Reading Landscape with David Holmgren 

Reading Landscape with David Holmgren is online and free to watch for everyone.

“We hope that Reading Landscape gently fans those ancestral embers of deep, creaturely connection to place. You are free (and encouraged!) to share this film with others by sending them here. Don’t miss the live panel Q & A with David (Holmgren), David (Meagher), Honor, Meg and Woody that sparked a great conversation at the Reading Landscape premiere in Castlemaine. Watch the playback here.

The film notes “Walk with David Holmgren (co-originator of the permaculture concept) across Djaara Country, as he shares his insights and discusses his unique approach to reading landscape, a wealth of knowledge and wisdom developed over forty years.

David’s approach contributes to re-embedding reading landscape into our cultures as a known and fundamental human capacity, providing an opportunity for humans everywhere to deepen their connection to place.”

Observe and Interact

David encourages to build our observation skills. Learn by doing, not simply by being told what to do. Acknowledge these are sources of knowledge and information are not replaceable by academic learning.

David says Permaculture comes from two models. Firstly, we can learn from patterns in nature and secondly we can learn from indigenous people’s skills. We need to get people out looking at landscape and recording what they can see. Through this process people recognise that they can learn a whole lot for themselves.

Time Worth Spending

“You’ve got to spend time on this…observe and interact” (such as gardening or walking) “unmediated”, without other distractions. So we can be present in the moment. Then, we give full attention to everything that is going on. Sue mentions how she loves their outhouse because it forces them to go outside along a long path and through the garden. Sue “doesn’t consider the task as reading the landscape but more as absorbing the landscape and being absorbed by the landscape”. She believes that “Nature is the best teacher.” Sue aspires for all children to be part of this land.

Reading Before Settling Down

When David and Sue chose their property site they used social and physical knowledge of the region. They considered geology, different types of biological factors and soil, protection from fire and sense of community and the history of the site.

The existing old pear on his property “signifies deep moisture for over a hundred years and the climate suitability of the species to the site”. In their selection for a suitable site they also considered the effects of climate change.

Succession – See Landscape as Snapshot of the Whole Process

We can read the patterns on the landscape, how seedlings can thrive where they are sheltered by thorny plants like blackberries. And how these plants grow to shade out the thorny blackberries. We can play along with this, leverage the action, nudge the system in the right direction. And the exciting part of reading landscape is being able to predict the future.

Beyond Dreaming

Bec, a Djaara women in the film tells us Indigenous people talk about process. And they pass on laws and teachings on how to manage the land. They walk in flow with its changes.

Macroscope (big picture) and microscope (detailed) viewing needs to both done at once. The small details can help inform our understanding of the wider landscape. To be able to step back we need a sense of the scale of the space and time. Also, David implores us to search for the signs of things that may only happen occasionally, but can be very powerful. Climate, geology and hydrology can overpower nature.

Also, revel in the power of the edges, David says “Look closely at edges”. The edge is “where one things turns into another”. Reading landscape is a great way to find opportunities.

Finally, be prepared to be wrong. Build your skills and start to recognise patterns that suit your region. But then find where the rules no longer apply. Learn from elders. When reading the landscape, resist the temptation to judge. Strive to keep your curiosity and the joy of enquiry.

8 Basic Patterns in Permaculture Design

permaculture visions design

Permaculture Design uses patterns. We create systems that use natural energies, like the remnant forests nearby. Because the forest wastes nothing. And the forest creates no pollution. Naturally, it turns wastes into resources.

Nature has reliable patterns that collect, store and move resources around. Permaculture designs use these 8 basic patterns. By getting to know the patterns and what they do, we can use less energy to create comfortable living.

The Basics

The basic patterns are spirals, waves, streamlines, cloud-forms, lobes, branches, nets and scatter. As our awareness of pattern develops, our designs improve. Also, we become more aware of the landscape. Slowly the site increases in efficiently by design. Eventually, we start to build a more productive spaces. Social networks can also flourish with an awareness of patterns. Find what fuels improves communication and how messages and ideas can be transmitted. We discover how to boost social goals. And watch it grow.

Petals welcome and embrace the bee

1. Spirals

Spirals gather in galaxies, sunflowers, cones, whirlpools, and seashells. Also, there are snails, seashells and the crown of a head of hair. In a similar way, there are mechanical uses of the spiral. This includes the spring, a cyclonic vacuum and the blades of a wind turbine.  On the other hand, socially spirals also occur. These include greed, soil degradation, and poverty. 

a wavy rock on top of Wave rock Western Australia

2. Waves

Waves occur in sound, heat and light. Also, there are waves in water, wind and in wavy hair. This pattern has many mechanical and electrical uses. For instance, ocean waves are harnessed with tidal energy, light waves fuel solar panels. Also, sound waves boom from speakers and heatwaves burst from hair dryers.  On the other hand, socially waves include crowds, yawns, laughter, fashions and movements. 

This Mandala garden in Cuba uses a circular array yet the paths are streamlined.

3. Streamlines

The skin on a snake is streamlined to minimise friction. It is quiet. Streamlines are direct but not straight. Straight lines are very rare in nature. Often it is quickly to propel matter in an arc. Streamlines occur on the front of an eagles wing, the tail of a whale and the curve of our lips. Humans have been using streamlines for thousands of years on the smooth hull of a canoe, the point of an arrow and the sharp edge of an axe. Modern uses include aerodynamics, traffic control systems and wet suits.

4. Cloud-forms

Cloud-forms disperse from hot springs and tree crowns, steam, fog or a blush on our cheek.  Clouds disperse resources. Mist and sprinkler systems, aerial spraying, spray paints use cloud-forms to create wide dispersal. Social examples include gossip and crowds attracted to street entertainers, gathering and then dispersing when the show is over. 

5. Lobes

Lobes protrude from the edge of reefs, and in lichens. They fringe the borders of salt pans. Also, our ears, fingers, toes and alveoli in the lungs are all valuable lobes. They are extensions of the main parts. Lobes act to extend energy or resources. Similarly, there are mechanical uses of the lobe. This includes the rudder of a boat, the extra carriages on a train, and bags to carry things in. On the other hand, social lobes also occur. These include gated communities, a board of directors, business clubs, family groups and teams. 

6. Branches

Branches harvest and distribute energy and resources. Like highways, branches provide options. Over time, most systems develop branches. Water meanders and trickles into streams. Ancient branch patterns can be found in genetic mutation, the origins of dialects and family trees.

7. Nets

The spider has the most celebrated web. But few people know that bees have a complex network of dances and song to guide one another. Nets serve to connect resources. They also balance the distribution of energy as inputs, flow and output. The skin of the pineapple and custard apple are nets that shield the fruit from impact. Humanity uses netting in weaving of clothes, baskets, food distribution networks and, of course, the internet. Our eyelashes, like little fish-nets, catch dust and sweep it away. The Warka Water tower uses nets of affordable material to harvest water from the air. Above all, resilient social networks hold communities together and check that everyone has care.

A scatter of snow, Johnson canyon Canada

8. Scatter

Snow, embers, algae, fungi, clumps in swamps, islands, lichen and rocks from a volcano. All things make mess. Eventually, all things scatter. Ironically, scatter is a uncontrollable law in thermodynamics called entropy. Scatter is a quick, chaotic dispersal of resources. As a result, one scatter can trigger more. As a result, life manages to find new niches and explore options for survival. Nature doesn’t need to plan when there is enough energy to scatter resources and see what happens. Nor does nature need to demonstrate control. Consequently, scatters are the result of not controlling. Scatters have been part of many discoveries in biochemistry such as the discovery of germs and antibiotics.

In Summary, the use of patterns is a fundamental key for designing systems that replicate natural systems. Decades ago, Permaculture was acknowledged as a pioneer movement in the world of biomimicry. Lets keep the ball rolling.

Learn more about Permaculture with us. Enrol in our Permaculture Design Course or email us to register for our upcoming Advanced Permaculture Design course.

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How Is Permaculture Design Different?

Unique Design Approach

Permaculture Design

  • uses patterns
  • builds on observation
  • enables a dynamic evolution of the design
  • strives for energy efficiency
  • imitates nature
  • strengthens connections
  • seeks biological solutions.


mandala-cubaThere are a vast array of patterns in nature. Rarely are there naturally made straight lines. Machines operate in straight lines because they do things at speed and without feedback. When nature is in a hurry she too blasts a straight line. In day-to-day situation, most natural environments have very few straight edges.  When we aim to fit a growing system to a gentle landscape we will find curves fit comfortably.

Over time, the paths will move, the plants will begin to shape the site. This is when the permaculture design starts to adapt. We start to see the patterns forming as our design works with the nature of the landscape and the nature of the people connected to the land.

In the initial design, we can create patterns that in tune with the landscape. These patterns help the various elements to inter-relate harmoniously. The use of patterns ensures beauty, function and ease of use.


coffee tree flowersThrough observation, a site or social situation can inspire the design.  We can learn from the history of the site, the way the natural energies interplay. Observation is one of the most powerful tools in design. “To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe.”  ― Marilyn Vos Savant

Dynamic Evolution


A good permaculture design is like a bicycle [Bill Mollison]. When a bicycle is well designed, it is easy to adapt to changing conditions (it can go off-road, up a steep incline, or be used to carry a variety of loads).

In the garden, the dynamic design adapts to periods of drought and heavy rains.

A good design for a Social structure or economy will enable healthy dynamic response to changes. ie. The structure can expand and shrink as member numbers dictate, it can allow diversity of input and facilitate results with ease. “The most powerful species are those who adapt without losing their fundamental identity which gives them their competitive advantage” Charles Darwin

Energy Efficiency

bringing in sun-dried washing and little home grown tomatoesEfficiency ensures success in nature. Closing the nutrient and energy systems loops build efficiency. For every calorie of food grown near the back step, over a hundred calories of food-waste, transport energy and packaging material is avoided. Permaculture offers comfortable solutions on all scales: A balcony can produce food and a farm can be designed to reduce its impact on the remaining stands of native habitat.

Imitation Of Nature

beesThere is still much to learn from nature and how she operates.  We are all slowly benefiting from experiments with product bio-mimicry and new medicines. By imitating nature, we appreciate the need for a holistic approach in the designs.


Mutually beneficial connections between elements are vital in the permaculture design. Likewise, there can be webs of connections within other webs creating a rich network of systems. We can use zoning, sector planning and interconnection of elements to optimise energy exchanges.


Biological Solutions

tipi with edible vinesThere are two main types of investment we can engage: Procreative Vs Degenerative.  When we invest in living systems we build wealth. Whereas, as soon as we invest in a non-living product it begins to degenerate and unless we can use it continuously to generate income, it is simply loosing value.  for example: The car is one of the poorest investments a family can make unless it is in almost constant use. “Many people see an automobile as a social status symbol, but is the luxury component of an automobile worth the investment dollars?” [Forbes]
Biological tools, structures (like a shade tree rather than a shade house), plants, animals and people and have the potential to build wealth for many generations.

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