Permaculture Tips - Observe and Interact

In our second online article about Permaculture Hannah talks about Observing and Interacting.






Do you know where the sunniest spot in your garden or street is? Where the wind mostly comes from? Where the frost lingers? Where people & animals travel?

Work with nature - not against it

Careful & skillful observation gives us the chance to work with nature & do less work ourselves! In our gardens we can easily identify consistent patterns such as the path of the sun, wind direction, frequently travelled routes, water flows, & areas where frost settles. When we know where these movements happen, we can put things in the most suitable places. Plant sun loving herbs & vegetables in the sunny spots, put windbreak hedges against the prevailing or cold breezes, & make the most use of our space by planning pathways along 'desire lines' -tracks where people naturally travel. When we don't take the time to observe & work with such patterns we use alot more energy living with issues like a cold garden shaded by hedges in the wrong place, wind funnelling in through our back door, or people & animals endlessly trampling over our flowers!

Do Nothing

Observation can take many forms, sitting watching being the simplest & probably least used method! Being still & watching nature take it's course is a valuable skill to cultivate to make our lifestyles more in harmony with our surroundings -& thus minimize the work that we have to put into something. Sometimes we assume that we need to create everything, but when we take the time to observe we will see things happenning without our interference! A friend said recently of his tree planting; “if I had waited 20 years I would have had a woodland anyway!” Sometimes all we have to do is...nothing! The first consideration in a permaculture approach is-what will happen if i don't intervene?

Do Something

Permaculture doen't just encourage us to sit back & keep our hands to ourselves. Interactions are also key to making valuable observations. We know that the quickest way to learn a foreign language is to get involved, make harmless mistakes & take feedback on board! It's the same when learning about ourselves & our surroundings. One family I met had plans to build their house in a certain spot with a lovely view. Soon after moving on site in a mobile home, they experienced that it was very windy & cold. In fact there was a much better more suitable spot a small bit down the hill. It was through living there & interacting with the space everyday that they could observe better the characteristics of the site & avoid making an expensive & irreversible mistake.They lost nothing & learnt alot!

Forest Gardens

You may have heard of a 'forest garden', it's a productive garden which maintains it's own fertility. As a result it is low maintenance & we don't have to import fertilisers in the form of manure or manufactured chemicals. This is achieved by observing the characteristics of the plants in the garden. Some plants actually add nutrients such as nitrogen or potassimum to the soil around them. Mychorrizal fungi transport nutrients from plant to plant, & animals bring in nutrients. Forest garden design is infomed by these observations, along with the characteristics of a site discussed above. We can then place each plant where it can interact most beneficially with the surrounding conditions & it's neighbours!

Start where we are

Permaculture principles can be applied to much more than gardens. In a personal sense, observe & interact encourages us to reflect on & value our individual place in the web of life- the forest garden of community or family. As with the plants, we can observe: What are my needs? & What skills or characteristics do I have to offer? & also interact: Where can I best place myself, or with who/what can I link, to be most productive with the least effort?

Observe & Interact

It is the first in a tool box of guiding principles which help us to design & grow a way of life based on earth are, people care, & fairshares. In the following articles we will continue to explore some others in various contexts.


About the author: 

Hannah Mole is an Organic farmer, Gardener and Permaculture teacher and designer, living in County Roscommon. For more info, events and courses see

Further Reading: 
  • Creating a Forest Garden; Martin Crawford
  • People & Permaculture; Looby McNamara
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