Design Options & Elements

Design Options & Elements

Permaculture design is about more than just choosing the right design options & elements. It is about how the elements are connected together; their relationship with each other and with the landscape around them. An intelligent, conscious design.

In nature every ecosystem incorporates many different elements, with each element performing many functions. Every function is also fed by many different elements. The whole is always greater than the sum of it’s parts; a synergy in which everything works in wonderful symbiotic relationship. There is no waste, everything serves a purpose and functions to it’s maximum ability. When we design our systems using these same principles we create our own piece of the natural world. An ecosystem that is good not only for the soil and wildlife but one which also serves our needs.

Always ‘green’, always ‘Eco’, but way beyond ‘Organic’.

For an overview see


Foodscaping (also called Edible Landscaping) is a modern term for the practice of integrating edible plants into ornamental landscapes. Edible plants are not only consumable; they can also be appreciated for their aesthetic qualities. Foodscapes are multi-functional landscapes which are visually attractive and also provide edible returns.
In conventional vegetable gardening, fruits and vegetables are typically grown in separate, enclosed areas. Foodscaping incorporates edible plants as a major element of a pre-existing landscaping space. This may involve adding edible plants to an existing ornamental garden or entirely replacing the traditional, non-edible plants with food-yielding species. Designs can incorporate various kinds of vegetables, fruit trees, berry bushes, edible flowers, and herbs, along with purely ornamental species.
The design strategy of foodscaping has many benefits including; increasing food security, improving the growing of nutritious food and promoting sustainable living. Foodscaping can be practised by individuals, community groups, businesses, or educational institutions.

Food and Wildlife are not mutally exclusive – you can have both – Fair shares for you and the animals, it is their home as well.


As urban areas keep expanding we need to find room for wildlife within human development;  it is increasingly the only way to allow species to survive.
Together, our gardens are a vast living landscape. With an estimated 24 million gardens in the UK, the way they are cared for can make a big difference to the natural world. We need to modify our human landscapes to do double-duty. Continuing to function for wildlife even as humans colonize their habitats for our homes, highways, and farms.  There is simply no place else for animals to live.
If we manage our gardens to benefit the threatened and declining wildlife species such as Hedgehogs, bats, sparrows, song thrushes and stag beetles, they will find refuge. Why have plain, bland places when you can have the riches of flowers, scent, berries, rich autumn colours and wildlife?
Introduce a water feature; not for fish but for newts, dragonflies, pond skaters, and you’ll also be providing water for birds. Plant up the edges with the golden blooms of marsh marigolds and the lush spikes of purple loosestrife and you’ll have nectar stations for insects and beauty to dwell on.


Agroecology is sustainable farming that works with nature.

  • Ecology being the study of the relationships between plants, animals, people, and their environment – and the balance between these relationships.
  • Agroecology is the joint application of ecological concepts and principals in farming.

Agroecology farming practices can:

  • Mitigate climate change – reducing emissions, recycling resources and prioritising local supply chains.
  • Work with wildlife – managing the impact of farming on wildlife and harnessing nature to do the hard work for us, such as pollinating crops and controlling pests.
  • Put farmers and communities in the driving seat. They give power to approaches led by local people. Adapting agricultural techniques to suit the local area – and its specific social, environmental and economic conditions.

At global and local levels, we face multiple food system challenges – flooding, soil degradation, biodiversity collapse, malnutrition and obesity.

Intensive farming systems contribute to these problems. They exhaust natural resources focusing on short-term gains rather than the long-term sustainability that works best for the land, wildlife and local communities. We need an alternative food system that is truly sustainable. The good news is, many of the solutions lie in agroecology.


A small selection of possible elements that can be introduced into a design.

Water in the Landscape

Whether you are seeking to introduce water into your landscape or manage existing water there are many options available; here are just two.

Design Element

Flow forms

…. are vessels that seek to emulate the swirls of vortices of the mountain stream. Enabling water to reoxygenate, revitalise and rejuvenate itself. This then brings it back to its more natural state.

The figure of 8 movement is one of the foundation patterns of all life. As water travels in this pattern it draws in air. The air molecules are then broken apart by this movement, giving off negative ions.

Negative ions create positive vibes. They are believed to produce biochemical reactions that increase levels of the mood chemical serotonin. Helping to alleviate depression, relieve stress, and boost our daytime energy.


On steep slopes and embankments wind and water, especially heavy rainfall, dislodges soil particles which are then carried away down the slope by the flowing water.

This steady and gradual loss of soil (erosion) creates runoff, which forms soggy pools at slope bases and pollutes ground water with sediment. Erosion can be that severe that it can even take vegetation with it. The top of the slope is left dry and bare, with not enough soil to retain moisture. The land is then unable to support growth.

Swales are important water management tools for irrigating the land, mitigating stormwater runoff, and reducing erosion. Consisting of a shallow trench dug along the land’s contour, they have a berm on the downhill side. The trench along the contour slows the water and spreads it across the contour line. Because the water is now slower and spread out erosion is reduced. And more water is retained where it is needed.

Have a look at our Recommended Books

Forest Gardens

Sometimes called Food Forests, they are not actually forests but are a low-maintenance, sustainable, system based on woodland ecosystems. They incorporate fruit and nut trees, shrubs, herbs, vines and perennial vegetables grown in a succession of layers to build a woodland habitat. Their high yields make them worth the longer establishment time.

No Dig Methods

This short video explains the concepts and reasons for no dig methods. Once a no dig bed has been set up (getting the soil weed free to start can be the hard part) it is self-sustaining and the only maintenance is a top dressing of compost or mulch once a year. Happy no digging.

For more information on Permaculture see What is Permaculture, Permaculture Ethics and Permaculture Principles


Guilds are functionally, ideally self-sustaining polyculture systems in which many plants are serving one another en route to a stable co-existence.
The garden is mulched, the soil fertilized, the pests controlled, the pollinators attracted, the nutrients accumulated and the cultivators fed.
All from the plants within the guild that are serving one another.
By working with guilds you build a lot more diversity. With a lot of function and a much higher yield.




Zoning is a way of designing to maximise energy efficiency. Activities are put in different zones, depending on frequency of use, maintenance, visits etc.
Zone 0 is the centre of activities, where things that have the highest use and maintence needs are located. As the investment of the time & energy that an activity or structure needs lessens, it is placed further away.
With Zone 5, being the furtherst away, it is where you find things that require very little time & effort.

Find out how we can help you to achieve your dream edible landscape – Edible Ecosystem Services

If you have any questions or would like further information please Contact Us.

Specific Purpose Design Elements

Chicken Tractor

The chicken tractor (sometimes called an ark) is a movable chicken coop lacking a floor. So there is no need to clean them out. Chicken Tractors give shelter and allow free ranging. Giving the chickens access to fresh forage such as grass, weeds and bugs and reducing their feed needs.

Moved on every couple of days, they echo a natural, symbiotic cycle of foraging through which the birds eat down vegetation. Depositing fertilizing manure, then move to a new area. A chicken tractor protects from predators. And the hens lay their eggs in a nesting box rather than hiding them in the undergrowth.

Chicken Tractor

Herb Spiral

A highly productive energy-efficient way to grow food & maximise space, easily accessible from all sides.

By having the spiral raised in the center, spiraling down to ground level, different microclimates are created. Enabling plants with different needs to be grown in a smaller space. By placing the lowest section toward the north it can be shielded from the sun for a large part of the day. Thereby creating an environment for shade loving plants.

Learning Tree Permaculture is a member of the Permaculture Association
The Permaculture Association works to radically and positively change the way we live in the UK and actively supports a worldwide movement.