Landscaping is defined as the art or technique of designing and managing open spaces; its primary goal is usually aesthetics and the design is optimized for things such as ease of maintenance, accessibility, privacy, costs, etc. However, traditional landscaping rarely bothers to include non-anthropocentric uses in the designed environment. That is a big oversight – but one that creates a huge opportunities for permaculture designers.
In this example of a typical tropical landscaped backyard one can see cycads, palm trees, boxwood, grass, water, structures and some flowers. The landscaper certainly did a great job creating an orthodoxly attractive and well tamed environment that pleases the modern notion of aesthetic with its lines and tidiness. For all these (arguably) positive points, this landscape does not significantly fulfill a single ecological function – maybe the flowers attract a few pollinators and the water, if not a toxic stew of chlorine, quenches the thirst of bird and bugs, but that’s it.
Also, the maintenance of this large lawn will require frequent mows (a waste of energy, time and money), and, to keep its greenness, fertilizer (since we obtusely insist on bagging and wasting grass clippings), progressively impoverishing the soil. With high costs and absolutely no possible uses this yard does not have a very good cost-benefit relation.
Of course, there are better examples of traditional landscaping, possibly even with some ecological benefits, and there certainly is a place for this kind of design – such as small high circulation areas –, but we cannot anymore act and think as though the Earth were infinite or we could live despite ecological collapse.
Our widespread degrading activity on the planet is such that the current geological epoch is, for a growing number of scientists, called the Anthropocene – and epoch marked by human activity. Everyone who owns a piece of land should feel a moral duty to make something ecologically useful out of it, implementing a landscape that provides food (for both people and wildlife), habitat, fertilization, pollination, carbon capture, water and air purification, groundwater recharge, runoff control, etc.
The Australian Angelo Elliades has redesigned his 64m² garden according to permaculture principles. He has planted more than 30 fruit trees and 70 herbs. Only the most classicist fancier of straight lines and military organization could honestly proffer a preference for the first garden over this cultivated ecosystem where, 4 years after planting, 20kg are harvested on average every month.
Permaculture is special because it is a well-established framework to creating such life-giving environments. The world does not need more traditional landscape architects, it needs more permaculture designers, so go out and begin offering your knowledge and experience for the creation of these so very necessary landscapes, especially in regions where there are few or no active permaculturists for miles and miles around – you could even make some money while you’re at it!
Luiz Eduardo de Andrade is based on Curitiba, Brazil and has recently started the first permaculture consultancy in the Brazilian state of Paraná, Permacultar, and maintains a permaculture blog by the same name.