In permaculture design, we often discuss the work from models to details. We also frequently talk about imitating the natural world. But many can be confused by what we really mean when we talk about using nature’s patterns in garden design.
Here are a few examples that show what we can achieve by using models from nature to inform designs of a property, and why it can be a beneficial thing to do.
What do we mean by models of nature?
Before we talk about specific examples, it can be helpful to define exactly what we mean when we talk about patterns in nature. All good garden design begins with observation. And when we spend time looking closely at nature, we start to see the many natural patterns it contains.
Overall, we can observe the patterns of precipitation, water flow, winds, and the patterns of sunlight and shade in a garden every day and throughout the year. We can begin to observe the patterns of life, death, and rebirth that define all life on earth.
On closer inspection, we can see the branching patterns of root systems and branches of shrubs and trees. We can see the wave patterns of energy flow, the tessellation within natural communities, and the spiral shapes and fractal patterns within plants. The closer you look, the more models emerge.
Models help us find efficiencies – see the “path of least resistance” – and learn from nature what works best.
Circles and curved shapes in garden design
Using circles and curved shapes in garden design doesn’t just help us achieve more organic garden designs. Using more rounded shapes can also help make the most of the available space while still allowing for efficient access and design.
Here are some common and key examples of using circular patterns in garden designs:
- Mandala gardens
- Circular keyhole beds
- Banana circles or small fruit tree circles
- Grass spirals
Mandala gardens radiate around a central point, the growing areas can expand like the ripples of a pond, or bloom like the petals of a flower, for example. A well-designed mandala garden can contribute to the efficiency of the garden, requiring less movement on the part of the gardener to take care of all the small growing areas. The complexity of the pattern can maximize the edge – the productive space between different ecosystems or plant communities.
Circular keyhole beds can be serviced from a center space. All parts of the growing area can be reached without bed compaction. Keyhole beds can also have composting and watering points in the center, which creates efficiency in resource use and the flow of water and nutrients.
Circles of bananas or fruit trees, with a pit in the center for organic matter and water, can also help meet nutrient and water needs as efficiently as possible.
The herb spirals allow us to create different microclimate conditions and grow a range of herbs with different environmental needs in the same growing area.
Curved shapes for trails, ponds or other water features, and for the edges of beds and edging can also help us maximize productive edging spaces, to increase the abundance of space.
An understanding of branch diagrams can be very helpful when managing the flow of water on a property. By thinking about how water moves across the landscape and the patterns it creates, we can develop plans that make the most of natural precipitation and use the water on our properties wisely.
Branching patterns can also be useful in certain circumstances to create effective paths for easy access through a garden. Just as the roots (and fungal hyphae) branch out to fill the surrounding soil for efficient absorption of water and nutrients, we can also create paths to access all parts of a garden in the easiest way. spatial possible, starting from the main paths and tracks to smaller access paths and paths through different garden areas.
Examining the ways in which plants combine effectively to form symbiotic plant communities can help us understand the most efficient and effective plant arrangements for our flower beds and growing areas.
Staggering the rows in a vegetable patch, for example, so that plants in a second row fill the spaces between plants in the next row, can help us make the most of the available space. An example of this is paving fast growing lettuce between slower growing crucifers in a bed.
Likewise, we can take the same approach when creating hedges or windbreaks, staggered rows of shrubs or tree hedges to make the best use of space and resources and achieve the best results.
These are, of course, just a few of the many examples of how motifs from nature are used in the design of gardens. But the above examples should begin to demonstrate why we should look to nature’s models to help us make our gardens as beautiful, bountiful, and productive as possible.