The planet-saving power of permaculture

Renowned permaculture expert Aranya talks about the environmental – and emotional – benefits of permaculture design

Permaculture is a branch of ecologically sound design which creates sustainable human settlements modelled on natural ecosystems, and comprises three core principles: take care of the Earth, take care of people and share the surplus. Permaculture is then, very much concerned with creating a sustainable planet.

From forest gardening to natural building, the practice’s ethos has infiltrated a diverse range of practices, but a careful methodology lies within each.

“Permaculture is not a random collection of good ideas. It’s a process,” says Aranya, UK permaculture designer and author of Permaculture Design: a Step-By-Step Guide.

Aranya is one of the UK’s leading permaculture experts. He reveals that finding the practice helped him to make sense of the world he was living in. “I was looking for answers in the crazy world I was seeing around me. Permaculture just pulled everything together and provided coherence. I finally had a big picture for everything else I wanted to organise in my life.”

It wasn’t until 1996, once he’d completed a physics degree and spent time working at an animal rescue shelter, that Aranya dived into the world of permaculture. Now, as he approaches 50, his accumulated knowledge puts him in an obvious position of wisdom; one he uses to enrich the understanding of others. From the south-west of England to Greece, Finland, Malta and Sweden, Aranya has taught the process of permaculture widely.

“They say you teach what you need to learn,” he says. “In that sense I’ve needed permaculture in my life and by teaching it I’ve learned so much.” Mastering all of permaculture’s specialisms – from soils to money systems – in order to teach the subject has given him, he says, “the chance to learn my craft.”

“If you can inspire a lot of small things by sharing with other people, that then multiplies the whole thing,” he adds. “It’s just a matter of sums really.”

It’s no surprise then that his expertise has recently been published in book form. His new book, Permaculture Design: a Step-By-Step Guide is, in his own words, an “attempt to create a portable permaculture toolbox that learners can take away with them.”

Its appeal lies in its lack of discrimination; the book makes no assumptions of previous knowledge, nor restricts itself to particular permaculture pathways. “The book is about learning how to be a permaculture chef, rather than simply presenting a recipe and telling readers to follow it,” says Aranya.

The pages are bursting with clear, easy-to-follow presentations of the design process, with flow charts, how-to guides and real-life examples that bring permaculture design to life.

Understanding cause and effect, risk and long-term vision are also key themes in the book. “Many of life’s incremental designs tend to have less thought and more experimentation, such as making a meal, for example. If you mess it up that’s okay, as it’s low risk.

“The bigger stuff – things like gardens, farms, livelihoods – we really need to plan those carefully. Having a process to approach those bigger things is really important, because it stops us screwing up and reduces the risk of doing things wrong, such as losing money, wasting time and causing pollution.”

So what advice has the permaculture pro for curious readers? “Ultimately, the way we learn design is to do it,” Aranya enthuses. “And we must do it. People have collectively got massive potential, to plant gardens or build communities. To feel like you’ve inspired others is like knocking over lots of dominoes.”