International Permaculture Day, held on the first Sunday in May, is an opportunity to celebrate and showcase the practice of permaculture all around the world. This year, the 8th annual celebration will be a little different – this will be the first year this day is recognized without one of permaculture’s founders, Bill Mollison, who passed away in September 2016.
In honor of Mollison’s lifelong contributions to the permaculture movement, Permaculture Research Institute is encouraging practitioners worldwide to not only plant a tree but to introduce two new companions to the garden. Companion planting will help us honor the important contributions Mollison made in bringing together permaculture practices and knowledgeable teachers by putting things together ourselves, adding two compatible plants to our gardens to create a strong, beneficial connection.
The process will recognize the cyclical processes of nature that Mollison worked to incorporate into the theory of permaculture, which was co-founded by Mollison and David Holmgren in the 1970s. Mollison’s passion for the concept, which he felt could rejuvenate the world, was evident throughout his life – and continues to show through the movement he helped begin.
Although Mollison never received a formal education, his experiences taught him the value of sustainability and living within your means. After leaving school at the age of fifteen, Mollison helped his family run their small bakery while taking on a variety of other occupations – shark fisherman and seaman, forester, mill-worker, trapper, snarer, tractor driver, and naturalist.
In 1954, Mollison worked in the Tasmanian rainforests with the CSIRO (Wildlife Survey Section). It was this experience that set him solidly on his path to developing the theories and concepts behind permaculture as a design practice – examining how we could thoughtfully develop systems that would actively sustain both human and wildlife.
“if you’re dealing with an assembly of biological systems, you can bring the things together, but you can’t connect them,” Mollison said in an interview in 1991. “We don’t have any power of creation – we only have the power of assembly. So you just stand there and watching things connect to each other, in some amazement, actually. You start by doing something right, and you watch it get more right than you thought possible.”
But for Mollison, permaculture is about more than just the beneficial assembly of plants and animal life in relation to humans. It’s also a concrete way for Mollison to inspire positive action throughout the world. He was convinced that the way humans were living was not just unsustainable, but in fact was “killing us and the world around us.”
However, protests didn’t work to convince anyone of that. Instead, Mollison began formulating what would later become the concept of permaculture. Rather than continuing to oppose current practices, he decided to introduce positivity – a way we could all exist “without the wholesale collapse of biological systems.”
His concept involved thinking ahead and giving back, two things Mollison actively practiced and encouraged throughout his life – always searching for ways to turn taking into giving. And once he had a solid philosophy behind the permaculture movement, Mollison started to share it with the world.
Starting with Permaculture One and Two, Mollison spread the word about this new concept for sustainable design – educating and informing an entire generation of permaculturists who, like Mollison, devoted their lives to the practice. Now, even after Mollison’s passing, this generation is passing the knowledge on to its own children, teaching them that instead of simply taking from our environment, we can add back to it and create a beneficial cycle.
Eventually, Mollison’s teachings have found their way into institutes throughout the globe – including the Permaculture Institute, which he founded in 1978. These institutes provide formalized training, where instructors can pass on the theory and practice of permaculture to eager students who, like Mollison, are seeking opportunities to give back. In this way, Mollison’s dedication to the future means that in spite of his passing, he’ll never truly be gone.
“When we design, we are always building for future floods, future fires, future droughts, and planting a tree a few inches tall that will be future forest giants, throw future shadows,” Mollison said. “Future populations will need future soils and forest resources, shelter, security. So somebody needs to range ahead in time, scout out the next century. We are not daydreaming. We are time scouts.”
This International Permaculture Day, on May 7, bring the memory of the “Father of Permaculture” into your own garden by companion planting two or more new additions to your permaculture design. These companion plants will help each other grow by attracting helpful insects, repelling harmful pests, or offering additional nutrients, shade, or support – giving, instead of taking.
“Traditional knowledge is always that of nature,” Mollison said in a 2005 interview. “I know a Filipino man who always plants a chili and four beans in the same hole as the banana root. I asked him, ‘why do you plant a chili with the banana?’ and he said, ‘don’t you know that you must always plant these things together?’ Well, I worked out that the beans fix the nitrogen and the chili prevents beetles from attacking the banana root. And that works very well.”
We celebrate International Permaculture Day with open homes, gardens, and farms, community gardening, educational workshops, film screenings, permablitzes – letting everyone learn more about permaculture and meet its practitioners. But this year, we can do more. We can incorporate the valuable, natural cycle Mollison was so determined to share with us into our homes and gardens, to see how this beautiful process can help build sustainability and encourage the act of giving back.
“It’s a revolution, but it’s the sort of revolution that no one will notice,” Mollison said. “There is no room for politicians or administrators or priests. And there are no laws, either. The only ethics we obey are: care of the earth, care of people, and reinvestment in those ends.”
Click here to find out more about International Permaculture Day and see where house tours, eco-workshops, farm visits, and permablitzes will be happening near you. Or, add your own event to the calendar and find more local permaculturists to celebrate the day with.