Permaculture landscape design meets needs of people, nature

by Laura Bednar

The idea of permaculture landscape design goes further than just being “eco-friendly” by replicating the existing systems in nature.

Sabrena Schweyer of Akron-based landscape design group Salsbury-Schweyer, said permaculture is a type of regenerative design, meaning that the design is meant to restore an environment to its former state. It looks at nature’s systems and how a design can be patterned after nature, without producing any waste.

“It accommodates the needs of nature while meeting human needs,” said Schweyer.

An example of elements in a design plan would be a shade tree planted near a home, which would keep the house cool in summer and allow sun to heat the house when the tree loses leaves in winter. The idea is to stack functions together to create a self-supporting landscape, Schweyer explained.

The shade tree may also produce fruit, which feeds the homeowner, and plants added beneath the tree will produce nutrients, while also offering pollination. Creating a pollinator garden will not only provide food for animals but will be aesthetically pleasing.

“It has to be a purposeful design,” Schweyer said. “The more purposes an element serves, the better.”

Plant diversity within a pollinator landscape allows for blooms throughout the seasons. Schweyer said having a monoculture design opens up the yard to more disease and diversity is crucial.

“If something fails in the system, nature has a backup,” she said.

When creating a natural environment, whether it is a garden or natural wetland in the yard, the goal of permaculture is to minimize the input of materials.

“There is no waste in nature so avoid things that go to a landfill,” Schweyer said.

She added that compost is favorable to topsoil and a person should consider the environmental cost of material before adding it.

“Do the least amount of impact for the greatest amount of good,” she said.

A self-sufficient landscape utilizes plants and does not require work with lawn mowers, leaf blowers, or gas powered shears. A prairie garden, for example, only requires a yearly mowing and can be left to grow without regular maintenance.

Some maintenance is still involved in a permaculture design but requires more knowledge base, according to Schweyer.

“It connects people with nature, and it’s so rewarding to help people find their own role in nature,” she said.

Permaculture originated in 1970s as a way to mitigate climate change. The ecological benefits are less artificial materials in nature and a space that promotes plant and animal growth. Even adding ground cover to a yard will prevent erosion, Schweyer said. The idea of permaculture may be a paradigm shift in how people view landscapes and nature.

Schweyer said people need to start their project by evaluating the space, determining what their needs are, and breaking down the yard by zones and sectors to find which concepts will work best where. For example, the edges of a property are meant to be more natural, while a pond, herb garden, or other element that meets a human need should remain closer to the home.

Schweyer suggested a permaculture design course to learn more about the methodology. She warned it should be taken within a person’s own bioregion, so the lessons can apply to their residence. For more information on Salsbury-Schweyer’s permaculture design, visit ∞