Permaculture Design Certificate: yes, course news!


A whole winter has passed here while I have kept you in suspense, and I thank those of you who are still with me on my journey. I started this blog because it was a way to deliver the design project to the Regenerative Leadership Institute, and a way to connect with the permaculture community and I think it’s only fair to share with you my study progress.

About the exam

In my last update, I submitted my hand drawn design and it had been conditionally accepted. From there, it was time for the exam. You know what exams mean… Revision, reading, and wondering whether you know and understand enough to pass. The exam is based on the key text for the course: Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual by Bill Mollison. If you’ve seen this book in person, you know that it’s a heavy book, and it’s 559 pages long. It’s incredibly dense material, and I came away from it feeling amazed by Bill Mollison’s depth and breadth of wisdom. *Mentally tips hat to Bill Mollison*


The exam itself is multiple-choice and you access it online. The good thing is you can sit the exam more than once (though they change the questions), and because of that, I decided to take the risk and test my knowledge. It took me close to 2 hours to finish, and then was watching my email to find out the results! And the email came and I passed! I scored 85.7% and the email told me the questions I missed and gave the correct answers too, which is handy. How good is online study now that you find out results so quickly instead of waiting weeks?

While that was exciting, I was left wondering what that meant in terms of the course. Had I finished? Was I going to be asked to resubmit anything? My gut was telling me to expect a resubmission.

Wouldn’t you know, my supervisor emailed me the next day and asked for the zones map to be updated, showing more than 2 zones. Clearly, I needed to rethink what I’d done.

Zones map rethink

I reviewed examples of Zones maps, see some on my Pinterest board.

You’ll note that these are largely based on concentric circles growing larger from the house. I checked Rosemary Morrow’s Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture, and her zones are more fluid in size and location. I revisited Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual and noted that those zones maps are farm-based rather than urban, and logically the perimeters align with fence/tree/road lines and are therefore more rectangular or triangular. Using this last approach, I reviewed my map again.

Here’s the before

My hand-drawn design with zones and sectors

My hand-drawn design with zones and sectors

And after

My revised zones map

My revised zones map

I used markers to clearly define the boundaries and wrote over the pencilled-in text. I defined 3 zones instead of 2 to indicate the frequency of visits.

I resubmitted the zones map, hoping that I had sufficiently addressed the feedback. If I hadn’t, I was going to have to start my drawing from scratch again, and I would have ruined my design drawing.

The results

After an oops email telling me my next step was to take the exam, I heard the magic words! I had completed the Online Permaculture Design Course, and my certificate was attached 🙂

I finished the course and here's my certificate in a frame and everything

I finished the course and here’s my certificate in a frame and everything

The tree patterns look lovely, don’t they?

Now what, you ask? In the short term, I will continue to implement my long-considered design. In the longer term, I would love to be able to apply the knowledge and skills in the work force in engineering or renewable energy. Permaculture offers solutions for climate change, and we will have to use it on small (eg. our own backyard) and large scales (eg. infrastructure) to pull back the damage done to Earth and start the healing. If you’re interested in permaculture and are thinking about learning more, I say do it!

As Maya Angelou said, “I did then what I knew how to do.  Now that I know better, I do better.”

Permaculture shows you how to do better, and the more people that know how to do better, the better off we’ll all be.


Design Project: Developing my Process and a Promise to VEG


In my post, Creating An Example, I outlined what I want to achieve from the design project, and shared the 12 permaculture principles that provide guidance for this.

In this post, I would like to share my journey of developing the process for the project.

The branches reach out like signs in all directions

The branches reach out like signs in all directions

The way I see it, there are two parts to this:

  1. What is the overall process?
  2. In what format shall I capture the information, analysis, and reporting?

What processes are out there?

I have found a lot of the reading about the process to be quite high level and intangible. Bill Mollison’s Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual, which is the required reading for the course, offers a number of approaches for design methods such as:

  • design by listing characteristics of components,
  • design by expanding on direct observations of a site,
  • design by adopting lessons learnt from nature, and
  • design as a selection of options or pathways based on decisions, amongst others.

However, this doesn’t give an overall process.

So I turned to Permaculture Design by Aranya for more step-by-step assistance while this is new to me. When reading it, my first impression was that this was more what I was looking for, and it does place design in context of a project, which is helpful.

Aranya discusses a few different frameworks and their associated acronyms.

Some design frameworks

SADIMET represents Survey, Analysis, Design, Implementation, Maintenance, Evaluation, and Tweaking

OBREDIMET represents Observation, Boundaries, Resources, Evaluation, Design, Implementation, Maintenance, Evaluation, and Tweaking

Quite a mouthful, eh?

And this is where Ziga from Permablogger has put together a useful post on this.

Personally, I’m happy with a recipe-style guide, with number steps. I think the above can easily bundle similar activities together.

Choosing my process

Aranya also includes a shorter acronym in his book: CEAP.

C – Collect site information

E – Evaluate the information

A – Apply permaculture principles

P – Plan a schedule of implementation, maintenance, evaluation, and tweaking

That brings it down to 4 steps, which is far easier to remember, and not lose track of where you are in the process. Essentially, I want any process I use to be meaningful. It doesn’t really matter what you call the step; it’s what you do that’s important. I will need to reflect on whether these steps align with my process after this project is finished.

Which brings me to part 2, in what format shall I capture my work?

Capturing my work

In my working life, I was a System Manager a few short years ago, and our mantra with supporting projects was always to use the system that is fit for purpose. There are lots of systems out there, but you want to use the one that is:

  • accessible when and where you need it,
  • has training and support available to get you through the learning curve and to resolve any snags,
  • has acceptable costs,
  • scalable to your project size,
  • and importantly, fits into your processes so you can produce what you need.

My intention is to be able to take my permaculture lessons into a professional capacity in Melbourne, and since the requirements for the course assessment are so generic, it leaves presentation open to personal preference.

I had to wonder if there are industry standards for this documentation or is permaculture still finding its feet in that respect?

I found this article by Darren J. Doherty “A Case Study in Permaculture Design Business Development” published in 2007, who comments “The application of digital planning and mapping software and tools in Permaculture Design has to date not been prominent.”

This stands to reason that quick and easy documentation is the name of the game.

My formats and the promise

I’ve put together a Design Project Deliverables List in Excel to keep track of my documentation.  Letting clients know what to expect is a standard part of project delivery and enables a discussion about the level of detail they desire vs the agreed cost.

Design Project Deliverables List

You will see that I’ve organised it in terms of the design stages and noted the status.

I’m using the Microsoft Office suite, WordPress to publish and submit my work, plus a mind map from Mind Meister, all easy and free (aside from the initial cost of Microsoft Office).

The hard part for me has been the mapping, since the property is irregularly shaped.  I have used SketchUp for the base map. I had some timely local guidance for this from the director at Very Edible Gardens, Dan Palmer, who generously responded to my query about what they use and in gratitude I promised to mention it on my blog 😀  There you go, Dan!

You might be interested in seeing the responses from a question I raised in the Permaculture group on LinkedIn what they like to use for mapping, if you are a member of that group.

I liked the idea of using SketchUp as it can be used for both 2D and 3D rendering, and it can conveniently grab sections of Google Earth from within the program to sketch over.  It also has handy videos on YouTube to show different features of the program and that made the learning curve more approachable for me.  And I was able to use a free trial.  So that all makes it fit for purpose.  Hooray for making life easier!

So there you are, my process is CEAP, and I’m using computer-based tools for the documentation.  I have more C for Collect Site Information to share with you soon, including the all important client interview, base map, and PASTE analysis.

What about you?  Have you found any other useful processes in your permie work?

Learning from the Leaders



As you can see, I have some reading ahead of me.  Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual is the bible for the Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) and part of the course assessment is a multiple choice exam based on this book.  If you are not aware, Bill Mollison coined the term “permaculture” and developed the concept with his student, David Holmgren, in the late 1970s in Tasmania.  It gives me a sense of pride that Australia can have such an influence on the world stage in such an overwhelmingly positive manner.

Another Australian, Rosemary Morrow is a leading authority in permaculture and has implemented permaculture in diverse and challenging environments internationally for nearly 40 years.  She is still teaching permaculture and contributing to the community, as you can see from her profiles on Retrofitting Your Home and Milkwood Permaculture, and her book Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture is frequently mentioned in the lectures as a highly-respected resource. 

From across the pond, American Toby Hemenway studied and worked across the US in biotechnology and then was inspired to change his career by permaculture, developing a permaculture site with his wife in southern Oregon.  His book Gaia’s Garden is the best-selling permaculture book in the world for the last 7 years, and his permaculture work is ongoing.


Photo credit:

I also have the following on my wishlist:

  • Teaming with Microbes by Jeff Lowenfels,
  • Permaculture by David Holmgren,
  • The One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka,
  • Perennial Vegetables by Eric Toensmeier,
  • Edible Forest Gardens by Dave Jacke,
  • The Empowerment Manual by Starhawk,
  • Permaculture in a Nutshell by Patrick Whitefield, and
  • Permaculture Design by Aranya

What about you?  Have you read any of these?  What did you think?  Are there any others that you would add as a must-read?