Home Grown Retreat: An Introduction to Permaculture

Home Grown Retreat: An Introduction to Permaculture

A delicious weekend in the country where you will learn the skills you need to easily begin growing your own edible garden at home.​

Get your hands in the dirt, breathe in fresh country air, enjoy farm-to-table organic dining and relax in luxury accomodation amongst the rolling hills of the beautiful Southern Highlands.

Explore a more sustainable and regenerative way of life with Farmer Pete and local Permaculture guru, Jill Cockram. Learn about gut health with nutritionist Shannon Rosie and how to pickle, preserve and ferment with Chef Eilish.

Learn permaculture with David Holmgren

Learn permaculture with David Holmgren

A PDC can be a life changing experience. Join us in the unique environment of the Rocklyn Ashram and be taught by a mix of experienced and enthusiastic permaculture tutors including David Holmgren and Beck Lowe. This is a fully residential, fully immersive, fully catered course running over 15 days with a short break in the middle.
Cost: Camping $2,600, shared dorm room $2,700, private accommodation $3,650. Early Bird until 30 Nov.

2020 Permaculture Design Course @ Rocklyn Ashram

Blogger interprets permaculture's principles as rules for living

Like the food she writes about in her Land and Ladle blog, Erin Meyer has produced a fresh and nourishing interpretation of permaculture’s principles of design.
These are the principles expounded in David Holmgren’s 2002 book, Permaculture — principles and pathways beyond sustainability. I mention this because, for many, David’s principles are all the principles there are. Somewhat neglected are the principles developed by the other co-founder of the permaculture design system, Bill Mollison, quite some time before David’s.

Systems soft and hard

As expressed in David’s book and by permaculture educators and practitioners, his principles are about the design of infrastructure, about building, the design of land-based systems such as farms and resource management. These are permaculture’s ‘hard systems’, systems that have a physical presence.
Yet, they are more than that because the principles are about how we think about the design and building of those things, those physical elements in the landscape. That ‘thinking about’ design and construction makes the principles also a ‘soft system’, something that is cognitive, conceptual, a product of thought, logical reasoning, deduction and making those important mental connections between things.

The principles of permaculture design are commonly applied to the design of the physical infrastructure of productive systems. Photo: Home garden around the fenceline of a small urban lot in New Plymouth, Aotearoa-New Zealand.

Rules for living

Erin Meyer’s interpretation of David’s principles of design is a soft systems approach too, though in a different way to David’s. As “rules for living” her interpretation applies the principles to personal life, to the psychology of individuals. It is about personal practices and ways of thinking. It is about about our personal psychology.
This is less a new element in what we have come to know as ‘social permaculture’ than a revival of a concept whose presence seems to have declined in permaculture — the ‘Zone Zero’. Envisioned as an additional element to permaculture’s zoned landuse system which traditionally stipulates five zones for different landuses according to distance from the dwelling and availability of resources, Zone Zero was variously defined as the behaviours and practices of people living in a home that is the centre of a permaculture design — Zone One — and as the relationships between them and how they manage the home. It is perhaps Australian permaculture educator/designer, Cecelia Macauley, who is the leading exponent of this idea with her application of permaculture principles in the personal domestic space.

Into the psychological space

In her blog in Medium, Erin goes through each of the principles and suggests a personal action for applying each.
One I found affinity with was her take on the principle of ‘small and slow solutions’. I have written elsewhere that this is an appropriate approach in many circumstances but could be too-little-too-late for others, that sometimes we need big and rapid solutions rather than small and slow. Erin has come to the same conclusion, saying that some of the big challenges we face require the big and rapid response. Examples are ameliorating climate change, finding solutions to the loss of livelihoods to workplace automation, urbanisation.
There is a saying in the tech world that when a technology is used for things it was not designed for, then it is successful. We could apply that to Erin’s interpretation of David’s principles of design to the psychological space of individuals. This repurposes and enlarges the principles, taking them into territory if not completely new, then territory too seldom visited.

Erin writes in the Land and Ladle blog on Medium. Medium is where you will find insightful, critical and analytical writing on a range of topics including the permaculture design system.



Advanced Permaculture Planning and Design Process 2017 – Part One: How it came about

Story, photos and video by PA member, Dan Palmer, June 2017

This post commences a little intermission from the current inquiry. For, while it is fresh, I’ll pen a report of the four-day Advanced Permaculture Planning and Design Process workshop David Holmgren and I recently co-presented. I’ll cover the experience with a post for each of six parts: how it came about, the four days of preparation directly before, and then each of the 1, 2, 3, 4 days of the event itself.
First though, if you’ve not the time or interest to read the full report,1 here’s a short clip of David and I sharing some post-course reflections:

Part One: How it Came to Pass

Not long after Making Permaculture Stronger started, I sent a draft version of this previous post to David, hoping for his feedback. To my delight, a lively email conversation ensued, excerpts of which were posted here. Details aside, I was grateful for David’s interest and participation in a conversation following and building on my earlier claim that design process is a problematically weak link in permaculture.2
During the decade or so in which David grew from acquaintance then teacher into the mentor, senior colleague, and friend he is today, we had never really discussed permaculture design process. I’d been fortunate enough to observeDavid in process on several rural properties over the years, where I got to read him reading landscape, but we hadn’t much talked about what was going on.
After that email conversation, however, things had shifted. The topic was on both of our radars as a shared interest. Though we enjoyed several face-to-face chats, which for me put some rather deep scratches in the surface of the topic, I was left with the feeling of wanting to break right through the surface, to dive in deep, and see what we found. Of wanting Making Permaculture Stronger to further benefit from David’s 40 years of grounded experience and deep thinking about permaculture design.3
Now if anyone had approached me at this point and said “well why don’t you just ask David whether he’d be up for an eight-day full-time intensive discussion going deep into all this stuff?” I would have laughed. Something like that simply wouldn’t have occurred to me as being within the realms of possibility. David leads a full life and I knew was busy working on getting his latest book project across the line, re-tweaking an upcoming re-release of his permaculture principles, co-managing Melliodora, and so on and so forth. I was more than grateful for the shorter conversations we were able to have, and hoped/trusted our conversation would continue to evolve slowly and opportunistically in small increments over the coming years.
You can imagine, therefore, how low my jaw dropped when in late September 2016, David asked whether I’d be interested in co-facilitating a four-day “advanced permaculture principle and planning” workshop during April of 2017.4

Though I tried to play it cool – “yeah thanks for the thought, let me think about it” sort of thing, my decision to accept the invitation took about three seconds. I was excited at the prospect of an opportunity to co-evolve some of this stuff together, knowing from past experience that co-teaching is about as good as such opportunities get.
I learned after the event that David, though excited, was also somewhat nervous about how it might play out. As he put it in the post-event video I shared above:

I thought going into it the uncertainties of unpacking so many things that I’ve been uncertain about in permaculture design, and the first time directly collaborating on something like this with you, and building on all the stuff you’ve been doing on the making permaculture stronger blog, I was really excited but nervous about how it was going to work and whether we were going to get into runaway, abstract, philosophical discussions that would leave the students, even the more advanced ones, struggling.

From my end, I was telling myself not to set my expectations for the course toohigh. I know from experience that such events often don’t turn out quite as magnificent as the picture my mind tends to paint in the lead up. I was also conscious that we had no idea who would show up, and how it would work to be exploring the depths of permaculture design process with a bunch of, well, goodness knows who. I also really wasn’t sure to what extent David’s and my own design process understandings would actually gel or complement each other. Finally, I knew David had a relatively well-rehearsed and refined program from his past advanced principles and reading landscape workshops and I half-expected I would end up simply sort of tacking on some of my stuff around that.
So much for expectations!
In the next post I’ll go through the process of preparing for the event.


  1. Which at well over 10,000 words I kind of got a bit carried away with!
  2. The way I would currently describe this weak link is as follows: The more I look, the more I find a stunningly low correspondence between what the available permaculture literature says should be true of any authentic permaculture design process, and what actually is true when a design process deeply resonates with permaculture ethics and principles to successfully generate deeply adapted systems. I am not the first to make this observation – as an example see this article from the German Institute for Participatory Design.
  3. I assume it goes without saying that David’s experience with permaculture includes the experience of co-originating it alongside Bill Mollison.
  4. The way this all came about was that David had been approached by Dr Keri Chiveralls about running a version of the advanced courses he’d run previously as part of the fledgling graduate diploma in permaculture being offered through Central Queensland University.

Feature image: Russ Grayson

Thinking of leadership

This story was first published in Open Forum in 2017.
Too much has been written about leadership. Too many books, Too many articles. So much has been written that we now risk submergence below the sheer weight of printed material.
Sure, the literature on leadership has succeeded in identifying particular types of leadership — leadership from behind, leadership by example, leadership by position — and that is useful and I will talk about examples later.
It is understandable that much leadership literature is directed at business. Business has to respond to and survive in a world beset by new technologies, a flowing stream of new ideas, dodgy economic trends, confused political leadership and changing social expectations. It looks for security in an environment in which there is no resource security, no market security, no security that is lasting in a world increasingly churned by change.

The cult of the entrepreneur

Once, we had business leadership heroes. IBM in the latter years of the Twentieth Century. Bill Gates. Steve Jobs. They have gone or faded. Now, we have clumsy, sometimes-malfunctioning and deceptive corporations and institutions in which there is declining public trust.
The likes of Gates and Jobs were entrepreneurs. They took calculated chances that sometimes failed but for the most part worked. We still have entrepreneurs and they are held up as glaring examples of leadership. All too often they bloom then fade like one-day daisies in a garden.
I don’t know if it is correct to talk of the cult of the entrepreneur, but we hear so much about it that to has started to sound like a cult. Hopeful young people flood to workshops yet few succeed in applying whatever knowledge they gain. Small businesses in Australia are frequently short-lived, though this might have to do with the churn in ideas, technology and economics as much as with entrepreneurs not succeeding or burning out.
Most of us cannot be entrepreneurs because we can’t afford the financial and other risks involved. Or the long, tiring hours. After attending a workshop on entrepreneuralism, a friend told me that he did not want to become an entrepreneur because of the demands of doing that would entail. Yet, he is a person of knowledge and ideas.

A different entrepreneurship

Through working in small business, government and the community sector I have come to realise that although entrepreneuralism is commonly associated with business, there are people out there working the chancy world of social entrepreneurship. They do this voluntarily or for little money, yet it involves leadership qualities as much as does any business.

Permaculture is a platform of ethics, design principles and characteristics upon which its practitioners develop useful applications.

One rainy morning I sat in Cafe Nero, my local caffeine filling station, and asked myself who were these people, these social entrepreneurs? I didn’t set out to list those I know working in the permaculture design system, but theirs’ were the names that appeared on my page.
Permaculture is commonly explained as a system of design for creating resilient communities. I prefer to think of permaculture as a platform of ethics, design principles and characteristics upon which its practitioners develop useful applications. Those might include urban agriculture, food security, energy and water efficient building design, community work, small scale international development, education and more.  Application is broad, and when it comes to the business side of it I think immediately of a landscape architect I know with his own small business, an architect specialising in passive and active solar design, someone who started a food distribution business, a young woman working in community exchange systems and a couple magazine publishers.
So, how did those names that came to mind that wet morning in Cafe Nero, and how do they demonstrate leadership?


With Bill Mollison, David Holmgren co-invented the permaculture design system.
His approach is an intellectual one. David is a thinker. An author. An educator. He is a leader through being one of the two originators of the design system — what we call ‘first starters’ advantage’. It is this, combined with his work, that lends him his intellectual and leadership authority.
Through writing books and articles, through public talks at conferences and maintaining an authoritative website, David built a credibility few if any in the field would challenge. Interestingly, he eschews participation in discussions on social media, preferring to remain aloof.
David’s, then, is leadership through being a public intellectual atop his first starter advantage in developing the design system.


Rosemary Morrow is different. Not for this woman now somewhere in her seventies the intellectual approach of David. Instead, Rosemary has built her leadership by doing, by her experience in the world.
That experience includes decades of teaching permaculture design. Perhaps more importantly, her leadership is built on her work in small-scale international development and working with her local community in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, Australia.
We might call her’s ‘leadership-by-doing’. She is down-to-earth, approachable and modest, illustrating the importance of personality to leadership.
For the past few years Rosemary has been passing on her extensive life experience in permaculture by teaching her own approach to community education to others.
Rosemary’s, then, is leadership by experience applied through an open, friendly personality.


I like to think of Hannah Moloney’s style of leadership as leading-through-exuberance.
Hannah is a young Hobart woman who, with husband Anton, set up the aptly-named Good Life Permaculture, a name that suits Hannah’s outgoing personality. Hannah’s style, her language and her personal presentation attracts a primarily young cohort of students to her courses and to the other enterprises she engages in.
Of all mentioned so far, Hannah and Anton come closest to the conventional model of the entrepreneur as someone building their own small business.
Hannah’s, then, is leadership by exuberance and personal style.


As one of the permaculture design system’s pioneers, Robyn Francis’ story is one of persistence. She not only persisted in teaching permaculture design through the decades, she persisted in developing her Djanbung Gardens permaculture centre in Nimbin. Since the mid-1990s it has been her educational base that she has turned it into something of a cultural centre in the town, a centre that attracts people from across Australia and that is visited by permaculture practitioners from other counties.
In doing these things and more Robyn faced substantial challenges. In meeting those challenges she helped establish a place for women in the worldwide leadership of permaculture. In doing this she was not alone and the success of herself and other women is suggested by the number of them in this short and inadequate article.
Robyn has also broadened the application of the permaculture design system, taking it into planning, international development and the teaching of specialist skills. I must add to this list of accomplishments her work in permaculture education, not only in teaching the permaculture design course but her role in developing Australia’s nationally accredited permaculture education program, Accredited Permaculture Training.
Robyn, then, leads through persistence and innovation in permaculture.


Cecilia Macaulay leads by a personality different to that of many other women in permaculture. They tend to present as earthy, practical woman whereas Cecilia, with her stylish clothing and through regularly visiting a hairdresser, comes across with a feminine presence that is extraverted, light and gentle.
As well as being an illustrator Cecilia is something of a domestic decluttering maven who applies the principles of permaculture design to home organisation. In doing this she brings a strong dose of the Japanese design ethic, having spent some time in the country. There can be an almost zen-like look to her work.
Whereas Hannah Moloney leads through her practical, can-do, exuberant personality, Cecilia leads through a feminine personality but one with a quiet exuberance.


Steve Batley is a Sydney-based landscape architect, horticulture and permaculture educator with his own small business, Sydney Organic Gardens. His approach to leadership is in some ways similar to Cecilia McCauley’s in that it is quiet, calm and considered. Steve doesn’t get fazed. It is also based on extensive knowledge of landscape design supplemented by a good working knowledge of horticulture.
As with many others in this article, Steve’s personality counts for much of his popularity as an educator at the Randwick Sustainabilty Hub and elsewhere. His leadership style could perhaps be described as conciliatory, with a soft masculinity and an ability to communicate permaculture and design concepts clearly in simple language.

Robert and Emma-Kate

Robert Pekin and Emma Kate Rose are entrepreneurial leaders in the classic, small business mold as well as social entrepreneurs.
Once a dairy farmer, Robert and partner, Emma Kate Rose, set up the successful, hybrid community supported agriculture business, Brisbane Food Connect, a social enterprise. Emma-Kate is a director and focuses mainly on marketing. The service links Brisbane region family and small scale farmers with eaters in the city to provide fresh, mainly organic foods. The couple are acknowledged as pioneers in this new approach to food and are called upon to advise start-ups across the country. With others, they created the Food Connect Foundation to assist social enterprise in the fair food business.
The couple are also active in the impact investment and community economics scene and led workshops at the 2017 conference of the New Economy Network Australia.
Robert and Emma Kate’s is a practical approach to developing business, based on the ethics and design principles of permaculture.


The late Bill Mollison’s leadership was different again. As co-inventor of the permaculture design system Bill, like David, fell into the natural leadership of first-starter. But his leadership stemmed from far more than that. It came out of a career that included scientific field research and, later, an academia about which he was critical.
Bill’s was also an intellectual leadership though his expression of that was different to David Holmgren’s style. That’s because Bill combined the intellectual and the practical. He was the sort of person who could discuss the theory of farm dam construction, design a farm dam and go out and build it. This is what people found attractive in him, this blend of the intellect and the practical combined with common sense.
Bill was something else, however. He was an iconoclast. A challenger of fixed, entrenched ideas whether those of academics, government or society. He would challenge these in a way that was designed to shake people out of their fixed views. That could put people off but it helped those ready for change to make that mental leap into a new way of seeing things and acting. In doing this Bill was a motivator.
Bill formulated his ideas in a number of books and a TV series called The Global Gardener that was broadcast on Australia’s ABC TV in the nineties.
His leadership, then, was that of first-starter combined with an assertive personality that was dismissive of pretentiousness and bad ideas. It was the challenging attitude of the iconoclast.

A crucible of leadership

The permaculture design system has turned out to be something of a crucible of informal leadership in civil society. Informality has been important because there is no leadership-by-appointed-position in permaculture. The design system self-structures as a distributed network. There is no head office. There is no CEO.
This makes it different to leadership in business or the leadeship of the go-it-alone entrepreneur. It calls upon the skills of the social entrepreneur in the way it works with people. Sure, there are small businesses built around permaculture and small business entrepreneurship has played a role in those. For the most part, though, leadership in permaculture has been based on personality, extensive knowledge and on daring to just get out there and do something. Taking action is much admired in permaculture circles.

Training for leadership

Just as in other fields of endeavour there is a need for training in permaculture to bring out sometimes latent leadership qualities.
People like Robina McCurdy in Aotearoa-New Zealand; Robyn Clayfield from Crystal Waters Permaculture Village; Erin Young with her sociocracy education for group decision making; and local government sustainability educator, Fiona Campbell, with her community resilience and community leadership course offer training in different aspects of leadership and entrepreneurialism.
Permaculture educators, too, are leaders and are too numerous to fully list here. Suffice to mention the Milkwood duo, Nick Ritar and Kirsten Bradley, who came later to permaculture and who for some years now have offered a range of training options to build the leadership skills of permaculture educators. For the past few years, Rosemary Morrow has been passing on her educational knowledge to others.
Now, thanks to this training, we see new leaders emerging: horticultural educators, Emma Daniell and Jon Kingston, an agricultural scientist; Annette Loudon, now a catalyst assisting people set up community exchange systems for cashless trading; Julian Lee with his science education program for young children.
Those mentioned are just a few. There are so many more.