Designing your homestead garden can be overwhelming. Here’s how 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 strive for. After acquiring your property, however—whether it’s a 0.10-acre in the city, an acre in the suburbs, or 10 acres in the country—the question is: How do you know what components to place where?
For example, how do you figure out where to place the garden, the chicken coop, a meadow, or an orchard?
Productive Permaculture Homesteads
Permaculture is a design science whose focus is on helping you make the best decisions on your site so that you can work with both your goals and the ecology of the land.
In this article, I’ll show you how permaculture designers can help, as well as how to find the right designer/consultant for your needs.
Is hiring a permaculture designer right for you?
In my experience, many people know how to grow their own food, manage livestock, and operate a homestead. Therefore, the biggest challenge is in designing the site so that all the pieces work together as efficiently as possible. In other words, how can you utilize the resources of the land to their full potential?
If you’re interested in a well-designed homestead, then a consultation with a permaculture designer might be right for you. However, if you’re more of a DIY-er, then skip to the end of this article for some ideas on how to get started on your own.
The following are three reasons why a permaculture designer can help bring your homestead vision to life.
#1: Permaculture designers can read the landscape.
Permaculture designers are trained to read the landscape and assess a property for its full, productive potential. They notice opportunities to catch and store resources on the land, such as rainwater flows or fertility. In addition, they can group components together to maximize their efficiency.
For example, the vegetable garden and chicken coop may be grouped together because you visit them everyday, and they exchange resources. You might regularly take weeds and plant matter from the garden to feed the chickens. Likewise, chicken waste turns into a rich soil amendment for the garden.
A permaculture designer looks for ways to have the greatest effect for the least amount of work.
#2: Permaculture designers can facilitate your vision.
Permaculture designers can help 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!
Self-directed homesteaders can read up on permaculture techniques such as swales, food forests, and herb spirals, etc. However, it’s often difficult to find the most useful and efficient placement of these components 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, there’s no shame in seeking a consultation from a profession. Even professional and experienced designers seek advice from peers because, as the saying goes, two heads working together usually produces a much more robust solution.
One homesteader, who worked with a permaculture designer to design his property, had this to say: “…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.”
Create Your Own Individualized Permaculture Design (with me by your side)!
Tired of generic permaculture design advice that you can’t apply to your specific goals?If so, check out myPermaculture Design Program and get the step-by-step tools and support needed to create and implement your own permaculture design.
#3: Permaculture designers can work with challenging sites.
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
The following concepts will help you find the right expert for you. You can often find this information on the professional’s website, and if not, 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.
Permaculture designers should have completed the 72-hour permaculture design certification at a minimum, which demonstrates their commitment to the permaculture design process. Often you’ll find landscape design consultants who’ve added permaculture design certification to their professional repertoire.
#2: A Permaculture Designer’s Level of Experience
Look for indicators of relevant experience. If your property is rural, do they have experience working with rural properties? If cost is a concern, new designers often consult at a reduced fee in order to gain experience and build a portfolio.
As a professional service provider, the designer should be insured. They may be bonded as well, which means you’ll be compensated in the event that the agreed upon work isn’t completed.
#4: A Good Permaculture Designer is a Good Communicator
A good consultant communicates how their design process works up front as well as the fee structure for the services.
They also have a method for determining whether their services are a good fit for you. Often this is through a questionnaire or initial interview. After meeting with you, the designer can clearly define what a successful project looks like from your point of view.
#5: Scope of Work
Be clear about what you’re looking for. Do you want:
- A site plan that you can implement yourself?
- A site plan that includes installation?
- A planting plan for a defined area?
State your expectations clearly, and look for feedback from the designer that they’re willing to work within these parameters.
Additionally, are you looking for ongoing maintenance of the completed design? If so, is this a service the designer provides?
Want to grow fruits, vegetables, and herbs in your front yard landscape without sacrificing curb appeal? Check out my mini guide, The Permaculture Inspired Edible Landscape.
#6: Ask To See a Permaculture Designer’s 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 their portfolio?
Strike up a conversation to hear stories about previous projects and whether they talk favorably of previous clients.
Can the designer talk gracefully about how they overcame challenges, be they design or communicative challenges?
#7: Written Contract
The designer should present you with a professional, written contract. It should include the agreed-upon scope of work, as well as the expectations of both parties.
#8: Compatibility: Is the permaculture designer a good match for you and your goals?
This goes for hiring any service provider: You should like the professional as a person. Did you feel comfortable interacting with him or her? After all, you’ll work closely together over many meetings, so be sure your demeanors are a match and you find them to be professional, knowledgeable, and trustworthy.
Ask the Expert: Traits of a Good Permaculture Designer
I recently connected with my friend John Hemmerle, Owner and Designer of Our Land Organics about this topic. John is a knowledgeable and dependable expert. He and I received our permaculture design certificates together, and I often hire his team to do work on my site.
I asked John what he thought the most important traits were of a good permaculture consultant. Here are his tips:
- A good designer has good communication and project management skills.
- The design process, fee structure, and written contract are clearly defined.
- They’re a good listener, helping the client to clarify their vision and to define what success looks like.
- The designer insists 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 fill out a landscape analysis questionnaire before the in-person consultation. This determines whether his services are a good fit. It also 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. He draws up a consultation summary, which includes recommendations and ideas.
John and the client then decide if continuing to work together to create a design makes sense.
The Design Process
The next step for John’s clients 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, which leaves little room for surprises during the final design presentation.
The conceptual design includes an analysis and survey of the land to more accurately define the property’s potential. This is the phase in which to experiment with the placement of various components in the design.
The preliminary design takes feedback from the conceptual design and includes specific plant and materials lists. It also includes cost estimations and implementation phases. He presents the preliminary design to the client and again takes their feedback into account.
John presents the final design to the client, and once he has their approval, he reserves an installation date. 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’ custom 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’re paying them for their years of experience and training so you can save time, avoid costly mistakes, and feel confident it’s being done the right way.
You’re 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 you’ll end up with a design you are happy with. Peace of mind is a great thing.
As you can see, a permaculture designer can remove the overwhelm by helping you read the landscape and create an efficient and productive site layout that matches your vision.
Have you received assistance from a permaculture designer on your property?
For the DIY-ers
If hiring a consultant isn’t for you, but you want to take steps toward being your own designer, here are some pointers.
First, observation is an essential starting point in the permaculture design process.
Learn how to use the power of observation (and get my free, 13-page worksheet to help). Then, you’ll want to make active observations by by collecting data about your site and plotting it on physical maps of the property. This gives you a visual representation of all the data points that can affect design decisions.
After that, learn how to develop your permaculture site in phases.
Want to join a course? Here are some options:
- Complete an official, 72-hour permaculture design certification. Here are my tips on how to choose a course.
- Sign up for my free, 10-day mini permaculture course.
- Enroll in my Permaculture Design Program and learn to confidently design your own site with me by your side.
Then, hone your knowledge and skills by apprenticing with experienced designers, and practice, practice, practice.
Books to check out:
- Permaculture Design: A Step-by-Step Approach
- Practical Permaculture for Home Landscapes, Your Community, and the Whole Earth
- The Resilient Farm and Homestead: An Innovative Permaculture and Whole Systems Design Approach