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: A Hand-Drawn Design


I left my last post after having submitted my design project at the end of December…  And it’s now March…  You can probably guess that I needed to make some changes.

New Submission Method

After frantically putting together the documentation and blogging it to share the links with my supervisor, I had to complete an additional new online form for their efforts to ensure consistency across the students.

Feedback on my Submission

Once I had completed this form, I had feedback within a day that my design needed an overhaul and that it was too rough. I was asked for more detail, and to make it look clean and pretty. My supervisor recommended that I hand-draw the design instead. I was concerned about how much detail I would be expected to include for a few reasons.

  1. How much would fit in the actual drawing at that scale.
  2. If I’m including more detail (eg. more plants), then shouldn’t these be reflected in the budget and implementation plan? IE. Doesn’t that mean those documents would need to be updated too?
  3. Surely students who were designing bigger properties such as farms would not need to design to tree guild level or cover plants in nurseries, so it didn’t make sense to me that I would need to draw those in for my design.

So, to try to address this feedback, I used my mostly computer-based design as a guide for the hand-drawn version to attempt accuracy, and decided on making it A3 sized to be able to get some detail into the drawing. I chose not to worry about updating the budget and implementation plan if need be and just focus on the feedback at hand. For those new to the blog, here is my design before:

Ta da!

Ta da!

I used SketchUp to create the base map and then drew in my design over the top.

My Hand-drawn Design

And here is my hand-drawn design after:

My hand-drawn design

My hand-drawn design

Here I have attempted to make trees and shrubs look more like plants and paid more attention to colours.

More Feedback

No comments about the budget and implementation plan, but I had feedback in another direction. The next email I had from my supervisor said,

“Please draw around and label each zone clearly. Also please provide sectors on top of the map as well.”

I interpreted this to mean that my design was now acceptable and that I needed to use my design to re-do the zones and sectors map, rather than using a base map. I really didn’t want to ruin my hand-drawn design by drawing over it so my solution was to attach more paper to the edges of the design to be able to fit the sectors around the edges, and just marked the zones more heavily.

My New Zones and Sectors Map

My hand-drawn design with zones and sectors

My hand-drawn design with zones and sectors

Sorry that the image is darker for this one. Essentially you can see the arcs for summer sun, winter sun, warm wind, noise/pollution, and cold wind. The zones were hard to delineate as really the property only has zone 0 and zone 1.

Are We There Yet?

Sort of. They really keep you on tenterhooks with the assessment.

“Congratulations, we have conditionally accepted your design project, as it appears to satisfy all the requirements laid out.”

Apparently they do a final review of the design project after you pass the exam, meaning that they can still ask for changes. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions on that. Personally, after going to so much effort with the design project, it was very hard for me not to get excited about moving to the implementation stage rather than moving to the exam preparation stage for the course. I’ve been enjoying greater confidence with my efforts in the garden after soaking up the permaculture wisdom from the course and my reading, and I see that change as the point of the course. To have a sense of hope for the future and a toolkit to bring that to life (and maybe listen to Bring Me To Life by Evanescence with permaculture in mind).

Design Project: Implementation Plan, Budget and Maintenance


So now I have a design, the next stage of the project is P for Plan a Schedule of Implementation, Maintenance and Feedback from the CEAP process. How does the design become reality?

Sweet peas holding on to each other to support their growth.  Everything is a work in progress :)

Sweet peas holding on to each other to support their growth. Everything is a work in progress 🙂

Implementation Plan and Calendar

Implementation Plan and Calendar

I have used Excel to mock up a Gantt chart for the end of 2014 and the months continuing to October 2015. I have shown the tasks, who is doing the work, the status, and the month the work is scheduled for. I have also included a list of recommendations in terms of the order of work and reasoning behind the timing. Following the Care of People ethic, I have scheduled in a break in April and in July. I have noted that feedback and tweaks will be ongoing during these tasks. Most tasks are able to be handled by us, the owners. A few tasks will need to be handled by tradespeople as they are bigger or require more expertise. Potentially, the paving work could be handled by a tradesperson as well if that’s easier and cost effective.


Design Project Budget

I have listed the budget items to be read in alignment with the implementation plan. I have listed the projects, the items required for the project, the cost per unit, the quantity, the cost, source of the estimate, and some comments.

I have noted some general items to support soil improvement, and added a contingency of 10% as this is a concept budget, not detailed design. There are some works for the patio that my husband and I have been discussing that are also not in the scope of this design or budget, and I have noted that at the bottom.

Maintenance Notes

Maintenance Notes

I have taken a higher view of the key maintenance tasks and included some ideas on how to save time on them, because we all want to save time on these things and then we’ll have more time to spend enjoying the sights, sounds, smells, feel, and tastes of it all.

A Few Final Headings to Close Out The Project…

1. Feedback loop

I don’t need a formalised process for this as I’m the designer and client, and my husband and I regularly share our thoughts about the state of our property and ideas about what we’d like.

2. Surprises

The big surprise came when I was working on the PASTE analysis and discovered that the daphne is poisonous.

I have also been surprised that this has been a lot more work than I expected and I hope this means that I’ve done more than I needed to in order to complete the project.

I can’t recall being particularly surprised by anything else given that I am very familiar with the property and have ample opportunities to make observations.

3. Project Lessons Learnt

Project start up took a lot longer than I wanted between the winter viruses taking a toll particularly for my daughter, and familiarising myself with processes for permaculture.  It took me some time to determine what was required and how I wanted to complete the work, and I had a frustrated husband who thought the project would be ready in time for spring implementation.  Oops!  I have learnt to share any progress with the client (or husband) as it comes rather than waiting until an item is finished.  That way, I’m sharing the learning journey and can receive more feedback about whether things fit into expectations or vision for the design, and can adjust accordingly with little time wasted.

I have also learnt that there are gaps in documented processes for permaculture, and that processes don’t necessarily fit into a project framework.  If in doubt, I suggest asking the client what level of detail they are looking for.

What’s Next?

My next step is to provide all these design project blog links to my supervisor at the Regenerative Leadership Institute for review and (hopefully) approval. If they need anything else, I’ll blog that and send them the link. Wish me luck!

The Design Project series

Making a Start

Creating an Example

Design Project Site Observations and Maps

Design Project Developing my Process and a Promise to VEG

Design Project Client Interview

Design Project Tools for Analysis

Design Project Key Functions and a Design (nearly!)

Design Project Applying Permaculture Principles and a Design

Design Project Site Observations and Maps


So far for my design project, I have shared with you some history of my property in Making a Start and the project vision in Creating An Example.  In this post, I am publishing the Site Observations documentation I created as phase 1 of the design project.  This covers the backyard conditions, some resources on the property, problems, soil conditions, the edibles, water status, views and privacy, the life inside and outside the property, and local climate data.

I tend to take photos of any project my husband and I undertake and I find this really valuable in assessing conditions and progress.  These days, I just use my camera phone as my photography is more about recording moments in time rather than for the art of photography.

Design Project Site Observations

I am also sharing with you the Property Maps presentation that captures the property base map and zones and sectors maps.

Design Project Property maps

The base maps show my journey with SketchUp, which handily allows the user to grab relevant sections of Google Earth and use the program tools to draw over the top.  I found this really helpful for the most part as the property is irregularly shaped and technology can make the mapping work quicker than DIY base mapping with extensive measurements.  One drawback of using a Google Earth image is that for my property, the photo is several years old and doesn’t reflect the current look of the property.  That makes drawing over the top potentially misleading as a viewer would naturally understand the photo more than the drawing over the top.  Therefore for clarity’s sake, I moved on to using the drawing and not the Google Earth image and that should be much easier to understand.

To note: the front yard is not in the scope of this project, and so I have not populated the drawing with plants and shapes there.  I also provided a sort of zoomed in image of the base map to focus on the backyard and then did rough zones and sectors maps using the tools in PowerPoint.

Essentially, the zones map shows that the property consists of zone 0 (the house) and zone 1, which is frequently visited, mulched, has a compost bin, and will have rainwater catchment down the track.  The activities described for zone 2, which is less frequently visited, would apply to a bigger property with a more rural lifestyle (orchards, outdoor animals), and not for this site.

The sectors map shows the summer and winter sun, which I sourced from a solar angles map, the winds from the Bureau of Meterology climate data, and I have added in a noise/pollution sector as the property backs onto a main road with 4 lanes of traffic.

There are so many details to cover for the site observations, aren’t there?

Coming soon – I will share my process for the design project and more project documentation…

Creating an Example


Ooh I’ve been gone for a little while, haven’t I? I have progress to share! I’ve been working on my first permaculture design project, oh where will it take me? This is assessment #1 of the Permaculture Design Certificate, but it is also an opportunity to amp up our backyard productivity, bring habitat to assorted creatures, improve the soil, connect with nature, and as Larry Korn says in the lectures, create an example of what permaculture is about.

Permaculture ethics and design principles provide guidance for creating examples. This poster is available for sharing from

In this project, I am acting as both client and designer as my scope is essentially my backyard in Melbourne. My husband and I want a space for fruit trees and shrubs, no-dig vegetable patches, herb garden, and a fruit vine for the side of the house.  We will need to consider water conservation to cope with our climate and the extreme heat and sometimes extended drought periods, and we are thinking about a water tank for the future.  We also want an outdoor play area and children’s garden for our 2 year old.

The project covers the design, and I will need to produce a report on the project and design process, an implementation plan, budget, and maps as part of the documentation to the Regenerative Leadership Institute. Ultimately, this will enable my husband and I to proceed with a new vision of our backyard, and go on to create a new permaculture example.

Making a Start


Welcome to my Permaculture journey! I have taken a leap of setting up my own blog to capture my design project as part of the Permaculture Design Certificate I’m studying through the Regenerative Leadership Institute. I’m nearly halfway through the lectures and for the most part feel inspired and enlightened by this pathway to a better Earth.

For the design project, I’m improving my own backyard, which I share with beloved husband, Mr F, and adventurous daughter, Miss Z (just shy of 2 years old), and have been living in this patch of Earth for coming up to 5 years in August 2014. Miss Z is a strong motivator for the backyard works, as her exploring nature uncovers all sorts of hazards both known (rotting wood, spiders) and previously not considered (weed killer, small objects that fit in her mouth), and I really want to focus on enjoying the outdoors with her and making it a delightful place. Mr F wants an area to play basketball, and I want to fulfil some plant dreams and build our own oasis from the blazing summer heat.

As part of that, we have already made big changes to the green life and hardscaping. We had 3 trees removed to prevent potential property damage and injury,

2 paperbark trees were right up against the fence and dropped branches and spiky leaves

2 paperbark trees were right up against the fence and dropped branches and spiky leaves

This gum tree was very resilient and was an epicormic growth

This gum tree was very resilient and was an epicormic growth

A closer view of the gum tree that had produced extra branches

A closer view of the gum tree that had produced extra branches

planted some native shrubs in the garden beds,
A woolly bush, grevillea, and tick bush planted.  Newspaper and mulch was put down a little later.

A woolly bush, grevillea, and tick bush planted. Newspaper and mulch was put down a little later.

A banksia in the pot, a common mint in the middle, and a correa on the right.

A banksia in the pot, a common mint in the middle, and a correa on the right.

demolished the existing rotting verandah, and have had exposed aggregate concrete laid for a new patio area, side pathway and step, and shed area. We have 2 raised garden beds waiting to be set up as new veggie patches, and I have started growing sweet peas from seed in the kitchen window.
Galaxy mixed sweet peas are growing well 2 weeks after planting

Galaxy mixed sweet peas are growing well 2 weeks after planting

As you see, we have made a start on the backyard, and I’ll be showing you my ideas and progress with the Permaculture project to come! What do you think? Have you made any major backyard changes?