The Role Of Observation In Permaculture

TreeThinkerObserveThe first of the twelve design principles of permaculture is: Design & Interact – emphasising the importance of taking the time to understand the situation in which we are designing.

Design can take many forms, big or small; whether it is deciding where to hang a picture at home or designing a building to hang it in, some common features exist between all forms of designing and, at the same time, some systems exist which can improve our chances of success. You will have used many of these systems before, permaculture helps us to develop a framework to help design go well.

Observation skills were once a vital survival skill for our ancestors; people relied on understanding what was safe to eat, when it would grow and where and where danger might lie. By observing our natural surrounding we are able to understand them and use them to our advantage.

In designing a permaculture growing space, some things to consider are:

  • Soil (Type, pH, depth)
  • Wind
  • Temperature: Over the year
  • Sunlight: shade
  • Microclimate
  • Moisture
  • Vegetation
  • Animals
  • Local resources

Once we have developed an understanding of a growing space, it is possible to ensure that we are planting things that grow well in that environment, rather than try to change the environment to suit what are we growing – which is more resource and labour intensive.

Written by TreeThinker

Passionate about the Earth and those who inhabit it. An engineer (BEng (Hons), MSEE) from Oxfordshire, UK, specialising in designing for a sustainable future. A member of the Society of Environmental Engineers and a keen environmental advocate who volunteers for several grass roots sustainability groups. I work full time as a project manager for a renewable energy company based in Oxford and also run ‘TreeThinker’ (; converting previous pasture land into a rich permaculture farm growing produce for sale locally. I deliver workshops on sustainable living, including building renewable energy technologies, as well as workshops for schools discussing 'Energy as a resource' amongst other topics. I am qualified in ‘Information, advice and guidance’ (level 4) and experienced at teaching practical skills. I'm also a keen cyclist and have a love of wordplay - writing a blog on etymology (