Do You Need a Permaculture Garden Designer?

Five questions to ask yourself before starting a permaculture garden.

Home garden cultivated according to the principle of permaculture.
Home garden cultivated according to the principle of permaculture. fotokate / Getty Images

If you are interested in permaculture and planning a new garden this year, or thinking of an overhaul of your existing space, you might wonder whether you need help or if you can take a DIY approach. As I am a garden designer, you might expect me to say that enlisting help is always a good idea. But I like to take a more balanced view.

Personally, I believe that some gardeners are perfectly ready and able to make their own design, while others can definitely benefit from some help. It all depends on the specific situation in which a gardener finds themself, and their own specific needs and wishes.

Here I'll take you through a series of questions that can help you to determine for yourself whether or not you need a permaculture designer.

How Familiar Are You With Permaculture or Sustainable Garden Design?

As defined by Bill Mollison, who first coined the term in 1978, permaculture is: “The conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive systems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of the landscape with people providing their food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.”

One of the first questions to ask yourself is how familiar you are with the concepts and practices a permaculture designer will implement during their work.

If you are already practicing permaculture ideas, and employing permaculture ethics and principles, then you will of course find it much easier to think about implementing themselves.

Someone less familiar with the concepts will naturally be far less well equipped to do the work themselves. Permaculture garden design is a complex process, involving more steps and complexity than most garden design.

How Experienced Are You as a Gardener?

Even when you are familiar with the concepts in a theoretical sense, good garden design also involves having at least some real-world knowledge and experience.

If you do not have lots of hands-on experience in organic, sustainable gardening then you will likely find it far more difficult to create a system that actually works.

But if you have been gardening for years – even if you have gardened in a different way – you should be far better equipped to work out a design for your own garden. You will have an intrinsic body of knowledge and skills that will make it easier for you to make decisions about your own space.

How Much Time Do You Have?

Another question to ask yourself is how much time you have. Designing a garden according to permaculture principles takes time. You not only need to ask yourself whether you have the knowledge and skills to design your garden; it is also important to ask yourself whether you can, or want to, spend the time on it that it will require.

What is Your Budget For Your Project?

Like so many things in life, whether or not you choose to employ a permaculture designer for your project will depend on the time vs money equation. If you have little money, but plenty of time, you may be inclined to take a DIY approach. If you have less time than money, employing someone to design your garden will likely seem more appealing.

One thing to bear in mind, however, is that spending a little money upfront on a permaculture designer might actually save you money long term. A designer might be able to prevent you from making costly mistakes. And if you want to maximize yield, and perhaps even make money from your garden, a permaculture designer should be able to improve your chances of doing so successfully.

But if you have the knowledge, skills, and time to create your own design, you may find that a permaculture designer cannot really add much value. You may be able to create your own thriving and abundant garden on your own.

What is Your Personality Type?

Ultimately, answering the question of whether or not you will employ someone to help you with a permaculture garden design depends greatly on your personality and preferences.

If you are someone who likes to be in control, someone who likes to take charge and do things themselves, then you will likely want to go it alone. (Whether this is a good idea or not.)

If you are risk-averse and cautious, then you may be more likely to seek expertise when it comes to making big design decisions on your own. (Even if you may have the time, knowledge, and skills to go it alone.)

I believe that to successfully design a permaculture garden you need to be creative, but organized and methodical. You need to think outside the box, but also apply scientific principles with rigor. In designing a permaculture garden, you need to be an idealist and a realist.

If you find this a challenging road to travel down, and don't feel that this is a challenge you want to take on, then designing your own garden may not be for you.

One final thing to remember, however, is that it does not necessarily have to be all or nothing. Permaculture garden designers will often be very glad to tailor services to meet your needs and wishes – aiding through consultancy and partial services when a full design is not required or desired.

Ultimately, we all share common goals. Whether our services are required or not, we are all working towards creating a better, more sustainable, and ethical world – one garden at a time.