Permaculture Gardening: a Sustainable Arrangement

This article summarizes how permaculture gardening, an increasingly popular method of sustainable farming, provides a method of vegetable growing that is not only water-conservative, but is completely self-sufficient and beneficial to the surrounding environment.

Updated: May 14, 2023
Frankie Wallace


Since the advent of agriculture, the various ways in which plants and water must coexist have been readily apparent to the various stewards of the land.

Into the present day, gardeners and farmers around the world seek to maximize production efficiency to feed growing populations, while also conserving freshwater on as large of a scale as possible. One promising modern methodology is known as permaculture gardening, which involves water conservation, mindful planting, and more.

Water conservation is a crucial aspect of the process, yet you’d be hard-pressed to find a single, comprehensive definition of permaculture. Depending on who you ask, the philosophy of permaculture is based on any number of industries and concepts, from ecology and gardening to technology and even social justice. At its core, permaculture is a sum of all of those components, and ethics play a major role.

Whether you’re passionate about water conservation or you’re interested in installing a low-maintenance garden or yard that coexists with its natural surroundings, here’s what you need to know about permaculture gardening.

The Ethics of Permaculture: What’s at Stake

While the concept of sustainability is nothing new in the realm of agriculture, permaculture is a relatively recent concept dating to the late 20th century. Throughout the 1970s, vocal environmentalists touted the need for humanity to turn its attention back to the natural world. According to researchers, the so-called “back to the land” movement originated in Australia, but the grassroots ideology quickly spread across the globe.

Although permaculture continues to gain traction in commercial settings, the concept was originally confined to small-scale operations, notably community gardens in urban areas. To many, permaculture provides a direct path to self-sufficiency, while also promoting biological diversity. And the potential long-term benefits of permaculture span even further, to encompass social and environmental issues on a community level.

For starters, the widespread implementation of permaculture within a small community may help minimize local water pollution. Community-based and backyard gardeners must be keen observers, noting the paths in which your garden runoff travels, as most urban watersheds drain into nearby streams, rivers, and lakes. Any chemical pesticides used in your urban garden are thus likely to pollute local waterways, causing irreparable harm. Under the permaculture model, the use of harmful chemicals is discouraged in the name of sustainability.


At the Intersection of Agriculture and Biotechnology

On the surface, it may seem as though technology and sustainable agriculture are at odds; after all, the global agricultural industry is responsible for a considerable amount of air and water pollution. Approximately 9% of global warming emissions in the U.S. come from the agricultural sector, and water pollution is also rampant, causing irreparable damage to aquatic habitats and contaminating drinking water supplies.

Technological advancements in chemical fertilizers and farming equipment further compound the pollution problem. On the flip side, however, modern agriculture technology may also provide a solution. The benefits of agriculture technology are myriad, including a reduced impact on natural ecosystems and less chemical runoff into waterways, reports the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Recent technological advancements include automated and robotic systems, temperature and moisture sensors, and medical biotechnology.

The agriculture industry does much more than simply feed swelling global populations — it even has applications in industries as varied as alternative energy and genetic modification. Genetically modified plants may be heartier than their traditional counterparts, resulting in higher yields. What’s more, recombinant agriculture can produce pest-resistant and weather-resistant plants, and these genetically modified plants may also have biopharmaceutical applications. 

It’s important to remember that the subject of GMOs is a controversial one, especially within the permaculture community. To many, in fact, the bulk of agricultural tech is the virtual antithesis of permaculture gardening, which is firmly rooted in the natural world. On an ethical level, permaculture prioritizes the care of the Earth alongside the care of humanity and reinvestment in the natural world, where water runoff is returned to its natural source. It may be difficult for eco-conscious gardeners to reconcile seemingly opposing forces such as technology and sustainability.


Seeking Permanence in Your Landscape and Garden

When you strip away the technological aspects of agriculture, you’re essentially echoing the decades-old call to return to the land. And that call is the true heart of permaculture, which also involves mindful water management in the name of environmental health. The good news for advocates of permaculture is that water management is easier than meets the eye.

Your eyes are among the most useful tools in your permaculture arsenal. And observation is the first step of the process. No matter if your permaculture project is landscape-based, or you seek to grow edible plants, you must develop an understanding of how water behaves on your site. Observe drainage patterns and identify any spots where water is wasted and collects.

A bit of relevant research may also be prudent as you seek permanence and co-existence with the natural world. Look up annual rainfall statistics in your area, and create a water conservation plan in the case of excessive or unseasonable rainfall. Once you have a keen understanding of the topography of the land and the flow of water on your property, you’re ready to develop a permaculture plan. 

You may find success using what is known as the keyline design (KD) approach, which utilizes gravity-driven irrigation systems and earth channels called swales that mindfully divert rainfall toward drier slopes. Yet no matter the approach you take as you implement permaculture into your gardening and/or farming plan, water must always remain at the forefront of your mind.


Key Takeaways

Despite the inherent benefits of permaculture gardening, there is no single solution to the myriad environmental and food production challenges that plague humanity. However, water conservation and ethics are both vital to the process. Curbing worldwide hunger and reducing the effects of climate change requires the efforts of eco-conscious gardeners from all walks of life. Permaculture may help drive the push towards improved water conservation and reduced pollution on a global scale.

Thank you for taking the time to read our article on permaculture gardening. We'd love to hear your feedback in the comments section below.

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Frankie Wallace is a freelance writer from the Pacific Northwest who writes about a variety of topics, especially those that concern the environment. When she isn't writing, she can often be found tending to her garden.
Frankie Wallace