News Treehugger Voices How I Use Nature's Patterns to Optimize Garden Design Patterns help us find efficiencies—to see the path of least resistance—and learn from nature what works best. By Elizabeth Waddington Elizabeth Waddington Facebook LinkedIn Writer, Permaculture Designer, Sustainability Consultant University of St Andrews (MA) Elizabeth has worked since 2010 as a freelance writer and consultant covering gardening, permaculture, and sustainable living. She has also written a number of books and e-books on gardens and gardening. Learn about our editorial process Published December 13, 2021 03:00PM EST Fact checked by Haley Mast Fact checked by Haley Mast LinkedIn Harvard University Extension School Haley Mast is a freelance writer, fact-checker, and small organic farmer in the Columbia River Gorge. She enjoys gardening, reporting on environmental topics, and spending her time outside snowboarding or foraging. Topics of expertise and interest include agriculture, conservation, ecology, and climate science. Learn about our fact checking process Share Twitter Pinterest Email A herb spiral adds microclimates and is easy to tend to. emer1940 / Getty Images News Environment Business & Policy Science Animals Home & Design Current Events Treehugger Voices News Archive In permaculture design, we often discuss working from patterns to details. We also frequently talk about mimicking the natural world. But many may be confused by what it actually means when we talk about using nature's patterns in garden design. Here are some examples that show what we can achieve by using nature's patterns to inform designs for a property and why this can be a beneficial thing to do. What Do We Mean by Nature's Patterns? All good garden design begins with observation. And when we spend any time at all looking closely at nature, we begin to see the numerous natural patterns it contains. In the bigger picture, we can observe patterns in rainfall, water flow, winds, and in the patterns of sunlight and shade across a garden each day and throughout the year. We can begin to observe the patterns of life, death, and rebirth which define all life on earth. Looking more closely, we can see the branching patterns of root systems, and the branches on shrubs and trees. We can see the wave patterns of energy flow, tessellation within natural communities, and the spiral forms and fractal patterns within plants. The closer we look, the more patterns emerge. Circles and Curving Forms in Garden Design The mandala garden at Le Ferme du Bec. Le Ferme du Bec Using circles and curving forms in garden design does not only help us achieve garden designs that look more organic. Utilizing more rounded forms can also help in making the most of the space available while also allowing for access and efficient design. Some common, key examples of the use of circular patterns within garden designs are: Mandala gardens Circular keyhole beds Banana circles or circles of small fruiting trees Herb spirals Mandala gardens radiate out around a central point, growing areas can spread out like the ripples on a pond, or bloom out like the petals of a flower, for example. A well-designed mandala garden can help with garden efficiency, requiring less movement from the gardener to tend all the smaller growing areas. The intricacy in the pattern can maximize edge—the productive space between different ecosystems or plant communities. Patterns help us to find efficiencies—to see the "path of least resistance"—and to learn from nature what works best. Keyhole garden beds help maximize space and allow access to all part. Milkwood.net / Flickr Circular keyhole beds can be tended from a space at the center. All parts of the growing area can be reached without the compaction of the bed. Keyhole beds can also have composting and watering points at the center—creating efficiency in the use of resources, and the flow of water and nutrients. Banana or fruit tree circles, with a pit at the center for organic matter and water, can also help to meet nutrient and water needs as efficiently as possible. Herb spirals allow us to create different micro-climate conditions and grow a range of herbs with differing environmental needs in the same growing area. Curving forms for pathways, ponds, or other water features, and for the edges of beds and borders can also help us maximize productive edge spaces, to increase the abundance of space. Miguel Sotomayor / Getty Images Branching Patterns An understanding of branching patterns can be very useful when managing the flow of water on a property. By thinking about how water moves through the landscape and the patterns it creates as it does so, we can develop plans which make the most of natural rainfall, and use water wisely on our properties. Branching patterns can also be useful in certain circumstances in creating efficient pathways for easy access through a garden. Just as roots (and fungal hyphae) branch out to fill the surrounding soil for efficient uptake of water and nutrients, so too, we can create pathways to access all parts of a garden in the most space-wise ways—branching out from main paths and tracks to smaller access paths and trails through different garden zones. Tessellation Patterns Looking at the ways in which plants combine in efficient ways to form symbiotic plant communities can help us understand the most efficient and effective plant layouts for our garden beds and growing areas. Staggering rows in a vegetable garden, for example, so that a second row's plants fill the spaces between the plants of the subsequent row, can help us make the most of the space available. One example of this involves tessellating quick-growing lettuce between slower-growing brassicas in a bed. Similarly, we can take the same approach when creating hedgerows or windbreaks, making staggered rows of shrubs or hedging trees to make the most efficient use of the space and resources, and to achieve the best results. These are, of course, just a few of many examples of the ways in which nature's patterns are used in garden design. But the above examples should begin to demonstrate why we should look to the patterns in nature to help us make our gardens as beautiful, abundant, and productive as they can possibly be.