Edible Ecotones

Designing Permaculture Gardens, Lawns, and Living Spaces

Guiding Land-use Planning Paradigms and Frameworks


Permaculture is a design framework for creating ecology-mimicking landscapes. It is about altering and managing landscapes and sites to produce ecological surplus for human needs. And, it is about maximizing the effects of human labor and minimizing off-site inputs (and hence costs). It is about designing and integrating human habitat, food production, water harvesting, transportation, heating and lighting and aesthetics into a whole working system made up of coherent, low-maintenance sub-systems that support a healthy life.

Of primary interest to Edible Ecotones are the Permaculture framework's contributions to site assessment and site design.

Assessment and Sector Analysis. Sector Analysis identifies and quantifies (when possible) energy flows that affect the site. Typical sources of energy flow include solar energy, wind, water-flow, noise or sound, and visual impact (views and vistas). Designers can represent these flows graphically (on overlays or GIS layers, for example) and get a sense of how affected areas intersect and form micro-sites that can affect implementing objectives in various ways.

Permaculture also calls for assessing all ecological factors and their inter-relationships - soil(s), water, vegetation, terrain, wildlife, hydrology and geology. Spatially and quantitatively locating these factors, with an emphasis on mapping yields key information for decision-making (and prioritization).

An important Permaculture concept for analyzing these factors is the Scale of Permanence. The Scale of Permanence (SOP) is a simple and key concept that rates natural factors and designed features in reference to their permanence, which is proportional to their difficulty and cost to change. In reference to analyzing a given landscape, the SOP rates factors in the following order starting with the most permanent:

  • Climate
  • Land shape
  • Water Supply
  • Roads/Access
  • Trees
  • Structures
  • Subdivision Fences
  • Soils

Design. Permaculture offers several contributions to landscape design and planning. Especially useful are zonal analysis, the scale of permanence (discussed above), and element-analysis (which we term "feature analysis").

Zonal Analysis employs a spatial hierarchy of five concentric management zones (or zone-types) defined in reference to a central point. The central point or area (Zone 0) represents the physical place where a person spends the most amount of time during waking hours - like the hearth or the kitchen sink or the pantry door or even the kitchen. Each zone, from zone 1 (near the center) to zone 5 (towards the property boundary) is rated based on the expected level of management intensity.

Zone 1, nearest the center, includes features and gardens that need the most attention (watering, harvesting, protecting) and support the residence.

Zone 2, outside zone 1, includes features and areas that support the residence but require less intense management - for instance, orchards or pastures for home dairy.

Zone 3, outside zone 2, includes features for commercial production - farming, dairy, flowers, more orchard.

Zone 4,outside zone 3, includes areas for wildcrafting, wild-berry picking, mushroom-picking, and other foraging activities not requiring much direct management.

Zone 5 includes the minimal-management or wild zones.

Zones do not have to be perfectly concentric nor do they need to be unitary. For instance, perhaps zone 3 is broken into two areas divided by a zone 2 barnyard. Or perhaps a bee hive (medium-intensive management) must be located in zone 4 to avoid human conflict. But, the general organizing principle is key to permaculture, because it minimizes overall transit time and saving thousands of hours and more in the long term as garden users or orchard managers walk to and from their tasks.

Component Analysis is a functional break-down of any element or component, such as a chicken (primary example), a chicken shed, or an apple tree. This analysis involves listing each component's inputs (needs), outputs (products and behaviors) and intrinsic characteristics.


  • Hemenway, Toby. Gaia's Garden.
  • Holmgren, David. Melliodora.
  • Jacke, David. Edible Forest Gardens, Volumes I and II.
  • Mollison, Bill. Permaculture: a Designer's Manual.
  • Yeoman, P.A. The Challenge of Landscape.

A Pattern Language

A Pattern Language is a framework for analyzing and designing built space at all scales - from the region to the configuration of a kitchen cabinet. The Pattern Language framework views the design and building process as a problem-solution, with built space designed to solve everyday problems of function. Designers study solutions to identify patterns, or underlying logic, and look for that logic in culturally and historically disparate places, assessing their "timelessness" - or universality.

These patterns, in turn, constitute a design "language" that designers can use with flexibility to piece together organic built spaces, which evolve through time to meet current functional needs (problems). This language and methodological organicism reflect natural patterns of energy flow and ecology, an alignment bestows a self-similarity that integrates patterns at large and small scales.

The authors of this framework, notably Christopher Alexander, originally identified and report on 253 patterns, but subsequently, author and designer Dave Jacke has identified several dozen patterns that apply to gardening and permaculture.


  • Alexander, Christopher. A Pattern Language.
  • Jacke, David. Edible Forest Gardens, Volumes I and II.
  • Mollison, Bill. Permaculture: a Designer's Manual.

Environmental Design with Overlays

Environmental Design with Overlays is a framework for analyzing and designing landscape use in a constrained environment with a conflicting goal set. It relies heavily on visual assessment and design, but can accommodate spatial-data. The process begins with identifying desired values, goals, and prioritizing them. The designer then must rank zones (stands, historical use areas, current use areas) on a continuum of suitability, for each goal, georeference the zones, and create transparency overlays (or GIS layers) for each goal. The resulting zones are represented by polygons on the overlays. Designers can thus overlay transparencies and identify intersecting (conflicting areas), thereby creating new zones and optimize conflicting objectives within those zones. The approach readily lends itself to quantification, so objective indicators and values for each zone can be compared.


  • McHarg, Ian. Design With Nature.


Agro-ecology is the study of agricultural ecologies and the application of those studies to agriculture. Key areas of research and application are insect management and soil health, and plant and soil biodiversity. Agro-ecology is especially important in designing patches, polycultures, and animal cultures.


  • Altieri, Miguel. Natural Pest Management.

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