Designing the layout of a property can be overwhelming. If your goal is an efficient and productive landscape, a permaculture designer may be able to help. Here are three reasons why a permaculture designer can help you meet your goals (and what to look for in a designer).
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The Homestead Site Design
Having a productive homestead property is an ambition that many of us strive for. We dream of abundant gardens, healthy livestock, access to nature, and an efficient home with quality time for family and friends (or some variation of these ideals).
However, once we finally acquire that piece of property, whether it’s a 0.10-acre in the city, an acre in the suburbs, or 10 acres in the country, how do we know what elements to place where? How do we figure out where to place the garden, the chicken coop, a meadow, or an orchard, for example?
Productive Permaculture Homesteads
Permaculture is a design science that models nature in a way that is aesthetically-pleasing, productive, and ecologically-balanced. Permaculture design principles help us create efficient landscapes that not only sustain themselves into the future, but regenerate biodiversity and lost fertility due to previous land management choices.
Is Hiring a Permaculture Design Consultant Right for you?
In my experience as a permaculture consultant and educator, I’ve found that many people have the knowledge and experience of growing their own food organically, managing livestock, and operating an efficiently-run household.
If they don’t have that knowledge or experience (for none of us quite know it all), these self-directed folks find that help is just a click away on the internet by googling “how to…”
However, the most important challenge is in understanding how to design a site layout so that all the pieces of a homestead work together as efficiently as possible and all the resources of the land are used to their full potential.
If you’re interested in a well-designed homestead, a consultation with a permaculture designer might be right for you.
Permaculture designers have completed a 72-hour certification program. Although this program is intense, most designers continue with self-study, formal education, internships, and community projects to hone their knowledge before becoming a professional designer.
Here are three reasons why a permaculture designer can help you bring your homestead vision to life:
#1: Designers can Read the landscape
Permaculture designers are trained to read the landscape and assess a property for its full, productive potential. An experienced designer will be able to notice opportunities to catch and store resources on the land, such as rainwater flows or fertility.
He or she will be able to pinpoint connections between desired elements (vegetable garden, herb garden, chicken coop, orchard/food forest, etc.) and situate them in the most efficient layout that will have the greatest effect for the least amount of work.
#2: Designers can Facilitate your Vision
Permaculture designers can help you craft your vision into something that is fun, rewarding, and possible. There’s nothing worse than having a vision in your head and not having the tools to implement it to its full potential.
Even self-directed homesteaders will read up on permaculture techniques such as swales, food forests, and herb spirals, etc. [Check out my book to read up on these techniques: The Suburban Micro-Farm: Modern Solutions for Busy People!]
The trouble is, it’s difficult to figure out the most useful and efficient placement of these elements on the land.
Additionally, each household has its own goals. Perhaps a large garden isn’t on your wish list, but a wildlife corridor, bird sanctuary, or backyard forest retreat is more your style. A permaculture designer can help with your vision.
No matter your desired theme, a designer can help you tweak your site plan so that it is realistic and do-able, dividing the work into implementation phases, if necessary.
In fact, the design process is so powerful that expert designers will often seek advice from peers on their own properties because two heads working together usually produces a much more robust solution.
Here is one homesteader’s take on his experience in working with a permaculture designer on his property. “…if you have NO experience, and you have some extra money like I did I think you would shave YEARS off of your learning curve.”
#3: Designers can Work with Challenging Sites
A permaculture designer can help improve the stability and ecology of challenging conditions such as steep hills, drainage and erosion issues, poor fertility, or damaged wildlife corridors. Using nature as the instruction book, a trained designer can help you balance a productive landscape with ecological repair.
8 Things to Look for in a Permaculture Designer
When looking for a permaculture designer, the following concepts are key in finding an expert who is the right fit for you. Many designers will include this information on their website, but don’t be afraid to ask for it. They’ll be pleased that you’re doing your homework to seek out a designer who is aligned with your goals.
- Education: Permaculture designers should have completed the 72-hour permaculture design certification. This demonstrates their commitment to the permaculture design process. Often you’ll find landscape design consultants who have chosen to add permaculture design certification to their repertoire.
- Experience: Look for indicators of relevant experience. If your property is rural, do they have experience working with rural properties? New designers will often consult at reduced fees in order to gain experience and build a portfolio.
- Insurance: As a professional service provider, the designer should be insured. They may be bonded as well, which means that you will be compensated in the event that the agreed upon work isn’t completed.
- Communication: A good consultant will communicate how their design process works up front and how fees are structured for the services. They will also have a method for determining whether their services will be a good fit for you, either through a questionnaire or initial interview. After meeting with you, they should be able to clearly define what a successful project will look like in your eyes.
- Scope of Work: Be clear about what you’re looking for. Do you want a site plan that you can implement yourself or do you want the scope to include installation? A quality designer will insist on oversight of the installation process, even if another party is used, to be sure it is implemented properly and to the agreed upon specifications. Do you only need a planting plan for a defined area? State your expectations clearly, and look for feedback from the designer that they are satisfied to work within these parameters. Will you be interested in ongoing maintenance services of the landscape? If so, is this a service the designer provides?
- References: Ask for client references, testimonials, and/or a portfolio of previous work. What are others saying about the designer? How do you feel about the quality and style of the work displayed in his/her portfolio? Strike up a conversation to hear his/her stories about previous projects and whether he/she talks favorably of previous clients. Can the designer talk gracefully about how he/she overcame challenges, be they design or interpersonal challenges?
- Written Contract: The designer should present you with a professional, written contract, which should include the agreed-upon scope of work and the expectations of both parties. A quality designer will usually insist on getting a survey of the land so measurements and the placement of elements can be as accurate as possible.
- Compatibility: This goes for hiring any service provider: You should like the professional as a person. Did you feel comfortable interacting with him or her? You’ll have to work closely together over many meetings, so be sure you feel that he/she is professional, knowledgeable, and trustworthy.
Ask the Expert
I recently got in touch with my friend John Hemmerle, Owner and Designer of Our Land Organics about this topic. Full Disclosure: I collaborate with John and Our Land Organics on permaculture design/consultation/installation services. John is a knowledgeable and dependable expert, which is why I decided to work with him!
I asked John what he thought the most important traits were of a good permaculture consultant. He highlighted that a good designer will have good communication and project management skills. The design process, fee structure, and written contract will be clearly defined.
He/She will be a good listener, and be able to help the client clarify his/her vision and define what success looks like. A good designer will insist on managing the installation in order to ensure the client’s vision is implemented as agreed upon. The success of a landscape greatly depends on how well it is installed.
More importantly, John thinks that finding the right designer comes down to making sure the designer’s expertise matches your goals.
The Site Consultation
All of John’s new clients receive a landscape analysis questionnaire to fill out before the in-person consultation. This questionnaire helps him determine whether or not his services will be a good fit for the client, and it gives him an idea of the client’s goals.
The design consultation is an opportunity to meet in person, walk the property together, and discuss the clients’ wildest dreams. A consultation summary is then drawn up with recommendations and ideas, and John and the client will decide if it makes sense to continue working together to create a design.
The Design Process
The next step is a 3-meeting design process. This in-depth design framework includes a conceptual design phase, a preliminary design phase, and a final design phase. Designing is an iterative process that allows for observation, exploration, and revision.
Throughout the design process there is ample room for feedback and revisions leaving little room for being surprised when the final design is presented.
The conceptual design includes a land survey and an analysis of the land to more accurately define the property’s potential. This is the phase in which to experiment with the placement of various elements in the design.
The preliminary design works from feedback from the conceptual design and begins to include a definition of specific plant and materials lists, as well as cost estimations and suggested implementation phases. The preliminary design is presented to the client and feedback is again taken into account.
The final design is presented to the client for final approval, and an installation date is reserved. A written contract then clearly defines the scope of work, timelines, and service fees.
As a consultant, I’ve found it especially informative to learn Our Land Organics’ 3-meeting design process for creating amazing designs that meet the client’s needs while developing the ecological health of the site.
Permaculture designers are facilitators, illustrators, and educators. Beginning with the end in sight, they listen to the needs and visions of the client and balance them with the needs of the property.
Like any professional, you are paying them for their years of experience and training so you can save time, avoid costly mistakes, and feel confident it is being done the right way.
You are also going to learn a lot. Most designers are passionate about what they do and want to spread their knowledge.
Above all, there is the added reassurance that through the design process you will end up with a design you are happy with. Peace of mind is a great thing.
As you can see, a permaculture designer can help you read the landscape and create an efficient and productive homestead site layout that matches your vision.
Would you like to learn more about using using permaculture to increase productivity of your landscape and regenerate biodiversity?
You’ll find step-by-step instructions for many permaculture techniques in my book, The Suburban Micro-Farm.
- Permaculture Design: A Step-by-Step Approach
- Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual
- Practical Permaculture for Home Landscapes, Your Community, and the Whole Earth
- The Resilient Farm and Homestead: An Innovative Permaculture and Whole Systems Design Approach
- Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture: A Practical Guide to Small-Scale, Integrative Farming and Gardening
Have you received assistance from a permaculture designer on your property? Tell us about your experience below.