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Planting the Seeds of Urban Permaculture

by Marisha Auerbach

In permaculture, we look to designs in nature to serve as models for creating sustainable, balanced managed ecosystems that support human settlements. As we face peak oil, our urban environments must be restructured in ways that better meet the needs of their populations. I believe that it is time to focus on locality, or strategies for meeting local needs with locally produced goods in order to reduce the hidden fuel costs associated with transporting goods.

The native forest provides the perfect example of an energy efficient system that provides for most of its own needs. We find many levels of plants growing together in community and providing diverse yields for the other inhabitants of the ecosystem. Many of these plants have multiple functions; for example, a tree can provide shade, habitat, mulch and nutrients, and food. Other than sunlight and rainfall, most of the resources needed by the forest are found within the forest.

In designing permaculture gardens, we begin by including plants that are useful to us and provide for such needs as: food, beauty products, medicine, building supplies, or other yields. We seek to have a balance of nitrogen fixers, dynamic accumulators, aromatic plants, insect-attracting plants, and groundcovers that work together to support each other as they support us. The mostly self-supporting quality of native ecosystems is emulated in cultivated permaculture gardens.

Now, we look into our urban environments. What parallels can be drawn between these human systems and the natural world?

Quince Guild at Wild Thyme Farm, Oakville, WA
Plants in guild include: Quince, Black Currant, Comfrey, Peppermint, Squash, & Queen Anne's Lace

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