How to Use PowerPoint for Permaculture Designs

Well, we are used to seeing PowerPoint do this, right?: Pictures conveying an idea such as the principles of permaculture as shown above. Insert a couple of photos of flowers and leafs and a diagram you picked up of Google images and voilà, you got what you need to make a slide show for teaching. Fortunately I have found PowerPoint to be multifunctional in my design work as well as educational material development.

That’s right!!!! I use PowerPoint as a design tool.

Object Palette

I haven’t met too many others who are doing it, but as I have been using this software for nearly 10 years, I had already learned some of the ins and outs of this program before beginning to utilize the object palette for design work. So that is where it begins as the tab normally stays under the formatting palette (you know where you change the font size or alignment for center) when working with Word or PP. By clicking on the second tab, the object palette, you find a diverse array of preexisting shapes and forms, that can be combined with drawing tools which perpetuate straight lines, curves, and a combination with freehand.

Object Creation

With this widely recognized and distributed software, it is easy to turn a cloud shape made by Microsoft into a tree with the use of some green color and in combination with a rectangle to form the trunk. To distinguish between say a citrus and an apple, insert some other shapes to represent the colors of the fruit or flowers. Once an element is designed, save that for later use, which we will touch on in further depth in the layers section. Then you can arrange several apples, with other elements such as black locust, blackberry, and black chokeberry and then you have the beginnings of a design for a food forest.

Additionally PP has helped me to create some great teaching tools like the schematic creation and dimensions of swales. To make a swale you simply have to lay it out just like you would in the field.

That is what you see in this drawing with the lines representing the back cut, the depth of the swale, the height and width of the mound and such. This is all done based on scale, which is very easy to tinker with. Once you have this skeleton, you use the tool that lets you create curvy, fluid shapes and simply click in the appropriate locations according to the prelocated lines and voilà, you have a swale. Then drop some other colors and shapes in to let the learner see where the water will infiltrate and where the trees can be planted, and you have a slide in PP to show in a PDC or a design to offer a client.

These clients are probably going to be low-key clients as corporations and officials will most likely want AutoCAD drawings, but for me it was about using what software I already had and already knew to a certain degree.


To accurately design systems, one must correctly use scale to communicate patterns in space and time. With that, and what I see as the true brilliance of PP, scale of objects is very easily managed with a mere double click. For this you go into the size portion of the format window and enter in the appropriate size of the object depending on your scale. Lets go back to the aforementioned apple tree that we created with a green cloud, a brown rectangle, and some little red circles. One first begins by establishing that for a close-up section view drawing, the scale is 2 m = 1 in. By doing a functional analysis of the element, a semi-dwarf apple tree, our research or direct experience reveals an estimated dimensions of 3-5 m tall and 3-4 m wide for the canopy. Thus you go into the size portion of format, and enter height: 2” and width 1.5”.

Adjusting tyre pond dimensions

This allows for accurate placement and the realization of spatial dimensions corresponding with how many trees are able to fit in 50 sq. m for example. As you move from different designs for different clients or different areas within an overall design, you will interact with distinctive scales. If you have an apple tree already designed and saved, and move from a 2 m =1”, to a 4 m = 1”, you just click back into the size portion of format, and alter accordingly. This process goes very fast, which is aided by a little bit of cross multiple and divide algebra.


To create an element like a banana circle, it involves many different layers, highlighting another great PP feature. So when I am doing a more complex design like this, I start first with the earthworks and dimensions to create a scale and skeleton (similar to the swale framework I showed above). From there I construct the design piece by piece, creating a new layer with each progression. Commonly banana circles are composed of the following core species: banana, cassava, lemongrass, sweet potato, and taro. I start usually with the bottom layer and then work my way up to the top. To initiate the process of making a sweet potato vine, I first make a leaf, then save that as a picture as the whole creation involves utilizing numerous leaves. Then I add some fluid lines in representing the vining habits of the plant. From there, I place these pre-saved leaves onto the vine in different sizes and at various angles as this contrast creates a more realistic representation.

Once I have a shape I am happy with, then I save again as a sweet potato vine. Then because I need numerous sweet potato plants, I go back to insert- picture numerous times and then tweak their shape and angle with a few clicks. Once I have my sweet potatoes in place, I go to insert duplicate slide and create a new layer. This duplicate slide is a superb feature because I have the exact same picture and if I am showing students how to construct something it allows them to see the step by step process as I flip through slides like animation. The reason I believe this is truly important is when you are drawing on a board students follow the steps of your hand accordingly and draw it in a notebook. However with PP, sometimes students don’t take as many detailed notes. This lessens the reinforcing nature of note taking. Anyway, with this duplicate slide I can build the next layer, which is lemon grass. This you must design piece-by-piece and then save as a whole. Once you have placed this next element suitably with scale dimensions and legibility, then once again insert duplicate slide and so on until you reach the banana at the top. Once the full guild is in, you then save it all as a banana circle and allows you to drop those into a larger scale design where you are maybe creating a mandala or several banana circles to deal with greywater. It’s a bit of a fractal pattern or as Holistic Management describes it, a whole within a whole within a whole.

Banana Circle


As you saw earlier with the sweet potato vine, I have put quite a bit of detail into this drawing. As my work with PP has progressed, my desire for finer detail led me into employing the Zoom function, which is an easily accessed scroll down on the top toolbar of the program. This feature allows for close-ups that make the minute details possible and gives realism to the drawings. If you only have leaves of the same size and all upright, it looks very sterile and unnatural. If a plant is given some depth by showing the veins of the leaves say, then the drawing has much more life and originality as well. Moreover, Zoom can be utilized when doing large-scale design on top of a contour aerial map for a 20 HA project. If you want to put in a small vineyard on the side of the hill on contour, you can zoom in and use the various line functions to place the vines. Without the zoom, it’s a bit more guess work and then when presenting the overall design to a client or class, you can zoom in and show these details of exactly how many rows would fit in this given area of the farm.


This swale picture is the same one viewed earlier yet in plan view instead of section. To effectively communicate ideas in one’s design work, one can operate in both section and plan view. With the example of the apple tree, if you are looking at a section view, your drawing will include the trunk, cloud, and fruits. Meanwhile from above, plan view, it just shows the canopy, which is easily accomplished with the cloud shape and fruit circles and possibly a black dot to indicate the center just as a landscape architect would do. I usually work in plan view first because if you make something really thin it ends up looking like a section view anyway.

Take the cassava plant I used in the banana circle as an example. We see its progression from plan into section view. Again I used layers to build this, and zoom to accomplish finer detail, and then used the size element to take a plan view into section view. The top left one is the plan version and then the bottom left image is the same picture just squeezed vertically. This gives a “flat” perspective. Then because in the section view I can see the stems as well I created a shape for them. Notice not all the stems are the same angle or height, which also is true of the leaves. This makes the realization of the image much more credible.

Community Supported Design Graphics

I must admit my bananas are not very good yet, but all in due time. Consequently I am hoping to create a database that all permies and educators could make use of these images and contribute to their betterment. It is an art to create, but once they are there, they are so easy to tweak and mix and match quickly to build designs efficiently. If we had a community-supported database, then we could all benefit from the continual refinement and addition of plants or elements. Once a design is done with these elements, then you post it up for the community to see so we can learn from each other.

When I first began I was much more rudimentary but felt as though the legibility of the design was not so great. Thus I began to slow down and see it as art work that could be shared with others for their benefit as well. If some tech-savvy person could set up a site for sharing, then we could search for say a shrub or an Eleagnus to be more specific and rapidly insert it in rather than painstakingly assembling all those great permaculture plants. A great step forward in Permaculture would be more cooperation not competition and this could be a platform and tool for such a philosophy.


  1. Yea I looked into open office but I have a deal where I can get the Microsoft Office for $10 so I went for it as I have been using PowerPoint for so long. I was just familiar with the program and it slips easily into my presentations that I also use. The idea really no matter what software is to build a database which is how the article ends. I don’t really care what software is used, it’s not really to compete about which one is the best, it is how can we share these designs and individual elements so we can progress the movement quicker. Maybe there is already a database out there but all i have found was those fluffy Landscape Architect stuff that is not so great once you zoom in.

  2. This is truly a great idea, another software that I can recomend is google’s sketch up (3D modeling).

    In the sketch up database, you may find many permaculture project/models that you can download into your design. They’ve also uploaded the “Greening the desert” project as a 3D model on the database.

    Salu2 from Aruba and keep up the good work.

  3. Hey thanks for the comment Urvin, I will check sketchup out more, I definitely think it is the way to go with buildings but truthfully i don’t work with them so much, more plants and water. As for inkscape Thomas I have tried several times to get into it as i looked for opensource stuff but actually found it less powerful which could be totally false but because of my background with PP, again I went with it. It is a bit painful at times but again it is about building a database so that if we cooperate not compete, then we can share in this duty together. maybe I am wrong, maybe people don’t need this kind of thing, but I thought I would share anyways something that I enjoy doing as it is a form of art for me.

  4. This is really interesting. For anyone else persevering with non-CAD applications for 2D graphics, I would like to recommend this one: ‘paint.NET’ (a different kettle of fish from MS Paint). It is free, very intuitive though quite sophisticated, easy and quick to use. For most purposes I use it now in preference to Photoshop.

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