It’s hard to define Permaculture. Wikipedia states that the word is a concatenation of permanent and agriculture but also one of permanent and culture. Even Bill Mollisen and David Holmgren, the founders of permaculture, don’t necessarily agree on the finer details. At a recent introduction to permaculture in Brighton, we were put into groups and asked to come up with a definition. Inevitably ours also varied. Many words were common across the groups’ definitions such as harmony, nature and sustainability (although one group did away with words entirely, opting instead to sketch the key elements, cuddled by Mother Earth). While these attempts were all acceptable, the most thought-provoking definition comes from Mike Feingold: “Permaculture is revolution disguised as gardening”.
Permaculture, at its narrowest, is a type of gardening that encourages diversity, purpose and nature. At its broadest, it encourages these things in the way we live our lives, not just in the garden. This philosophy resonates with ours.
Diversity and Resilience
We talk a lot about how diversity of movement is essential to develop a strong and balanced body. The runner who only runs will be inflexible. The Vinyasa yogi who adheres only to specific poses will lack aerobic fitness. The diversity principle places permaculture at the opposite end of the agricultural spectrum from monoculture. Fields of one crop discourage insect and bird species and are subject to catastrophic failure if the rains fail or if the pests prevail.
Diversity underwrites resilience. In permaculture, this approach encourages each plant or each feature of a garden to do more than one thing. Instead of having a wire fence to act as a border, grow a hedgerow. This acts as a border but also as a windbreak. Grow brambles and berries in the hedgerow and you have a source of food and, therefore, three functions from one element. In this way, most permaculturalists shy away from ornamentals, arguing that there is not enough bang for the horticultural buck. Whilst they bring aesthetic pleasure, they do not provide another function. If you were to place your roses within your hedge, they would act as a bird nest protector as well as a hedge as well as something beautiful to look at.
The games that we play on the beach in Menorca are a good parallel. These are often intense, require concentration and a diversity of movement. They are always fun, forcing smiles from the most reticent, and are exhilarating. Only at the end of the sessions do you realise just how much you have ‘exercised’. One game, multiple functions.
There is of course the underlying benefit of being in nature that spans both Wildfitness and the concepts of Permaculture. We accept that we are not apart from but, sometimes reluctantly, part of nature. The first recommendation when considering any new Permaculture project is to do nothing – just to observe. We are encouraged to learn the wind patterns, the pitch of the sun, the lay of the land and the physical features, without extrapolating to meanings and implications. We spent a wonderful hour wandering a slither of woodland in silence and then were encouraged to hug trees. This could be taken as a spiritual undertaking but it is also possible to hear sap rising and knock of branches of one tree hitting another in the breeze.
If you imagine an ornamental garden of exotic species and dramatic blooms, it is a delight to admire from a distance. A Permaculture garden is one to sit in, to listen to and to be part of.
On our Menorcan retreat, we walk in silence from the villa through the woodlands to the beach, observing while trying not to ascribe meaning. It is uncomfortable for some and bliss for others. One benefit of this silent walk is to raise awareness of those senses that are on mute for most of our urban, busy lives. To give them a chance to stretch.
Permaculture is not only fit for the countryside, in vast, wide-open spaces. It can be adapted to any environment or, put another way, any environment can benefit from a permaculturist’s touch. The approach aims to get the most out of a given environment with the least effort, taking into account the specifics of the location and the amount of effort or energy required to change it. Tidiness, for example, costs energy. Pruning and weeding, while sometimes necessary, are not performed in order to preserve order. Nature can be messy, from a Cartesian perspective, but that is ok. A little complexity, a little disorder, a little nature will do you good.
We have delivered retreats all over the world from Costa Rica, Kenya and Zanzibar to Somerset, Spain and Scotland. We adapt to our environment, however challenging.
The gym is Wildfitness’ equivalent to Permaculture’s monoculture. Linear movements focusing on single muscles, measured and calibrated but largely missing the point. Similarly, horticulture is to permaculture as body-beautiful exercise is to Wildfitness. Focusing on looks rather than substance.
Permaculture and Wildfitness have purpose in their bones. Both aim to improve sustainability and harmony by looking at nature for inspiration. While Permaculture might be revolution disguised as gardening, perhaps Wildfitness is natural living disguised as fitness.
Find out more at: https://brightonpermaculture.org.uk