to be straight - it is a question of using techniques only when appropriate - using curves should never be a dogma and suit smaller designs with hand tools. Let's keep it practical with permaculture.

kerst ster |
Tue, 27/12/2011 - 19:38

@Maddy thank you for you're reply.

Exactly, using curves should never be a dogma. Thats would not only be nonsense but also scares people away unecessarily.

I've had a student tell me that see nearly didn't take the course because she didn't like circles.

That would have been a great loss, especially for her neighbourhood, were she now has several communal permaculture projects.

Maddy Harland |
Wed, 28/12/2011 - 09:17

It is so important that we do not turn permaculture design into a set of cliches. Lets be vigorous and challenge what we find to be idealistic or plain misleading. Thanks for your comments. I like what Darren says here about patterns but I do think the circular veggie bed is very energy intensive. It is pretty but not very functional. Too much surface area given to paths that will only invite weeds.

kerst ster |
Wed, 28/12/2011 - 17:16


Grahamburnett |
Wed, 28/12/2011 - 18:30

Can't watch the vid yet as we've got visitors and the X Factor album or somesuch is on at the moment, but looking forward to having a look later, sad to have missed Darren's visit earlier in the year... Anyway, just thought I'd mention that my small urban back garden is modelled on a a curvy/spiral/keyhole bed design and is also pretty much a 'no-dig' system, wheras my allotment is pretty much laid out on a conventional 8x3 bed system much like many other plots on the site, personally I feel that this is probably a more appropriate and manageable regime for the more 'broadscale'/maincrop production (Zone 3 design). Happy new year!

Joe Walker |
Wed, 28/12/2011 - 21:38

With the pre blitz visit.....over 90 minutes circles became really the way to go!

All My Life's a Circle Written by Joe Walker
Thursday, 15 September 2011 13:56
~~ The theme song for this Permablitz update Harry Chapin - Rockpalast Live 11 (All My Life's a Circle) ~~

Permablitz Bellingen #12 on Sunday 11th September was a great big creative learning circle and was child's play!
Photos can be viewed at http://www.facebook.com/#!/media/set/?set=a.232821003432837.52104.100001148169705

Please see http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Permablitz-Bellingen/130461700378102 for recent post banana circle Bill Mollison first saw in cyclone damaged coconut plantation in Fiji.....

Thanks for all the amazing energy you put into PERMACULTURE!

Peter Riches |
Sat, 31/12/2011 - 20:50

Here's an analogy. The UK Wiring Regulations give a set of rules for safe electrical wiring. They're respected, they work, and all electricians routinely use them, BUT, if you're a qualified electrical design engineer, and you can justify a better way for your circumstances, you're free to use it.

Straight rows of trees are used in forestry for ease of access to machinery and for extraction of wood. As far as I know, it's of no actual benefit to the trees apart from providing a guaranteed amount of space for each tree. (Other more naturalistic arrangements could do the same.) The trees accommodate whatever arrangement they are in by optimising how they arrange their own canopy.

I would imagine the typical grid arrangement in mainstream forestry would cause more sensitivity to winds from certain directions, though. A curved arrangement, like the florets of a compositae flower (daisy, sunflower, etc.) would provide more shelter from the wind, and still provide guaranteed spacing and access.

Just had an idea: That sort of arrangement could be good for wind-pollination, e.g. of sweetcorn, decreasing the chances of the pollen being blown away down an avenue.

escott400 |
Tue, 17/01/2012 - 17:40

Hi Maddy - I see the curvy oak leaf having far more edge than a hypothetical square one. What I don't quite understand from the video is why a longer edge makes for better gardening.

Can shed any light on this?

I personally don't think it's nonsense if there's a sound gardening reason behind it!

Thanks for a fascinating concept. Cheers!

permie |
Tue, 28/02/2012 - 18:09

Surely for every outside curved edge which is longer than a straight edge, there is a corresponding inner edge which is shorter than the equivalent straight edge? Correct me if my feeble maths skills are missing something. Also in the interests of lifetime use, straight beds are more accessible for wheelchair users. I use a little wheeled stool to tend my stright beds. They are no more than a metre wide so I can access to the middle from each side from my stool.