What is Permaculture?
It’s for the long term.
Permaculture design emphasizes patterns that function with the existing landscape to allow all species to thrive. The result can often be surprising. Often gardeners select specimen plants as a focal point, yet in permaculture, the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Selecting plants to succeed in their environment, and with other plants, creates a synergy that allows everything to work together as companions, rather than each on its own. It’s building a more permanent system that will evolve over time.
Attracting beneficial insects to defeat destructive pests means not using pesticides, one of the core principles of permaculture. Creating a layering effect, by interplanting short and tall plants can result in extremely complex systems that produce a high density of food with minimal input. For the Benoits, it is ultimately about caring for the earth, starting in their front yard; the harvest has become secondary.
When Alan and Nancy Benoit moved to Vermont, they began by assessing their new yard for clues to nature’s patterns: sun, soil, water, and the terrain. They began to plant fruit and nut trees including Hazelberts, a cross between Hazelnuts and Filberts. “They were perfect for the steep hillside and they have thrived,” explains Alan.
Next, they carved out a narrow garden bed for raspberries and asparagus alongside the driveway followed by a vegetable garden, also in the front yard. Everything planted is both ornamental and productive.
“We plant perennial food crops, not just ornamentals,” Alan explains. This includes asparagus, raspberries, rhubarb, fruit trees, nut trees, blackberries, and black currents. In fact, you won’t find any annual petunias or pots of zinnias; all plants (other than their vegetable garden) are perennial.
Alan, an architect by trade, specializes in environmental design, with a soft spot for recycled materials. Everything in their yard was formerly something else and built by the two of them: the small barn where they host intimate dinners, the outdoor patio area with a fireplace, and the shed where they keep bikes and garden tools.
Eating is important to the Benoit’s overall scheme, as is attracting beneficial insects such as lacewings, ladybugs, tachinid flies, and parasitic wasps to counterbalance harmful bugs such as tomato hornworm and aphids. In a permaculture landscape, plants thrive without pesticides or fertilizers, and the result is an eco-system that works together as a whole.
They left some areas natural, to serve as wildlife corridors, used regularly by fox and occasionally by moose. They have added layers of low shrubs, mid-story bushes, and taller trees to create habitats for all creatures, big and small, including bees, birds, rabbits, and weasels.