Per­ma­cul­ture in Prac­tice

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When I re­ceived the in­vi­ta­tion to speak at the an­nual con­fer­ence of the As­so­ci­a­tion of Pro­fes­sional Land­scape De­sign­ers (APLD), my cal­en­dar looked clear a year down the road. The epi­cen­ter of the five­day event, Santa Fe, meant I could com­mute to the gig by bike, and that’s al­ways a plus.

Al­though I had only vaguely heard of the as­so­ci­a­tion, when they men­tioned an hon­o­rar­ium, I read on. As a fan of words and ideas, the con­fer­ence’s theme, The Art of Adap­tive De­sign, was big a draw. If there is a more in­spir­ing, suc­cinct, and in­struc­tive ti­tle for a pub­lic land­scape-de­sign con­fer­ence in 2016, I’d like to hear it.

Mostly, I found my­self in­trigued by the op­por­tu­nity to speak about my pro­fes­sion to an au­di­ence of po­ten­tial col­lab­o­ra­tors and clients. I knew the talk would mo­ti­vate me to re­ex­am­ine my ap­proach, to hone it down to its essences, and to con­sider its im­pli­ca­tions. “Please count me in,” I replied.

Lit­tle did I know that my alma mater, St. John’s Col­lege, would soon an­nounce its an­nual re­union in the mid­dle of the APLD con­fer­ence. If his­tory were any mea­sure, this meant a gag­gle of great, old friends would re­turn to my back yard to suck down green chile, tequila, and bois­ter­ous con­ver­sa­tion un­til the rosy-fin­gered dawn. “I’m hop­ing,” I said in a sub­se­quent ne­go­ti­a­tion, “to speak on Fri­day— not over the week­end.” “Per­fect,” they replied. Now, hap­pily sand­wiched be­tween two mind-blow­ing key­note ad­dresses, my Fri­day, Sept. 16, ses­sion, The Power and Beauty of Water Har­vest­ing, will de­scribe how to cre­ate gor­geous land­scapes that har­vest water, grow food, re­spect na­ture, and fos­ter con­ver­sa­tion, med­i­ta­tion, and mer­ri­ment. We’ll look at my usual sub­jects— roof water, stormwa­ter, grey­wa­ter, black­wa­ter, and water con­ser­va­tion through a 21st-cen­tury de­signer’s eye, but we’ll also ap­proach “beauty” as a com­plex and po­tent mo­ti­vat­ing force, not merely as a source of vis­ual al­lure.

Fra­grances from well-cho­sen peren­ni­als, mel­liflu­ous sounds from birds at­tracted to flow­er­ing trees, smooth sur­faces for bare feet, ed­i­ble plants to pro­mote phys­i­cal, eco­log­i­cal, and spir­i­tual health, invit­ing mi­cro­cli­mates in­tended to en­rich the hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence— th­ese are some of the con­cepts we’ll ex­plore.

But be­cause beauty al­ways in­volves per­sonal pref­er­ence, I’ll also share my op­tions the­ory. Early on in the land­scape-de­sign process, all clients should re­ceive a num­ber of very dif­fer­ent choices. Each op­tion must be beau­ti­ful in its own way, but it’s up to the per­son who will be liv­ing with the land to de­cide which is best. In res­i­den­tial set­tings es­pe­cially, beauty should rarely be se­lected by a de­signer’s de­cree. In­stead, it should be de­ter­mined by the needs and de­sires of both the land and the peo­ple liv­ing on it, and op­tional con­cep­tual de­signs are the best way to ap­proach this dy­namic sit­u­a­tion.

Un­less you think you’ll be suck­ing chile in my back­yard, I rec­om­mend you save th­ese dates, Septem­ber 15-19, for some or all of the con­fer­ence. In the mean­time, look for my next col­umn, which will de­scribe the rest of the stim­u­lat­ing con­fer­ence in greater de­tail. More info at

Nate Downey, the au­thor of Har­vest the Rain, has been a lo­cal land­scape con­sul­tant, de­signer, and con­trac­tor since 1992. He can be reached at 505-690-7939 or via www. per­made­

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