Living fences: Using plants to define your boundaries – With Mara Ripani

Living fences: Using plants to define your boundaries – With Mara Ripani

Mara Ripani is Permaculture Australia Professional Member – you can find her at

Fences are often necessary for privacy, security and the safety of pets and children. As Mara Ripani explains, there are myriad ways to create them with plants, adding extra greenery to our built environment.

With populations increasing and cities and towns growing, we need to take every opportunity to
introduce green into our built environment: ‘rewilding’ our surroundings, even in small ways. A living
fence is a simple and effective way to start. There are many approaches to creating a living fence:
what they all have in common is a thriving explosion of plants!

What is a living fence?
Fences are commonly used for creating privacy (both visual privacy and by preventing access), for
keeping pets and children contained and safe, and simply for marking property boundaries. With a
bit of planning, all of these requirements can be fulfilled with a living fence: one that is made using
plants on their own or by combining plants with an appropriate structure.
Depending on its main purpose, the space available and your aesthetic preference, a living fence can
take the form of closely-planted clumping grasses, a hedge created from shrubs, a line of small trees
or espaliered fruit trees, or a cascade of tendrils and flowers from a climbing vine – to name just a
few possibilities.

Why choose a living fence?
No matter how small your property, if there is room for a fence then there is probably room for a
living fence. Well-kept living fences are extremely beautiful. Evergreen plants provide a verdant wall
to look at all year round. Climbing plants with flowers provide colour, interest and architectural
shapes to admire. A living fence is an extension of your garden, allowing you to layer greenery to
create depth and texture. And if you already have a standard fence, you can breathe life into it with
a climbing plant.

Cooling microclimates
While living fences add a great deal of beauty, they can also help green our cities and create cool
microclimates. Built-up urban areas are prone to the urban heat island effect: dense concentrations
of pavement, buildings and other thermal mass surfaces absorb daytime heat, releasing it again at
night. As a result, ambient temperatures can increase by one to three degrees Celsius. Greening
infrastructure projects large and small, including living fences, can help counter this effect through
the plants’ natural transpiration.

How to choose plants for a living fence
When deciding on the style and plant selection for your living fence, consider its purpose,
maintenance requirements, and how it will fit into your existing garden. Whether you opt for native
or non-native species, always ensure you avoid species considered invasive in your area. Be careful

that your living fence does not impede communal walking paths, and consider traffic sightlines
where necessary – especially for cars exiting driveways.

If your main priority is boundary marking, a living fence can be as simple as planting a row of
ornamental grasses. There are many choices: Poa labillardierei (Common Tussock-grass)
Pennisetum alopecuroides (Chinese Fountain grass), Lomandra hystrix (Green Mat-rush,)
Miscanthus sinensis (Chinese Silver grass), Schizachyrium scoparium (Little Bluestem) to name but
a few. Be sure to choose perennial grasses that will live year after year, either evergreen or grasses
that will dry to a sandy or copper colour, marking the changing seasons. Some grasses have spiky
foliage or sharp edges hence consider their appropriateness. Grasses can be cut back in late winter
or left uncut for a few years. When cut back they reappear as vibrant green tufts in spring.

Privacy and safety for children and pets can be achieved with shrubs planted to make hedges
(though note that hedges need dense foliage or supplementing with a wire fence to reliably contain
small pets). There are many shrubs to choose from, and garden nurseries offer plenty of information
on the growing requirements of plants to help you make your selection. Look for plants in the
following genuses Acacia, Westringia, Acmena, Yew, Thuja, and Laurel to name but a mere few.
Search for plants that suit your soil type and climate, and be sure to check the height, width and
growth rate. Fast-growing hedges will establish quickly but need more frequent pruning, watering
and compost. Slower-growing hedges can take years to establish but will then need less
Also consider colour, foliage texture, and whether you’d prefer evergreen or deciduous. An
evergreen shrub will stay green all year round, while deciduous species will change colour before
(usually) dropping their leaves. For example, Berberis thunbergia (Japanese Barberry) is a deciduous
shrub that goes from green to bright red foliage in autumn. For silver foliage try Westringia fruticose
(Native Rosemary(, Teucrium fruticans Tree Garmander), or Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Silver Sheen’
(Pittosporum Silver Sheen)

A line of small trees can also be used to create a fence, or to green an existing fence line. A popular
choice is any tree in the conifer family with a tall, narrow form; plant them as close as planting
instructions will allow.
For an ‘edible fence’, you can espalier fruit trees. Espaliering is easy to do, saves space and allows
even small garden owners to access seasonal fruit. Buy bare-rooted trees and plant in winter, and
explore the many instructional videos on different espaliering techniques available online.

Climbing vines
Climbing vines on a structural support can form a fence for privacy and for containing animals and
kids. Choose evergreen plants for year-round screening or deciduous ones for a flash of autumn red
followed by bare branches. You can use metal mesh or tensioned wire on a structural frame or a

wooden fence to support your vines; remember that climbing plants are heavy once established so
make sure the structure is able to support the weight.
There are many fantastic climbing plants to choose from. The evergreen Hardenbergia violacea
(Purple Coral Pea )produces a mass of gorgeous purple pea flowers. Pyrostegia venusta (Golden
Shower) has stunning orange trumpet flowers and climbing tendrils. Trachelospermum jasminoides
(Star Jasmine’s)’ sweet fragrance, Rosa banksiae’s (Lady Banks Rose) rose clusters and the tiny
fairylike leaves of Muehlenbeckia complexa (Maidenhair Vine) are all attractive options. If your home
or rental property has an existing brick or masonry fence then try Parthenocissus tricuspidata(Boston
Ivy) with its burnt red autumn leaves, or Ficus pumila’s (Creeping Fig’s) attractive juvenile leaves.

Before planting
Whether you opt for grasses, shrubs, trees or climbers for your living fence, do your plant research.
How will the plant grow? How will it change over time? What level of maintenance will it need? Will
it drop leaves? Might its root system cause any long-term problems? While it is good to be aware of
these things, however, don’t get overwhelmed: generally the value of a living fence far outweighs its
care needs. And one final piece of advice: if establishing a new fence, it’s a good idea to do a
property boundary search via your relevant state agency to ensure you’re putting the fence in the
right place and not on your neighbour’s property.
Whether you live in a city, a regional town or in the bush, infrastructure like fences is often
necessary. Likewise, rewilding our living environments is important, and easy to do. A living fence is
a great way to combine the two, and the benefits will be experienced by you and all that pass by.

Permaculture Project public consultation

Permaculture Project public consultation

Dear colleagues and friends

Permaculture vocational training is currently under review and the Public Consultation phase is open now until March 28th.

All permies are encouraged to participate, even in a small way. Any engagement, any comments or questions are welcome and will be acted upon.

Go to the project page or visit the Skills Impact Website and follow the prompts to the Permaculture, Organic Farming and Composting project. Permaculture is completely separate from the other two subjects, but the project is occurring in the same phase of a wider project.

If you have missed the workshops and would like to discuss it or get some direction from the project manager, please don’t hesitate to contact Skills Impact direct by phone or email. The Project Team (Project Manager, Writer and Subject Matter Expert committee) are very keen to hear from all permies.

This consultation has far-reaching effects on the entire permaculture sector and your input will make all the difference to the outcome. Please take the time to visit the pages and post your comments.

Thank you for your time

The board, staff and volunteers of Permaculture Australia

TedxPermaQueer – Cultural Solutions to Climate Change

TedxPermaQueer – Cultural Solutions to Climate Change

Tackling our ongoing climate crisis means adjusting the behaviours, attitudes and relationships we hold with the environment and with each other. It’s not just tech solutions we require but deep cultural shifts. It won’t be a single action but the collection of many small and sweeping changes that sets us up for success or failure and culture is the bedrock of behaviour.

We’ll be exploring through a variety of speakers how shifting culture from mainstream society, whether ancient or modern, can help change our current climate path. With special emphasis on first nations ways of knowing and being, drawing from lands managed in sustainable and regenerative ways prior and post colonisation, we will explore what a new space of cultural emergence might look like. An emergence that is appropriate, equitable and listens to the needs of the land and the people.

  • What does it mean to be a custodial species in our environment?
  • What is culture? what is good culture and what does it mean to reclaim our cultural practices?
  • How can we contribute to meaningful cultural emergence as ethical and responsible consumers?

These are a few of the questions we’ll be exploring in depths over the three days of this seminar, with many more exploring the themes of right relating, impacts of colonisation, moving beyond helplessness, cross-cultural dialogue and breaking the binaries we live within.

All profits raised from this event is going towards a specific land back fund for First Nations Aboriginal people. 

For more information:

The event details can be found here.

Permaqueer are Professional members of Permaculture Australia, the national permaculture member organisation. Find out more including how to join here.

PA’s Permafund supports a beekeeping project in Kenya

PA’s Permafund supports a beekeeping project in Kenya

The team from the OTEPIC Peace Project, represented by Coordinator, Philip Odhiambo Munyasia, thanks donors to PA’s Permafund for their support in promoting permaculture in Kitale Kenya.

In 2020, OTEPIC received a $2,000 Permafund grant for a beekeeping project.  This included establishing ten bee hives initially and training a core contingent of 70 local community members in beekeeping. A further 100 community members are being introduced to beekeeping as a means of generating personal incomes and reducing local poverty.  Youth leadership training is ongoing.

As an alternative local farming enterprise, beekeeping is already creating employment at a low level.  Four people are working on the bee project while learning to build bee hives to sell to the local market. Farm yields have also increased due to the availability of bees as pollinators.

OTEPIC’s apiary was established in April ’21 providing ongoing beekeeping business management training and demonstrations for members of the Biddi community.  By December 2021 members of the community will be sharing roles for the collective management of the apiary and the surrounding bee attracting gardens and food forest. 

Honey has been harvested twice already with a beeswax and propolis extraction process to be established by the end of 2021. Hives have been bought collectively and are being managed by OTEPIC project community members as a group demonstration site at the Upendo garden. 

To keep the bees in good health for the long-term sunflowers and nectar rich flowers have been planted, water sources made available and bee feeding stations are set up when required. 

There are many social and economic factors that cause division among communities and bee keeping has helped to bring people together to exchange and share, promoting unity and diminishing the divides of political and resource-based disagreements and conflicts.

The project has its challenges including transportation of materials, bee hives and volunteers to the working site. The unpredictable rainy season has affected the swarming season which helps add colonies for the bee hives. There wasn’t enough shade when the hives were first installed so fast-growing trees are being grown around them. 

A lot has been learned during the project planning process, which has served as a reminder to look at how each element is connected to the others and the importance of looking at whole systems and the complete vision when planning one aspect.

Members of OTEPIC and its neighbours have learned from every step of the installation of the bee keeping project and will be able to replicate the process in future projects. They have been inspired by the experience of collaboration and exchange with other regional projects such as the Garden of Hope project and will continue to look for these opportunities, Monitoring and evaluation of the project is ongoing. 

Donations to Permaculture Australia’s Permafund over $2 are tax deductible in Australia and support environmental and community building projects like the OTEPIC Beekeeping project. Find out more including how to donate here.

Robyn Francis – new Patron of Permaculture Australia

Robyn Francis – new Patron of Permaculture Australia

“It is with great pleasure I accept the honour of being a patron of Permaculture Australia. I have been involved in the organisation since it’s incorporation as a non-profit in 1987 as a Founding Director and five years as Editor of the Permaculture International Journal, which nurtured the early growth of the global permaculture movement. Since the early 80s, I have been teaching permaculture and consulting internationally, including working closely with Bill Mollison.

Over the past two decades my key focus in PA has been the design and roll-out of the Accredited Permaculture Training vocational education and qualifications to take permaculture practice to a new level of proficiency and professionalism, and to support the organisation’s transition from global to a more focussed national voice for the permaculture community in Australia.

Now as a PA Patron I offer my experience, insights and historic perspectives to the Australian permaculture community in promoting the important role permaculture has to play in meeting the challenges we face, as a nation and as a planet in crisis. In a rapidly changing and uncertain world, the permaculture ethics, principles and practices provide guidance and direction for solution-oriented actions by individuals, households and communities to adapt and regenerate our physical environments and social landscapes.

Permaculture Australia is growing and maturing as a dynamic, member-based organisation that embraces the diverse nature of permaculture people, projects, groups, enterprises and initiatives around the country.  Through this collective voice, we can provide vital support and inspiration for each other and use this platform to reach out to the wider Australian community and those searching for solutions and the hope that arises from meaningful action.  

I personally feel that there’s much healing to be done as we move forward, on a personal level of deep reconnection with nature,  of shifting from a ‘me’ to ‘we’ focused society through community action, and of acknowledging and embracing the wealth of indigenous and first nation wisdoms, their intimate connection to, and knowledge of, Country.

Another world is possible, and through a strong Permaculture Australia we can harness our collective energy, skills and experience to be more effective change-makers.”

Robyn Francis, August 2021

Read more about Robyn’s permaculture experience and insights in our interview with Robyn in 2020 here

Greg Knibbs: permaculture solutions & building community resilience

Greg Knibbs: permaculture solutions & building community resilience

“Communities and individuals can use permaculture to redesign the use of these resources to create sustainable self-reliance. It follows that including permaculture agriculture-based programs in any community development is the smart thing to do and a good legacy to leave.”

PA professional member Greg Knibbs is a permaculture designer and educator, working across Southeast Asia, East and West Africa and Australia. Greg did his PDC with David Holmgren and Leah Harrison in 1992, and has since taught permaculture workshops and courses alongside Geoff Lawton, Bill and Lisa Molllison, and David Spicer. Greg was instrumental in the creation of the Philippines Permaculture Institute and the Ghana Permaculture Institute, and has undertaken permaculture teaching and consulting in countries including Tanzania, Cambodia and Myanmar. Greg’s business Edge5 Permaculture provides permaculture design consultancy and delivery, and works with NGO’s to provide local permaculture solutions to communities

How did you discover Permaculture?

I first met Bill Mollison when I was 17 visiting the 1976 ConFest,  a Conference and Festival of subcultures of the alternative movement. Bill was presenting a hands-on practical workshop. His appearance was scruffy, (like all of us at the time) in thongs with long trousers, blue rolled up shirt and hat, and chain-smoking cigarettes. He was raving on about how to plant a set of spuds without digging. He had a dirty old horsehair mattress, some straw and a bit of old cow manure in a bucket. He threw the manure down over weeds, then threw the mattress on top. He ripped a hole in it and placed a few spuds in the hole, so the spuds were touching the ground. Then he covered it all with straw. “So easy to grow a set of spuds just come back a few months later and harvest ’em”. There was only probably a dozen of us watching him as there was a heap of other workshops on at the same time. My initial thought was this guy is crazy. Slowly, I had a last look and quietly slipped away laughing to myself.

Permaculture remained floating around in the back of my brain along with mucking around with organic gardening. I remember looking for books on organic gardening in 1976. A few months later, I came across Bill presenting lectures at the Organic Garden Festival in NSW. The book, Permaculture One by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren was published in 1978 around the time I attended another festival where Bill was giving some of the earliest lectures on permaculture. Following the first PDC training with David Holmgren and Leah Harrison in 1992, I studied under Bill to complete a Diploma of Permaculture Design and Permaculture Teacher’s registration and then completed an Advanced Permaculture training with Robyn Francis. Since then, I’ve been privileged and delighted to co-teach permaculture with Geoff Lawton, Bill and Lisa Mollison, Dave Spicer, David Holmgren and many others. In my wildest dreams, I never thought I would become a traveling permaculture teacher, designer and consultant.

You’ve been instrumental in the setup of Permaculture Institutions in the Philippines and Ghana. Can you give me some insights into how these were set up and what we in Australia can learn from them?

Setting up in-country Permaculture Institutes is essential for a solid foundation of growing and building permaculture anywhere in the world. In 1976, I was visiting Bohol in the Philippines. There I was introduced to Carlos Echavez, who arranged for me to run a two-day Permaculture Introductory Course for 25 people who were active in their communities. Following that course, 15 people committed six weekends to complete the first Permaculture Design Course (PDC) in Bohol.

From that, the Philippines Permaculture Institute was created in 1997; initially as a collaboration between myself and students from the first of the four PDCs that I had taught in the Philippines. At the inaugural meeting, the Institute members, the students from the PDCs, took an oath and were sworn in as officers of the Philippines Permaculture Institute (PPI). The legal set up costs of the Institute and registration were funded by the students and the wider community. Today there are many permaculture activities in the Philippines, including The Philippines Permaculture Convergence, the Philippine Permaculture Association (PPA)and Nu Wave Farmers.

The establishment of the Ghana Permaculture Institute followed a different path, and began as a working collaboration between Paul Yeboah, a Ghanaian, and I. In early 2004, Father Ambrose, of Ghana, West Africa, was in Perth, Western Australia recovering from illness. Whilst in Perth, the Abbott contacted Bill Mollison inquiring about arranging a Permaculture Design Courses (PDC) and help to retro fit the Monastery’s 430-acre farm. Bill told Ambrose to contact me and suggested that I would go to Ghana to help him. I’ve now been to Ghana three times. During the first trip to Ghana in May 2004, I met Paul Yeboah, the farm manager of the Monastery. We became good friends and together set out a vision to set up the non-profit Ghana Permaculture Network, which became the Ghana Permaculture Institute, and which is now providing a demonstration of how to create stable food production and improve quality of life in Ghana.

Why did you start your business Edge5? What community needs are you addressing?

I created Edge5 to help address the crises in global communities and ecosystems by working with corporations, business, governments and NGOs to implement proven evidence-based solutions. A key part of this is to train people in practical tools for ethical best practice Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Holistic Community Development to meet the needs of communities and landscapes. My decision to follow this path was based on my 30 years of experience that best practice permaculture education and training is an effective approach. A central aim of Edge5 is train people to become on the ground, on-location permaculture educators and designers. Then these people can gain their own experience and train others to care for the earth and its people, rebuild natural capital, set up demonstration sites, secure local food and water supply lines, set up open pollinated seed banks and plant nurseries.

We know from experience and research that community development projects have the best chance of being successful if they build on what is in place: the resources and people locally. Typically, the most accessible and useful resources are the natural resources available to local (particularly rural) communities. These include the land (soil), the climate – sun and water (energy), plants and animals, humans and their skills, knowledge and community dynamics.

Communities and individuals can use Permaculture to redesign the use of these resources to create sustainable self-reliance. It follows that including Permaculture agriculture-based programs in any community development is the smart thing to do and a good legacy to leave.”

How does your teaching of permaculture vary between Australia and overseas?

In more affluent countries with abundance and available resources, large amounts of money may be spent implementing a permaculture design. This may include items such as raised vegetable beds, pre-mixed soils & mulch, automatic reticulation, books, further training & soil amendments and advanced green stock. In less affluent countries, this is a different picture. It is much more beneficial to accurately target permaculture training. We identify needs and then teach in more detail only those elements of the PDC that are relevant. For example, to focus much more strongly on designing the zones immediately next to the house and only for that climate zone and weather patterns. Water security for growing food is typically a key issue and permaculture offers a suite of tools to help retain water in the landscape and extend the growing season across the hungry gaps. Often, specific design tools and specific techniques offer huge gains. Two practical things that spring to mind are the use of resources of open pollinated seed and basic tools like a broad fork to ignite a project.

Under this new normal, is permaculture the solution?

COVID and climate change effects have shown that globalisation increase our risks of failure to fulfill essential needs that can adversely affect 100s of millions of people. One part of the solution is for the essentials of life to be produced and managed locally – or at least enough of them to avoid the above problems. The challenge is to provide stability by doing things locally AND efficiently AND under local control. Mostly, this concerns how we design how best to use land and other natural resources to live safely and securely. This means carefully designing the local environments to efficiently and effectively provide human needs – including aesthetic needs – that positively improves the landscape rather than degrading it. Permaculture design methods are a reliable way to do this.  I see permaculture as the best solution right now, for communities and landscapes in crisis. Practical examples of permaculture have shown that it is possible to turn things around rapidly using the permaculture toolbox to restore landscape, rebuild natural capital, secure local food and water supply, and build and create self-reliance in communities. The success of Permaculture is due to the design methods and ways of understanding the world set out in the original Permaculture Designers Manual together with new understanding and evidence from on the ground working examples.

I’d like to give a short quote from Bill Mollison about the primary directive of Permaculture,

“The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our children. There is historical proof that within a region of environmental stability created by sustainable land use systems, stability in human population naturally occurs. If we do not get our cities, homes and gardens in order, so that they feed and shelter us, we must lay waste to all other natural systems and we become the final plague.

Permaculture as a design system contains nothing new. It arranges what was always there in a different way, so that it works to conserve energy or to generate more energy than it consumes. What is novel, and often overlooked, is that any system of total common-sense design for human communities is revolutionary.

Bill, we are keeping up the anger and the fight. The revolution is in place and growing.

More information:

Greg is a Professional member of Permaculture Australia, the national permaculture member organisations. You can find out more, including how to sign up today, here.

Find out more about Edge5 via their website, and keep up to date on Facebook and Instagram.