Archive for July, 2015

Remembering Patrick Whitefield

Written by Caroline Aitken on . Posted in Uncategorized

With a teaching career spanning more than a quarter of a century Patrick taught and influenced thousands of people. Many of those continued on the permaculture path and are now inspiring others to do the same.

Katie Shepherd

lambing finishes

I first met Patrick when I attended his PDC at Ragmans Farm in summer 2011. Those 2 weeks were amazing. from Patrick’s formal teaching sessions to the energy and gentle depth and care he brought to the community of folk attending the course. I gained so much from the experience. I know I don’t really need to tell anyone about the unbelievable level of knowledge and experience Patrick had in Permaculture Design for temperate climates, but his ability to share this with the diverse bunch of students there was like a beautiful (humerous!) work of art.

The following winter I returned to Ragmans for a further week to complete the Organic Horticulture course with Patrick too, which was just as fantastic. Over those few months I also read and listened to/watched everything that Patrick had to teach me about his knowledge and experience of Permaculture theory and Practice. Although I’d had some knowledge about permaculture prior to the PDC, the inspiration and motivation Patrick delivered took it to a whole new level.

When I look back over the 4 years since that first PDC, I cant believe how much I have developed as a permaculture designer and practitioner. I’ve undertaken numerous other permaculture courses and workshops and facilitated and taught on others. I’ve created and implemented many, many designs from farm scale on the upland farm where I have lived and worked (which Patrick really gave me confidence about), and then health related projects at potential strategic level ,through to designs for my own wellbeing that have transformed my life. In addition, a really important yield from that initial time at Ragmans was a wonderful group of other PDC graduates who have now become part of my whole development as a designer as we share our permaculture journies together.

kt pat

Patrick showing me how to dowse

I kept in touch with Patrick via his reflections and wisdom on social media, and the occasional email, but in the last few weeks of his life I’ve felt especially connected to his energy and experience . During this recent time time I’ve been writing up designs for my Diploma (in Applied Permaculture Design ) portfolio, several of which were started just prior to meeting Patrick, so very much influenced by him. As I’ve been working hard towards finishing and accrediting my Diploma later this year, I’ve often found myself thinking about the empowering influence Patrick has had on the direction my life is now taking.


Chris Smaje


Patrick taught the permaculture design course I took at Ragman’s Lane Farm in 2000. At the time I was a teacher myself, albeit a pretty disgruntled one, on the point of jacking in my academic career in order to…do what? A land-based rural life had never really crossed my radar screen and had seemed at best a romantic dream, until over the two weeks of the design course Patrick systematically dismantled my assumptions and reassembled them into something different – something more attentive to detail, more connected to the underlying spirit of things, something more expansive, something basically just better.

To be honest, I don’t remember all that much now about the incidental details of those two weeks. There was a lot of social good humour on the course – music, friendships forming, joking around, and Patrick in shirtsleeves mode genially allowing the various personalities in the group to come into play. But when the teaching sessions began I remember a feeling of seriousness – not because he was a stern teacher or a sombre man, but because of an underlying sense that I’ve carried forward into my second career as a farmer, grower and writer that this stuff matters, that there are realms of knowledge outside the official story that need to be kept alive. Initially I was a bit awestruck by Patrick – I, the initiate, struggling to comprehend the strange and compelling new world taking shape from his words. When he visited our holding a few years later he picked a sorrel leaf and chewed it, then hefted some soil between his fingers – simple rituals of connection, speaking volumes. As time has passed, I’ve gone my own way, questioned aspects of permaculture’s received wisdom, and sometimes tangled, usually amiably, with Patrick over this issue or that. Always, he brought a keen intelligence and a weight of earned knowledge to these exchanges. I’m still a bit awestruck. And I’ll miss him.


Sandra Campe

 sandra campeMy connection to Patrick started with the Sustainable Land Use Course at Ragmans Lane Farm in 2002. I had heard about the course while WWOOFing for one of the SLU-teachers, Jo Newton the year before. When I finally arrived at Ragmans I had some of the best weeks of my life, full of practical & theoretical inspiration, new friends, a supportive learning environment and beautiful landscape. All of this in addition to Patrick’s wealth of knowledge in so many areas and his belief in permaculture. I felt close to Patrick due to our shared background in agriculture and after I had got my degree in organic farming in that same year I continued to stay in touch with permaculture and sustainable design, which put what I had learned at university into so much more of a sensible context. During all those years that followed the course (during which I moved to Sieben Linden Ecovillage, began the Permaculture Diploma Pathway, got my diploma in 2008 and started teaching), Patrick and me loosely stayed in touch and in 2012, my colleague and I decided to organise an international PDC with him as the main teacher here in Sieben Linden.

main house sieben linden

The main house at Sieben Linden Eco Village in Germany

Patrick’s way of making Permaculture concepts accessible to a wide audience cannot be underestimated. With his continuous teaching and the written legacy he left, he gives many people simple, clear and straightforward introductions and starting points for learning about and practicing Permaculture. This is especially true for the German speaking part of Europe, since two of his most fundamental works (Permaculture in a Nutshell and The Earth Care Manual) have been translated to german language, which form standard works in teaching Permaculture. I really hope that the books about his passion for reading the landscape will be translated too. If I am asked about inspiring permaculture books I always recommend these works. There is a gap now in the permaculture world, where Patrick’s presence was. I really hope that during his life he got a feeling for how much his ‘walking his talk’ made him an example to people all over Europe, and how important his contribution is to a thriving planet. I am grateful that he was – and is – part of my life.



Applying Permaculture Design

Written by Caroline Aitken on . Posted in Uncategorized

Anyone who has tried to describe to someone what ‘Permaculture Design’ is will know that it can be surprisingly difficult. So when trying to apply permaculture design principles we need to be sure that we know where we’re trying to get to, and how we plan to get there. This is where ‘frameworks’ for the design process can be really useful. Frameworks are like stepping stones which we can follow to take us through the process from beginning to end while helping to remind us of our main objectives, and the guiding principles we are committed to.



The ‘Action Learning Cycle’ is a simple cyclical framework which illustrates how we can achieve the best outcomes – by continuously learning and improving.





Based on the same premise Patrick illustrated the design process like this:


The importance of observation or the ‘receptive’ phase cannot be over stated, as this is when we gather all the information with which to make our design decisions. Oversights at this stage can lead to significant errors which could affect the integrity of the whole design. It can be difficult to resist the temptation to start designing immediately. We will undoubtedly have a multitude of judgements, ideas, intuitions and desires from the outset, but in order to create a truly effective design we must do our best to keep such thoughts at bay – or perhaps confined to a notebook, until we have fully observed every relevant aspect of our design subject. It could be that our immediate thoughts about something are very astute and relevant, and that an intuitive feeling about where something should go, or how it should work is in fact very sensible. However, until we can see every piece of the jigsaw puzzle we can’t be sure where the pieces fit, so it’s safer to follow a clear and rigorous process. Processes and frameworks can also help to prevent us from feeling overwhelmed by complex situations. Most situations have a level of complexity which taken as a whole can feel unfathomable. Breaking things in to steps can make things feel more manageable.

What separates permaculture design from other kinds of design is very much about ethics and principles. The ethics of Earth Care, People Care and Fair Shares are the foundations upon which the design principles rest. There have been many interpretations of these principles, in fact the two original founders David Holmgren and Bill Mollison each created their own lists. These can be helpful to keep us on track in terms of our overall aims, and we can use them to check the decisions we’ve made as a form of evaluation. However, it’s difficult to distil the principles in this way, and lists can be a confusing and convoluted. I prefer to focus on a general approach and attitude which embodies the principles and creates a holistic designer.

The following excerpt from Patrick’s book The Earth Care Manual shows how he characterised the permaculture design approach:

Des Meth 1

Think like a System

When creating a design we need to think like a system. We humans are very good at looking at the different elements within a system, but not seeing the relationships which connect them. The diagram below shows how human habitats are currently designed following a period of unlimited fossil fuel consumption, and what we are aiming for in permaculture design.


The red arrows are the inputs and outputs of each element (the block shapes). By this I mean the energy and resources which go in to (eg. electricity, time, skills, feed) and come out of them (eg: food, earnings, materials, etc). Currently the inputs and outputs of elements tend to be addressed independently, and the human is considered separate, managing it all from the outside. In permaculture we realise that we are very much part of the system as we are reliant upon it for our survival

Permaculture was originally inspired by ecology – observing nature. Nature comprises of systems within systems. Boundaries between these systems are largely conceptual, as none of them could exist without the others within them and surrounding them. Everything really is connected, and it is the nature of the connections which is important. When we mimic nature by creating dynamic systems based upon diversity and beneficial relationships we can move closer to creating self-sustaining, resource building environments, and away from energy intensive, resource depleting environments.

Not only are we aiming to increase the level of outputs of our system while reducing the level of inputs (ie. Use less energy, increase yields) but by understanding the concept of systems we can make the outputs of one element become the inputs of another. Therefore the relative location of each part of the design is crucial in relation to the location of every other part. In the wonderful Tale of Two Chickens we see how our current systems create many unwanted outputs which could be made use of. If not made use of these outputs become a problem to dealt with – a pollutant. While pollutants require energy to manage and cause environmental damage, the inputs of the system are being met with yet more energy and environmental destruction. We’ll stop there on the negativity and simply acknowledge that we clever humans can do better than this and that’s why we are practicing permaculture! So one of the questions I ask myself when designing is: How can I do it better? How can we reduce waste and increase efficiency and abundance.

We also need to remember that the design site is continuously evolving as illustrated in the excerpt from the Earth Care Manual. Mollison coined the phrase Multi-dimensional Design to describe not only the use of space (the many layers of a forest garden compared with a field of wheat for example) but the use of time. A ‘finished design’ is only a snapshot in time, so the design process will continue as the site develops and the designers/occupiers periodically re-evaluate their aims, needs, wants, resources, etc. If you were designing a forest garden on a grassy paddock for example you would be designing the succession from grassland to emerging woodland. This won’t happen immediately, so the stages in between will need to be planned. How will you make best use of the space around the trees in the time they take to reach maturity? Dealing with the aspect of time gives another opportunity for creativity and dynamic uses of resources.

As a teacher I am constantly impressed by the solutions that students come up with for the particular challenges of their design projects. But I am most delighted by the pleasure they get from thinking holistically – it’s the difference between thinking outside the box and refusing to get into the box in the first place!

Permaculture Design Course on Dartmoor