Permaculture Principle #7: Design from patterns to details, for functional permaculture design plans

This concept can sometimes be difficult to grasp. What is a pattern, and how can we use it in our designs? We think of patterns as symmetrical, repeating designs that we can print on cloth, wall paper or sheets. But that is just one kind of pattern.

The patterns we will be concerned with in our permaculture design plans are generally the patterns of the natural world. The patterns that are created by the wind, the rain, the sun, the animals, etc.

What are patterns?

To find the patterns on your property, you’ll be using the Permaculture Principles we have been discussing – i.e. observe and interact; obtain a yield; use and value renewable resources and services – and some we haven’t gotten to yet.

Watch your landscape, in all seasons, during all types of weather, and get to know the patterns. These patterns can be seen in wind, water, sun, animals, people, etc.


The movement of water in the landscape is a pattern; and it is essential to study it. Water has specific ways it moves, and it is up to us to observe it and put it to its best use. Some things water does are:

  • flow down hill – (obvious, I know, but sometimes people forget this)
  • find its level – meaning, when it is in a containment of some sort, it will always be level on top. It’s important to make the bottom of your swales level and on contour, so the water will find its way to all parts of the swale. If it is deeper in one area, the water will collect there.
  • find the easiest course – if there is a gully, that’s where the water will flow, even if it’s a small one. If there are obstacles, water will flow around them. Use this information to learn where to place objects in the landscape

The way water flows on your land is a pattern. How you take advantage of that flow (pattern) dictates where you place things in the landscape, and how you capture that water. Those are the details. If our permaculture design plans do not take into consideration the patterns of water on our property, we could find ourselves in big trouble. And big puddles.


Wind is another force that has a pattern. Learning where the wind comes into your property will dictate the placement of things such as gardens and windbreaks. Wind can be a destructive force, laying waste to fields, and bringing in unwanted cold air in. But it can also be a source of energy.

To capture the power of the wind to turn a wind turbine to create electricity, we need to know the pattern of the wind in our area. When does it blow? What direction does it come from? How strong it is? Wind movement is the pattern. How we block it, or use it for energy, are the details.


The sun is an important aspect of laying out the various components of our homesteads. It dictates where the garden is placed, and where to place a passive solar house or greenhouse. The sun has a particular and predictable pattern. Learn the pattern, and then plan the details.

When buying a piece of property, if you plan on growing food and raising animals, you’ll want to have as much sun as possible. Knowing the patterns of the sun (sunrise & sunset times, angle in summer and winter, etc.) will enable you to envision where the sun will hit your property throughout the seasons. If the property is on the north side of a hill, sun is not going to be visiting you there. Knowing the pattern will help you see the details.

People and animals

Where we walk during our daily rounds of a property creates patterns. Creating zones on the property is an essential part of laying out the various bits and bobs on the land. Using the permaculture zones idea, we can lay out our homesteads in a way that will help us conserve our energy, let various components work together, and create a broad pattern made up of a multitude of details.

‘Permaculture zones’ are a way to layout the elements on a property. The places that we visit the most should be nearest, with less visited places further out. But we should also integrate the systems, so that a Zone 1 garden, where we harvest our dinner each day, is close to the chicken pen, where we toss our veggie scraps, as well as take manure and bedding from the coop to make compost to be used in the garden. Theses are the details of the pattern we create as we move around the property.

Animals also move in patterns. In the wild, large animals move in herds from place to place, eating a bit and then moving on, to let the land recover. This pattern – often called rotational grazing – is being adopted by the permaculture community and others in the way they use animals on the landscape. This is having an amazing impact on the land, making it healthier and more productive.

Patterns are the foundations of permaculture design plans

Everything has a pattern. It might not be obvious, and it might not be ‘pretty’, but EVERYTHING has a pattern. Our job as permaculture designers is to observe, recognize the patterns, and use them to plan the details of our systems.

If you know where the wind comes into your property, you know where to put that windmill. If you know the angle of the sun in winter, you know how to capture it in your passive solar home. If you know where the most water flows on your property during the rains, you know where to put a pond. Pattern to detail. That is what we’re looking for.

There are many patterns in nature. Some appear to be merely decorative. But so many of the patterns in nature are a key, a clue, as to how to arrange the elements in our landscapes to take advantage of – or avoid – the different natural phenomena happening daily on our land.

Find the patterns, and then create the details of your permaculture design plans accordingly.

Health, Hope & Happiness


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