An Introduction to Patterning

Our world is organised according to linear thinking, moving from A to B, from beginning to end, from Monday to Sunday. However, within the complex systems that make up our world, linear thinking limits our ability to understand the world and effectively interact with it. When we begin to understand the complex web of relationships that make up social and ecological networks, for instance, we can begin to develop new and strengthened practical applications that can contribute to effective and positive change in the world.

How do we enact systems thinking within Permaculture? Think From Pattern to Detail. By drawing on David Holmgreen’s ‘Principles of Permaculture’ we can see that each principle is interrelated. For instance, to ‘Produce No Waste’ is to think of food-waste management systems that can turn into beneficial nutrients and compost for your garden; and to ‘Integrate Rather than Segregate’ is to use beneficial companion plants to create and diversify systems within your food-garden design. By applying these principles in our design thinking we are allowing ourselves to think beyond what we see as the outcome and develop an intimate relationship with the entire process for maximum use and management of each input and output.

Exotic ferns

Thinking with an integrative mindset helps us to understand the ‘pattern’ so that we can plug in the ‘detail’. Systems thinking seeks to demonstrate intricacy and flow, and that is why Patterning in Permaculture is a core design practice. Patterns are the processes we have witnessed through dedicated time within an ecological system. We have watched the sun rise and set, we have sat before dawn to witness the exact point the arc of the sun rays begin on our property; we have seen the sun beat down on our soil and filter through the trees and we have witnessed it’s wily way of filtering through the trees. Through observation, we have identified patterns, and from these reoccurring natural processes we begin to see how to fill in the detail.

Designing ‘From Pattern to Detail’ may seem confusing at first, but as you become more patient with the environment you occupy, so you will understand the necessity of familiarity. Niche ecological systems have their own design that makes sense for their macro climate and it is the designers’ responsibility to find methodologies and shapes within design that can complement them. Influential architect, Christopher Alexander , advises: “Change your view of order: Accept unpredictability & emergence.” Patterning within our design systems allows us to develop our own unique algorithms for our spaces. These naturally calculated patterns will evolve from your hand and into the wilderness of the environment to ultimately maximise biodiversity and efficiency of your system.

“Patterning is the way we frame our designs, the template into which we fit the information, entities, and objects assembled from observation, map overlays, the analytic divination of connections, and the selection of specific material and technologies. It is this patterning that permits our elements to flow and function in beneficial relationships. The pattern IS design, and design is the subject of permaculture.” – Bill Mollison

To practice a conscious art of witnessing before implementing is integral in Permaculture Design. When you are acclimatised to your property you will begin to see that the placement of elements within your design will have a more efficient turnout and ultimately no energy input/or output will have gone to waste! Patterning your property using ecologically intelligent design thinking will not only expand your gardens’ potential but your personal potential for expanding your awareness of the environment and the people that occupy it. To benefit ourselves and the environment we must understand how the system works in a cyclical flow, a continuous loop that is ever building, that has no beginning or end, or Monday to Sunday. (Only Seed to Plant to Fruit to Soil!)


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