Petworth Community Garden is a permaculture garden, and is now being registered as a LAND (Learning and Demonstration Network) project with the Permaculture Association.

What is Permaculture?

Permaculture is a design framework that can be applied to all walks of life, using principles taken from observing nature, to create robust and resilient systems. This can include gardens, farms, smallholdings, community spaces, homes, towns, energy systems, organisations, but also many non-land based systems; for instance you can design a dance class, a self care programme, a business plan, (in fact anything)  using permaculture principles, ethics and design methods.

Other definitions include:

Permaculture is an innovative framework for creating sustainable ways of living.
It is a practical method of developing ecologically harmonious, efficient and productive systems that can be used by anyone, anywhere.
Permaculture is an ecological design process – we are learning from nature. Design methods are used in conjunction with permaculture principles to create an overall pattern or plan of action.

Ethics: The fundamental ethics of permaculture are:

Earth care:
Fair shares:
People care:
without these, a project or system cannot be called permaculture.

Principles: The principles that have recently been reviewed by David Holmgren one of the co-founders of permaculture, are:

  1. Observe and Interact
  2. Catch and Store Energy
  3. Obtain a Yield
  4. Apply Self-regulation and Accept Feedback
  5. Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services
  6. Produce no Waste
  7. Design from Patterns to Details
  8. Integrate rather than Segregate
  9. Use Small and Slow Solutions
  10. Use and Value Diversity
  11. Use Edges and Value the Marginal
  12. Creatively Use and Respond to Change

Community gardening, is a great example of permaculture in action, with the ethics at its base, and permaculture principles weaving their way throughout.

Earthcare: At Petworth community garden, we garden organically, looking after the soil, gardening in raised beds, composting, (Produce no waste), mulching, growing green manures, and harvesting water, (Catch and store.) We encourage wildlife into the garden, planting companion and wildlife friendly plants, creating habitat in the form of ponds, wildflower areas, solitary bee and insect homes, care for the birds, and work with natural and biological controls to help with the balance in the garden, (use and value diversity.) We teach our members what we are doing and why, and encourage them to use good practices in their own homes and gardens. Often locals without gardens come and use our compost bins, and bring their recycling for our activities. (Catch and store/produce no waste.)

Fairshares: We use local, recycled or ethical resources, wherever possible, not taking more than our fair share of the Earth’s resources (use and value renewable resources). We always share out the harvest at the end of a session, as a thank you to all our volunteers, and as a way of getting free fresh organic food to people who are most in need of it (obtain a yield.)

Peoplecare: Underlying all our activities as a community garden group is people care. We started our project in 2005 inspired by Garden Organics ‘Organic Food for All’ scheme, which aimed to enable local people with limited means to access free fresh food.  We work in a mixed community group, with parents and children, older people, people with learning difficulties, and people with physical, mental health or social issues, amongst other locals. (Integrate rather than segregate.)

Beneficial Relations / Use and Value Diversity

Community gardening creates so many benefits; working in a group allows us to work within our limitations and to celebrate our abilities. Beneficial relations occur constantly, a person with physical ability but little gardening knowledge is paired with a person with a lifetime’s knowledge but less physical ability and amazing projects can take place. Phil is incredibly knowledgeable but with less physical ability than he once had, and became our technical advisor for jobs such as laying our wheelchair access pathway, building the shed and compost toilet, amongst many other projects over the years and is a vital part of our group. In a community group, we can each offer something of ourselves and we all gain so much more together.

Use edges and value the marginal

In a diverse group, we can drop our ‘labels’ and just be who we are, human beings with our own particular quirks and foibles. We really see the benefit of working in a mixed community group where all are accepted and all abilities celebrated whatever the perceived limitations.

Creatively use and respond to change

Our garden continuously grows and changes according to our volunteer’s skills and wishes, and opportunities that arise. Early on we had wanted a sensory bed, but were still completely unfunded. One of our members however, who had arrived a couple of years before in a difficult stage of her life, but had found her confidence and way forward again to retrain as a professional gardener, called one morning to see if we wanted any box hedging plants that were being thrown away. A short while later, she appeared buried beneath over 150 plants in her tiny car and we were that week able to create our longed for herb/sensory garden.

Observe and interact / apply self regulation and accept feedback

The community garden design was created firstly by observation, of the site, situation and available volunteers, but is in no way static. Constant observation and interaction happens to create an evolving dynamic project where all members have a say in how they want the garden and group to develop, and it is an ever changing process according to member’s wishes, skills, circumstances and feedback.

Use small slow solutions

When wanting to create a new project, all principles and ethics are extremely valuable, but the principle ‘use small slow solutions’ is I think particularly vital, and possibly the hardest to do when fed by the excitement of creating something new. But ‘mighty oaks from little acorns grow’, and starting small and slow, but steady, is a useful antidote to the ‘overwhelm’ that can come when starting new projects.

Design from Patterns to Details

Along those same lines, the principle ‘Design from Patterns to Details’ is extremely useful, looking at the bigger picture first, then honing in on the details at the appropriate stage.


If you are looking to design a garden or project, taking an introduction to permaculture course, reading around the subject, and or  studying for a permaculture design certificate, would give you a really good start to creating a truly sustainable project, and equip you with skills and tools to help make it an enjoyable and effective process.

There are many amazing permaculture projects across the globe, be inspired to set your own one up in your community…

About the founder of Petworth Community Garden:

Kate completed her permaculture design certificate in 2005, and set up Petworth Community Garden that same year and has been coordinating it ever since. She achieved her permaculture diploma in 2011 and ToT with PTTLs course in 2012/2013 (Permaculture teacher training). She has also designed,  implemented and coordinates other community gardens in the Petworth and surrounding areas including three school gardens and a sensory and vegetable garden for the elderly at Rotherlea carehome. She is now designing and initiating a community farm project in the area, with her partner Richard. – website currently in development.

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