Identifying Flows and Pathways

Identifying flows and pathways can help us see if we are on the right track.

Patterns are important in permaculture. Whether we are talking about landscapes, gardens, homes, communities or broader societal systems, it is important to look at patterns in the big picture. Of course, there is an important permaculture principle that we design from patterns to details. We take a holistic, big-picture view before we delve into the minutiae of our plans.

Finding and interpreting patterns in permaculture often involves identifying flows and pathways. In garden and landscape design, this initially involves looking at the sectors of energy (sunlight, wind) and water. And at the climate and microclimate of the site.

We look at how sunlight moves through and across a site, through the course of each day and throughout the year. In addition, we look at the prevailing winds, and how these are altered by landforms, vegetation and buildings. We look at climatic conditions and how the environment typically changes over the course of each year. We think about precipitation, and how water moves through and is stored within the landscape and plants.

These flows and pathways are crucial. But there are many other patterns that emerge within a landscape that can and should have a bearing on garden design. We should also consider:

  • The flow of energy and nutrients through natures cycles (genesis, decay, death, regeneration…).
  • The pathways of plant growth (how they grow, change and adapt over time).
  • The life cycles of wildlife species found on a site.
  • And how animals (wild and domesticated) move through the landscape.
  • Our own patterns of movement through the site, and how we humans direct our energies.

Permaculture can have a bearing, however, far beyond our gardens and farms. Patterns are also very important in applying permaculture ethics and principles to communities, and wider societal systems.

Again, of course, there are the obvious patterns of human movement. These will have an important bearing on infrastructure, the placement of elements and the use of resources.

Beyond this, however, it is important to identify flows and pathways that may be less immediately obvious. One example involves the transmission of ideas. By examining how ideas spread, translate to behaviour change, and motivate action, we can develop strategies to improve our societies for the better.

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