Why a Truly Green World Must Be Beautiful Too (Photos)

permaculture garden with bed photo

Image credit: Cecelia Macaulay

From an awesome tour of a permaculture allotment to these great design tips for planting perennial polycultures, permaculture gardening and farming is often held up as a great model for productive, sustainable food production. But it's not without its critics. One of the most common complaints that I hear about permaculture from many folks is pretty straight forward—why the heck does it have to look so messy? One designer is setting out to change all that, and I think there are lessons here to be learned for the broader environmental community too. Including Beauty in Productive Green Design
Traditionally permaculture design has focused on creating garden and farm designs that mimic the processes in forests and other natural systems to create healthy, low-input, productive food growing systems. While she follows in this tradition, Cecelia Maccauley—a permaculture designer who has been working in Tokyo, Melbourne and Sydney for the last 9 years—argues that fully embracing beauty and aesthetics into permaculture gardens should also be a central focus. This is not, she argues, a nice addition to the main focus of growing food, but rather an absolute priority if permaculture is ever going to make it into the mainstream.

permaculture and beauty image

Image credit: Cecelia Macaulay

Writing with fellow permaculture designer Erin Marteal, Cecelia has put together a 13 point plan for embracing beauty in permaculture gardening:

I want permaculture to spread to the mainstream; enriching other lives like it does mine. If you design beauty into your gardens, people can't resist, and want one too. Beauty is a source of renewable energy, as valid as wind or solar; it gives people energy to act. It's easy to get helpers for gardens that are on their way to being beautiful. It takes effort and investment in the beginning though.

The analogy is, if you want birds in the garden, you need to get rid of the cat, and similarly, if you want allies for your garden, you may have to give up some old habits. The exciting thing is, beauty isn't a cosmetic you slather on top of a permaculture garden. Permaculture attitudes and principles are beauty-creation principles. Stare deeply into any striking beauty, and you'll find something that brings life and liveliness into being.

Allow Yourself to Pass It On
From harnessing ancient shared memories of forests and camp fires, through creating families of plants and materials, to truly focusing on the nature of each individual element, Macauley has some pretty deep insights into what constitutes true beauty. But there's also a strong element of pragmatism here. My personal favorite principle she cites—give yourself permission to pass it on—argues that it is OK to recycle, share or otherwise redistribute materials that don't fit with your personal vision. (Remember my piece on the fine line between reuse and hoarding anyone?)

Aesthetics Matter
Macaulay's blog post may focus on garden design, but there are broader lessons to be learned. TreeHugger has always been about making sustainability mainstream, attractive and accessible—and as I argued in my rant about why ceiling fans have to be so fugly, beauty is a huge part of how we humans assess value.

beautiful permaculture garden photo

Image credit: Cecelia Macaulay

There was a time when beauty and utility were literally indistinguishable—from tools to furniture, craftspeople focused as much on how their creations looked as how they worked. But our business-as-usual world seems to have lost this essence (I'm not sure anyone finds a strip mall beautiful!) Perhaps the process of exploring intelligent, sustainable, efficient and low impact design can help us rediscover a real love for the objects and environments we create.

More on Permaculture
How a Campus Lawn Became a No-Dig Garden
Awesome Tour of a Permaculture Allotment
How to Build a No-Dig Garden
Food, Water, Permaculture: Rethinking Disaster Relief for Haiti

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