Permaculture design/activities/Exploring the Wider Garden

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In the following exercises you will begin to hone your design skills through the observation of a forest ecosystem.

They are exercises in observation & enquiry.

When you are doing the exercises ask yourself & others, in your group, “why is this like this”? For those of you old enough to remember Julius Sumner Miller, his often repeated, “Why is this so”? will probably stick in your minds!

Observation skills are not solely dependant on our seeing. We need to “look” with all our senses. We are going to gather as much information as we can. The forest is a great teacher! What we learn here today will inform our design processes for our cultivated ecosystems.

So take your time. Stop & close your eyes to listen, smell & feel the forest around you as you move through it.

Your skin will pick up subtle changes in temperature & airflows. You can feel the forest floor by bending down & feeling it with your fingers & you can touch the plants & feel their temperature & textures.

Your sense of smell will give you lots of information about what is going on in various areas.

Listen to the sounds of the forest. They will tell you of its inhabitants, what surrounds it & how some of the elements move through it

This list of what you can observe (please expand it if you want to) will be what you refer to as you move into & around the forest.

Form a group. One person to be the scribe. Remember to write where you are at each recording.

Exercise: Before entering the forest, stop & observe what is going at the edge. It is made up of 2 differing ecosystems. Make a list of all you observe.

What sorts of plants are growing here? What do they look like?

   * Leaf: shape, texture, size & colour (look on both sides).
   * Structure of the plants ~ open, dense, tall, low growing.
   * Name them if you can
   * Stems or bark ~ rough, smooth, dark, light
   * Placement ~ growing close together or far apart

Also observe the:

   * Soil ~ its colour, texture, moisture, mulch
   * Air temperature & moisture
   * Quality of light

Keep this knowledge you have gained & look for differences between this microclimate & the others you will encounter as you move deeper into the forest.


Exercise: you will need to make a list of all the different life forms you see from the small to the large.

This list will also contain things which may no longer be living or, as some classify them, nonliving, such as rocks. You may also like to include the beings that are invisible to our sight.

Also make a separate list of all the elements that sustain & flow in, through & out of this forest.

Both these lists are for you to refer to for the next exercise & will feed into an exercise we will do all together later.

Exercise: Explore an energy flow

Group the forms e.g. Plants, fungi, bacteria, insects, animals

What is the one overall source of energy for this forest?

   * Which of the life forms are the primary consumers of this energy?
   * What consumes them?
   * & again ~ what consumes them?
   * How far can you take this?
   * Is anything wasted? Any pollution?
   * Does the forest produce or store any energy? If so what forms does it take?

What “services” does the forest provide? Example roots hold soil & so prevent erosion.

Who helps who? Eg how does this plant help others?

You will have up to 1hr for this exercise

Come back to the forest edge when you have finished.