Get an Invite to Richard Branson’s Necker Island: Become a Permaculture Designer, and You Might

Permaculture designers Mark Garrett and actress Daryl Hanna, Soneva Fushi, Maldives

Meeting Mark Garrett

I can always recall the moment I first meet someone, the impression they made.

But not Mark Garrett.

How many years since I met him? I just can’t say.

He’s one of those understated people, always chipping away at things in the background, just merging into the background of the Permaculture world like a blue heeler dog on a bluestone verandah.

He’s offline, immersed in real-world things: thinking up water systems, building soil, digging swales with his workers.

Then he leaves it all to go for a surf, a walkabout, then onto the next gig.

Blue Heeler rest. Work hard, play hard.

Blue Heeler rest. Work hard, play hard.

Every now and then a message or call would arrive, sometimes with a request for ideas, in that soft Queensland drawl you can hear even in his writing.

“Hi Cecilia. Want to help me with a project I’ve got going?”

Somehow, maybe because he’s got a knack for inspiring trust, the garden projects he takes on become more and more spectacular.

So do his customers.

Mark Garrett at work, Green School Bali

His Skype calls generally have a pretty good backdrop: Maldives, Bali, Private islands owned by rock stars. Actual rock stars, as one customer would pass him on to the next.

As if he’s asking me down to the pub for a cold one, he’d come up with things like this:

“Hey Cecilia. I’m on my way to Necker Island. Richard liked my presso, now he wants a design. Can you put in a quote to draw it up?”

Richard Branson getting some Mark Garrett composting inspiration, Maldives

Meeting Richard Branson

Richard Branson. Oh my! I love that man, and he already knows me. Now’s my chance to impress Mark.

“Mark! I know Richard Branson. Yes, I met him in the days he used to hang out in Tokyo. We hung out and he teased me about Permaculture, way back 13 years ago.”

"Ah, cool” says Mark, taking it all in his stride.

“Can I tag along to Necker Island?”

“Nah”, says Mark. “It’s just me for now".

Nice try Cecilia.

Over a few Skype calls from various glamor locations we drew up a self-maintaining design that would process the island’s waste, capture water, and supplement the imported food for sixty or so staff and guests.

Concept map detail: Casurina windbreak, Coconut and Papaya circles

Richard Branson is already a whole-systems thinker, he knows how to turn unvalued things into valued things, how to build a business like an ecosystem, and how to sustain it all over time. When you’ve done so well in life and just want to leave a better world, what’s next?

Permaculture. Maaate.

Mark met Richard Branson in the Maldives, at the Slow Life Symposium at the Soneva Fushi Resort, where Mark was putting in Permaculture systems.

Mark, what makes you Special?

That’s what I asked him one day.

“Well, I never thought about it”, he says. But this is what he came up with:


I explain Permaculture in simple terms. Everyone can understand it.


I don’t just impose a design on what’s there. I look around me, see what resources are lying around, and work out how to use them.


I can see the client’s vision as they speak. I just make real what I see, and it turns out to be what they wanted. Plus more.

Mark Garrett’s Permaculture Keyhole Garden, Green School

Banana circle, with water sink, gathering nutrients

Tool shed, with water harvesting roof, tank & fish ponds.

The Waste to Wealth Center composts food & garden waste

Green roof keeps temperatures down, clever leaf catching protects water supply

Chickens clean up fallen fruit and pests

Passionfruit vines hide fence, give fruit and flowers

Concept map detail: central keyhole garden and orchard

I chose colors to match Richard’s home.
Build on what’s already familiar.

Richard Branson’s Necker Island home

Sea grape

With his long island-permaculture experience, Mark knows what works well and what will not. Here is the Sea-grape he chose to cover the cyclone fences, a salt-and-wind resistant climber from the buckwheat family. I’d never heard of it, and had to do a Google image search to find out how it looks.

Here it is, stylised and climbing up the fence. In my version it’s a staggered bamboo-grown fence. We can always suggest a better life.

A hard day at the office

As permaculture designers, Mark and I have offices wherever we set up our laptop. It’s a nice life for people who require freedom to operate well, as we go about trying, testing, questioning, and coming up with answers nobody else thought of yet.

Permaculture is a design system for solving those intractable; those wicked kind of problems. Everyone in the world has problems, a rich supply of them. This means us Permaculture designers can range far and wide, as we search for more people to help, land to make productive, more homes to make user-friendly — more sustainable families, connected by choice and affection.

Design meeting, from Mark at Green School to myself in Sydney. Skype

Get Your Permaculture Design Certificate, Bali

Starting 24th August 2014 Mark Garrett will be running an 11-day full Permaculture Design course, with practical site visits to culture-creating places such as Bali’s Green School.

You are invited.

One of many good things about this course is the guest presenter from Australia: Cecilia Macaulay. Yes, me. Permaculture for Creative Life Design is my special niche, showing participants how to use design-power, rather than willpower and effort, for a force-free, generative daily life.

If you think it might be just what you need right now, please send any questions to myself or Mark cecilia.macaulay (at)

Mark Garratt with John Hardy of Green School Bali

Cecilia’s Creative Life Design Workshops, Sydney

I will also be leading Creative Life Design one-day Workshops in Sydney, from October.

We learn how to apply Permaculture design — Zones, Edge-Effect, the lot — to your kitchen sink, your communication, your clutter and your aspirations.

All problems can be Design Problems — puzzles to be cleverly solved. Otherwise they aren’t problems, just situations, so relax into it.

Contemplate the future with Cecilia Macaulay


    1. Sorry. Not interested in being a permaculture designer for the rich and famous. That’s not to say that you aren’t a good designer, only that your client base is a key part of the problem. Sounds more like it’s permacouture.

    1. OK, clearly not the _only_ one, but still apparently in a minority!

      Mark and Cecilia, do you have any views about working with clients who are far from practicing permaculture ethics?

      I mean, earth care vs. running an airline which wants to expand into space travel; fair shares vs. extreme concentration of wealth.

      I sincerely want to know, because I can see arguments on both sides. But I would say it is something one shouldn’t do without at least thinking about it. Of course, that’s assuming one is invited in the first place…

      1. Well Robert, I see you are someone who looks beyond the surface of most things, and that you are truly interested in my answer. Thank you!
        I’m from an Irish Catholic background, so I’ve got a good grounding in ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. Getting technical, an eco-footprint of around 2.2 hectares is Ecologically Sustainable. Mine is more than 2.2, so I don’t get to judge Richard Branson, or anyone else. I just get to help them in whatever way my flawed and ‘personally unsustainable’ self can.
        The good news is, There is heaps I can do. The amazing news is, That Permaculture is so special, we can never know where sharing even a little of it will end up.

        The important thing is that I beaver on with my own own ethic: Become more and more effective in Caring for Earth, Caring for People, and Sharing what’s Spare.
        Thinking Correct Thoughts is a terrible, terrible trap, a woeful waste. Being in creative action, doing something thats never been done before, where you are bound to get it wrong a large part of the time, thats where Life is happening.

        If this comment of mine left you more well-cared-for, and more in-action, I am glad. The open, accepting way you asked for my opinion, even though you had alarms ringing (and that’s their job) left me feeling cared for, it really did.
        After all, it can be scary in The Comments, even when its a Permaculture forum.

        1. With all due respect, Cecilia, this is not about stone throwing or judging you, Mark or Richard Branson as individuals. It’s about continuing to define what permaculture is (and isn’t). From the little that I can see of what you & Mark do, you use permaculture tools & techniques to design projects for your clients but it’s highly questionable that John Hardy (a fascinating man, BTW) is a permaculturalist and it is beyond question that Richard Branson is not a permaculturalist. Swales, hügelkultur beds, food forests are the tools of permaculture but they are in themselves not permaculture. One may have the tools and techniques in place but does that make one a permaculturalist. I think not. Permaculture is a way of life, a way of looking at the world. This is where care for the earth, return of surplus, and care for the people come in.

          Do I have a problem with how you and Mark earn a living? Not particularly. In one way it’s probably a good thing because maybe John Hardy and Richard Branson will start to see the problems we face and the solutions inherent in permaculture. But if either of them says they are permaculturalists or practice permaculture, I will call bullshit because neither shows any evidence of practicing the three ethics.

          It’s going to be an interesting discussion as permaculture gets more and more mainstream exposure and starts to move in from the fringe. I expect that as with the organic brand, the permaculture brand will attract corporate attention and have to struggle with brand dilution.

  1. Way to go Richard !!!
    I’m pretty handy with shovel and sickle ….. :)

    Its really great to hear of high profile people that are embracing Permaculture.
    It will certainly give more exposure to the uninformed world.

  2. Mark is a great guy, worked with him in Maldives and Bali, now we only see each other when we happen to be home in Bali. The course is a must do if you can make it. Cecilia, hope to meet you in Bali.

    1. Norma, thats so good to hear. Getting a book out there is the dream of so many people, and so few of us have actually done it. Myself included.

  3. Just like all things – wealth is a spectrum. I’m overjoyed that permaculture can be applied by people at the bottom, top and everyplace in between and lessening their impact on the planet. The truth is that celebrities have access to mainstream culture and can influence by their actions.

    And Cecelia – love your drawings as always!


  4. If the super rich want to make amends for their decadence and debauchery they should be using their money to help farmers convert from toxic carbon-emitting annual monocultures to organic carbon-sequestering perennial polycultures. Then those areas will actually be livable and it will be possible for us to lose our dependence on the destructive industries that created their obscene fortunes at the expense of everyone else. The only other thing they could do to redeem themselves in my opinion is to use their clout to reverse the economic policies they’ve spent their whole lives lobbying for. Until they do things like that they’re not getting any respect from me.

    If anyone’s interested, I actually wrote an essay a little while ago about the ineffectual philanthropy projects of the rich and how their money could be put to better use.

  5. Cecilia, since Permaculture is becoming so fruitful from such transnational events such as this,such as your Malta and Japanese courses and such as Mark Garrett’s Maldives and Caribbean courses, how does your ‘Creative Life Design’, (which has its roots in Sydney) fit into Bali, which is long on family and short on distance, where many Western countries are now short on family and long on distance?
    And what significance has Japanese thinking and design had upon your Permaculture presentations?

    1. Bob! That was a looong question, so You just get a short answer. The answer is, my main work is helping people create social ecosystems around themselves, that leave them cared-for and effective in areas they were struggling before. I cannot anticipate exactly how life will change for my students, its always a surprise. Some may go home and announce to their husband: “Honey, Im not going to nag you any more”. One lady who thought she disliked cooking said she went home that night and re-arranged the Zones in her kitchen till 2am. Many participants end up in each others lives, doing useful things for each other things, as I always do a LETS game that gets them trading their hidden talents, surprising each other and themselves.
      Look how sparkey the people of Nerrandera went, realising that Permaculture is about so much more than Gardens, as they start doing deals to do each others accounting, mending, love-letter writing.

      Japanese culture influences Everything I do. Without it, I would be all opinions, no effectiveness, its so scary to think what my life would have been like without Japan.
      Here is a post I wrote on the Design principles of Japanese Tea Ceremony.
      If you want to be someone skilled in making a lot out of a little, consider watching how the cultivated Japanese do it.

      (Not the uncultivated ones, who just obey whatever impulse seems good at the time. They is as scary as you’d find anywhere.)

      Are you thinking about attending the Bali event Bob? If I did a course in Japan, in English, what would I have to do to make it worth you going over? Give me a wish list.

      1. Cecilia, the Nerrandera clip did show a vivid enthusiasm and an unmistakable congeniality. The Japanese clip answered so many questions that I hadn’t yet asked- daring in one’s creative life-clarity focus and perfect preparation for the unexpected-mental stillness-the quiet joy of appreciation of the mundane-how our flaws, not our perfections connect us to each other-and the mesmerizing experience of being in the presence of mastery of any kind- all seem equally revelationary and innate at the same time, if that is possible!
        To get involved in a course in Japan would be terrific, I feel I already have some insights from reading your article.
        But the most timely attendance will be in Sydney where I will ask two daughters if they would like to attend your Creative Life Design course in October.
        Enjoy Bali !

  6. What about bringing water back to California and other arid and semiarid countries?
    The Al Baydha Project (, brought into being by Geoff, is almost all what would be needed: Harvesting rain water as much as possible und using it as best as possible. Also a lot of tree and bushes are spending shade and wind breaks to reduce evaporation. Agriculture in California could save a lot of water if principles of agroforestry would be applied.

    As well as the following information is quite obvious:

    Disrupting the water cycle
    By changing the landscape, humans are also invisibly disrupting the water cycle, leading to unexpected droughts and loss of water. […]When forests are converted to crop fields, run-off (eluviation) and seepage (illuviation) increase, whereas evaporation decreases. At the same time, fertility is disappearing by a substantially increased dissolved matter (nutrients) flow. The temperature increases and evaporated moisture rises much higher.

    the opposite should also be easy to understand: If California or better all free hands would apply on all available landscapes the principles of swaling, building check dams and agroforestry or other methods (e.g. plants that can collect water) as best as possible droughts should be a case of history for ever, perhaps in a time frame of twenty to thirty years.

    1. It seems such an obvious way to get massive benefit for minimal effort. So here is a question: What groups of people most likely to get personal benefit from doing hands-on, swale-creating Agroforestry?
      We may have to think Lateral here.

      1. For example farmers who can’t afford deeper groundwater wells to irrigate their land?

        California drought spawns well drilling boom
        By SCOTT SMITH, Apr. 13, 2014
        The scarcity of irrigation water in drought-stricken California has created such a demand for well drilling services that Central Valley farmer Bob Smittcamp is taking matters into his own hands.
        He’s buying a drilling rig for $1 million to make certain he has enough water this summer for thousands of acres of fruit and vegetable crops. […]The price to dig a well depends on the depth and ground composition, drillers say, costing a farmer anywhere from $50,000 to $500,000 before installing the pumps.[…]Most farmers expect to receive no water from either this summer, and that ratio is dramatically shifting to underground water supplies, which could eventually run dry.

        Drought Has Drillers Running After Shrinking California Water Supply
        by Sasha Khokha, June 30, 2014
        Right where a brand new almond orchard will be planted, a drilling rig bores a hole in the earth 2,500 feet deep. All told, this well will cost the farmer about $1 million.

        Somewhere i read that about 17,000 people in California are currently unemployed because of the drought, also they probably only get low wages.

        This drilling is only fighting the symptoms not creating any solution. California or some californian organisations and companys are now gathering money (about 25 billion(!) Dollars) to build two big tunnels to transfer water from the Sacramento river to the south – what could have been done with this money?!

        By the way: I’ve written this year in march emails to the White House, to two senators of the California State Senate, to two big magazines, to two big newspapers, to two water authorities proposing that there are solutions against this drought from short term till long term. Only one recipient has answered: It was a water authority which thanked me for my proposition, refered to a great study (“Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study”, released in December 2012) and asked to send my solutions to them, what i didn’t do till now.

        Now i will try to contact farmers directly.
        California or as well the United States could launch a big reforestation (and permaculture) program which would in the long term not only secure water supplies for ever but also create land to be used for living and working. But i know that Geoff has made some chilling experiences with bureaucracy.
        In a german blog i will write in a few days about the practical approach in greening arid and semiarid countries.

  7. “No man is an island” ~ John Donne

    You don’t get so-called “rich” without leveraging EVERYONE’S planet in some way, such as with Primitive Accumulation or Wage Slavery that, respectively, steal resources and run enterprises.

    “There are no rich, there are no poor, there are just people.” ~ Derrick Jensen

    Necker Island, as with everywhere, is essentially everyone’s.

    “To accumulate wealth, power, or land beyond one’s needs in a limited world is to be truly immoral, be it as an individual, an institution, or a nation-state.”
    ~ Bill Mollison

  8. “Although the land on the island is entirely privately owned, under British Virgin Islands law, all beaches up to the high-water mark are Crown land, and are open to the public. In practice, the security personnel who accompany guests to Necker Island are known for making it difficult for ordinary members of the public to enjoy the beaches, particularly when high-profile guests are in residence.” ~ Wikipedia

  9. Regarding Caelan’s Mollison quote – confusion can exist, for some, discerning wants from needs. Even so, I would think each person’s contribution is their own considered best.

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