Permaculture Series: More on Holmgren’s Principles

This week, we’re going to cover David Holmgren’s Principles. They are the ones that I use most and tend to teach more with. Mollison’s principles are fantastic. I just find Holmgren’s list more intuitive and user friendly for the way my brain works.

About David Holmgren

David Holmgren is generally not as well known outside of the practicing Permaculture community. He’s a lovely quiet man whose style is very different to that of Bill Mollison. Together, however, they are the co-creators of the concept of Permaculture. David and his wife Su Dennet lives at his beautiful project called Melliodora near Hepburn Springs in Central Victoria, Australia. You can take a virtual tour here.

He has written several books about Permaculture, including “RetroSuburbia” which is the text for my course of the same name. The course is adapted for North American properties from the Australian examples. There are also many videos available online with in-depth interviews and talks. He’s a deep thinker about many things and a real joy to watch and listen to.

The Twelve Permaculture Principles

Holmgren has many more principles than Mollison. As far as I’m aware, once he developed these twelve, they never changed, unlike those of Mollison. I also find that they are much more easily adapted to social and invisible structures. They are straightforward and direct, orderly and well composed.

Holmgren himself describes them as ‘thinking tools’. Whenever you are faced with a design decision, you can run it through each of these filters to check that you’ve taken everything into consideration.

1. Observe and Interact

This is so important, especially when approaching a new project or property. If it is your own property, you are at leisure to take all the time that you want. It is a critical step. If you are designing for a client, you will want to know what they have observed about their own property or project. From this step, all else will flow.

2. Catch and Store Energy

One of the hallmarks of Permaculture is the way in which we use energy. When we speak of energy, we’re not just talking about electricity and fuel. We’re talking about sunlight, wind, water, and more. We’re also talking about embodied energy. We want to ensure that materials with greater embodied energy are used and used again so that we honour the resources that were used to create it.

3. Obtain a Yield

This one is about the most straightforward of the twelve. You’ve got to produce something for yourself, your property, your project. And, honestly, this is not always the first thing we’re thinking about, not the first thing a client might be thinking about. Therefore, it needs to be said, as obvious as may seem.

4. Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback

This may be the most challenging principle for many people, especially those transitioning from a culture of consumption. It requires constant mindfulness and self-critique. It requires well-honed observation and interaction skills as well.

5. Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services

This links closely with Principle 2. Whenever possible, we want to choose a technology that utilises a renewable resource or service. What do we mean by service here? It might be livestock that crop open meadows regularly, keeping them open and full of diverse plant life. It might be perennial plants which produce crops year on year with little to no further intervention on our parts.

6. Produce No Waste

Again, seems obvious. But it is much more challenging in practice. We must always be thinking about the next best use. This one is also closely linked with Principle 2. It can mean not putting excess into a system that is not able to process it – too much of a good thing can often be a really bad thing. Most commonly, this can mean recycling of materials – or better – re-use. I find this one a fun one to work with, especially with children and young adults.

7. Design from Patterns to Details

Undoubtedly, you’ve noticed patterns in nature. We all notice them, some of us without really realising we’re noticing a pattern. We tend to take them for granted. This is a really, really important principle when we design. We learn to not only recognise patterns, but understand their functions so that we can use them with the best effect. A Permaculture Design Course dedicates a significant amount of time to natural patterns.

8. Integrate Rather than Segregate

Good design creates ways to link elements and functions. This relates to stacking functions and ensuring that each element in a design serves two or more purposes.

9. Use Small and Slow Solutions

I am excellent at this one. That doesn’t mean that I’m super patient, it’s just that circumstances have forced me to go slowly and make only small gains at a time. It has been, admittedly, much too slow for my personal liking. However, there is great value in taking it slow and doing small things at a time. It gives us the opportunity to implement Principles 1 and 4.

10. Use and Value Diversity

This can mean more than ‘don’t monocrop’. Diversity of plant and animal species is healthy for any natural system. And when we’re talking about home design, for instance, we want to have a diversity of uses for the space and possibly a diversity of services within the home system. This is especially true when we are wanting to implement Principle 8.

11. Use Edges and Value the Marginal

The edges and margins of an ecosystem are fairly magical. There is a blending of the two adjacent ecosystems as well as a third, unique one. They tend to be naturally diverse in every way. In terms of patterns, edges give us the most usable space of just about anything. Many designers really love designing for edges and margins. It’s wonderfully creative to work in those spaces.

12. Creatively Use and Respond to Change

Things change. It’s inevitable. When we set a design into motion by implementing what we’ve put to paper. It’s not often possible to predict precisely what will happen. This is also the principle that encourages us to plan for worst case scenarios like fires, floods, alien invasions, zombie apocalypse, or the extremely unlikely event of a global pandemic. How can we consider even the most unlikely scenario and built a plan to respond right into the design?

12 Principles

Melliodora – all things David Holmgren

My Favourite Interview with David Holmgren. It’s 90 minutes long. A great weekend view.

Holmgren Design And absolute treasure of content from David, Su, and Beck (Lowe)

What Next?

If you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe to my farm newsletter, The Buzzso that the link to each post in the series lands in your inbox every Friday. Lots of other goodies are included in the newsletter as well.

Have a look at the previous posts in the series:

Permaculture Series: Introduction

Permaculture Series: Ethics and Principles

Permaculture Series: More on Mollison’s Principles

Please feel free to comment on the posts with any questions you have. I’m happy to clarify my reasoning or a concept that I’m covering.

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Up Next…

Design Fundamentals.

Permaculture Series: More on Holmgren’s Principles


Just a woman trying to leave this place better than she found it. Farmer. Teacher. Creator. Cook.

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