Practical Permaculture – End of an Era – Complementary Gardening


“Climbing Higher” – Yellow Tulip against an abandoned house… Ivy climbing out of the litter covered ground… Reaching for the top… Looking for clear skies…

So after a year of consideration, I have decided to stop promoting permaculture. Although I will still study and reference it, my focus will no longer be centered on a movement that I see as not being a very accepting group of those looking to bend the rules. Now, it is not that I think permaculture is bad. In fact, I think just the opposite believing that the ethics and principles could do a lot of good in this world when applied properly.

I first heard about permaculture during a stay in the fabulous Western Psychiatric Bed and Breakfast circa 2007, a fellow patient was nice enough to let me borrow her yoga magazine. Tucked neatly in the middle of the magazine was a small article about permaculture, it just touched on the subject but was more than enough to spark my curiosity. The entire article was only a page long, but while reading the article I was blown away with the idea of gardening in harmony with nature. I still remember getting goose bumps while reading the article, it was such a mind opening experience that writing about it now is giving me chills.

Permaculture seemed perfect for me, it was essentially a low investment style of gardening that promised yields equivalent to, or greater than conventional methods. Even more interesting for me was the fact that many of the solutions to common problems were solved using nature. Although these methods are much slower, they accomplish the same goals using less harmful methods than conventional agriculture.

This journey through permaculture has sadly left me with a bad taste in my mouth. So much so that I have decided to drop the “Practical Permaculture” name in my blog posts. Permaculture does not sufficiently describe what I do, in fact… It does not describe what any of us do… Nothing we do in this day and age is permanent except the records our governments keep of us. It doesn’t matter if you plant a one-hundred acre food forest, if the right person decides they don’t want it… It will be demolished in less than a day…

None of us are creating permanent spaces, and there is absolutely no such thing as permanent-agriculture… Or permanent culture for that matter… There are trends… And I personally believe permaculture is just that… A trend… People are always looking for maximum output, using the minimum amount of input possible. This promise of permaculture is one of the aspects that seems to draw people in, the reality is what will ultimately chase them away.

Permaculture has become the go-to excuse of the lazy gardener. Now, I’m not saying all permaculturists are lazy people, in fact I think just the opposite, but I do see an alarmingly large number of people trying to use it as an excuse to not pull weeds. Permaculture propaganda is also often sold as a style of gardening that is virtually work free, the common misconception being that after the system is installed… It needs no further maintenance ever.

Sadly, this is so far from the truth that it often hurts unsuspecting gardeners when they realize the 25 dwarf fruit trees they just put in their yard actually do require an enormous amount of annual maintenance… Even worse is the fact that very few homeowners are willing to pay for an unorganized orchard… No matter how much you have invested…  I can’t even begin to convey how quickly a dwarf fruit trees production will decline when it is not pruned and maintained on a regular basis. I have seen dwarf fruit trees with so many branches and leaves that the tree barely has enough energy to produce even a single fruit… When I inquire as to the lack of maintenance… The answer is often “permaculture”…


“Morning Light after an Evening Rain” – Spring 2013 – Simply because it is a beautiful shot…

Permaculture teaches that biodiversity solves all problems… And yes… It does help… But it is not the silver bullet it is made out to be… Problems will regularly pop up, it makes no difference whether you have one of every tree in the forest growing in your yard. Likewise, a healthy perennial guild, (though pretty) is not guaranteed to accomplish anything other than looking nice. We can speculate that specific plants will serve an intended purpose, but there is no guarantee. This stuff often gets sold as “fact”, when in reality… It is nothing more than theory…

So where do I go from here? Well, I have decided that the term permaculture is too limiting for me. After receiving countless emails and comments from snooty permaculturists around the world pointing out the fact that since I am an ornamental gardener… I have no business calling myself a permaculturist… Likewise, I receive an equally alarming amount of comments and emails telling me that since I do not have a permaculture design certificate… I have no business writing this blog…

I can safely say I have been a gardener my entire life or 32 years, I have always just had a way with plants. Even when I was deep in the depths of addiction, gardening was the only positive influence I made time for. Over the past three years, I have written about permaculture in a public forum (this blog) on a regular basis. My permaculture posts have reached tens of thousands of people around the world, which is more than many of the people bashing me online can say. Throw in the little fact that I do this for free, and I personally believe I have paid my dues in the permaculture (and gardening) world.

So the big question for me has been where to go from here. Given my current and past dissatisfaction with the permaculture world, I no longer find it “personally beneficial” to support a movement that ultimately considers me a nuisance because I refuse to fully conform to their ideals… Reminds me of religion… Or a cult… This got me thinking, what is it that I actually do?.. What is it that I actually believe…

I garden because it makes me feel good… What I do in my garden affects everything around me… My ultimate goal is to compliment myself and my surroundings… Whether nature or human through the gardens I create… Because of this… I have decided from this point forward I will no longer write my articles under the heading of “Practical Permaculture”… But will now call them “Complimentary Gardening”, followed by the subject of my post…

I feel Complimentary Gardening is a much better term for what I do… I mean… The urban nature of my gardens alone makes the permanence of them somewhat of a mystery… Urban property tends to either be worthless… Or ridiculously valuable… Some day… The value of the land to a homeowner could very well be worth more than the tiny community garden that currently occupies this space… And if it comes down to the court system… The gardens will surely lose…

I now recognize that what we are doing is not permanent… It doesn’t matter how many trees… Or how many perennials you incorporate… Nothing is permanent… At the very least… The gardener moves on to another place… And unless someone with an equal appreciation of permaculture takes over… The system is ultimately doomed… For this reason… And many others… I am done promoting permaculture… I am now promoting myself… And the individuals I personally believe are on the right track… The style of gardening makes no difference to me… But the beliefs and intentions of the gardener do…

This new format I am exploring will allow me to write about any style of gardening without feeling the need to relate it to food or the movement. I am interested in all styles of gardening, not just the types that fall under the term permaculture… I want to be able to write about a flower just because it is pretty or I like it… I no longer want to have to figure out a way that you could use it productively… In my mind… If a plant makes me feel good in any way… Well then… That is all I need to personally believe a plant is beneficial… I want to explore beyond food… So I will…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

This website and all of the information presented within is provided free by the author… Me… It is my sole opinion and is not representative of anyone other than myself… Although this website is free… I sell prints of my photography here – – or you can contact me directly with questions at – – Although it isn’t a requirement… It helps…

I also accept Bitcoin donations… My digital wallet address is – 1JsKwa3vYgy4LZjNk4YmPEHFJNjPt2wDJj

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30 thoughts on “Practical Permaculture – End of an Era – Complementary Gardening

  1. mashazager says:

    Absolutely, permaculture is an interesting starting point but you have to do your own experimenting or life isn’t worth living.


  2. narf77 says:

    The transient nature of gardens that we create make each garden an “installation” rather than something permenant that is going to last. By nature, gardens are constantly evolving and changing so “permanent” is a complete misnomer. Its a sad inevitablity that whenever something new comes along that has promise, it soon fills up with wankers. People I call the “felt hatters” who spend their days elevating themselves at everyone elses expense. As a vegan I am more than aware that the felt hatters are represented anywhere that something “new” and “edgy” is taking place. I am sure Bill Mollison (a fellow Taswegian and someone who calls a spade a spade) would be bemused by the felt hatters commenting here. He was all for experimenting, making the landscape work and doing whatever you felt like and it would seem that his original idea and ideals have been swallowed by the felt hatters and crapped out the other end as so much green waste. I find it best to live on the fringes. To wander (like Kung-fu) in the wilderness and to take concepts on and measure them against my bullshit-o-meter before I tentitively dip my toe into any new ocean that beckons. Saves a lot of wasted time and headaches in the long run. Glad to read “Complimentary Gardening” posts and just sad that the felt hatters removed another worthwhile blog from the wealth of knowledge that is permaculture.


  3. highbankcottage says:

    Hi, A great and fair post. I don’t think its healthy to follow anyone’s rules religiously (permaculture or anyone else’s.) It is always better to follow your own intuition and inspiration, sometimes that might include some permaculture wisdom and sometimes not. Great blog by the way.


  4. SimplySage says:

    You are a very talented and gifted young man. Not just a gardener, but a true artist. Thank you for being an original that sees when it’s time to face the music, so to speak. If there’s one thing about nature one can never tame it, label it, or always predict it. Gardening is always work, and aways more work than we think. But that’s the delight of it. It breeds the cultivation of beauty and wonder.
    You are an inspiration to all of us in so many ways. God has truly gifted you. Keep up the good work. I look forward to your posts.
    Peace, Alexandria


  5. wing puah says:

    great post. I’m contemplating if i should go for a permaculture designer course. because here in my country, it is all rules and if you want to do anything you really have to get a recgonised certification @.@ of course, unless you have lots of money or a strong foundation supporting you, which both i am lacking in. i first really get into the idea of permaculture through david holgrem’s book, the permaculture principles and I thought it really make sense. to me, it speaks to me as a general guideline that can be applied and changed accordingly to one needs and environment. it’s crazy to hear that some people could be fixated to the idea of a form of permaculture. I always feel that as long as we trying our best to help the environment in one way or another, there is no need to be beating each other around or arguing which is the best way. i’m partly speaking from the fact of being part of a vegan community too. sometimes people get so fixated about an “ideal” state that they get harsh towards “another” group of people or people who isn’t “pure” enough. i always wonder why something that started off as a compassionate movement could lead to so much hating and oppression. oh well, i don’t really know anything about the world is what i can safely say.


    • C.Condello says:

      You know… I actually have no problems with the permaculture design course… It is super informative… I would recommend it to anyone who was even slightly interested in this stuff…

      Likewise… All the books are pretty spot on… I guess the important thing to remember is that of right now… Permaculture is not considered science… It is more of a pseudoscience…

      That doesn’t mean it is wrong… Just a consideration…


  6. Aggie says:

    The spirit of the permaculture ethic is inclusive and cherishes you, Chris. It’s a shame that people within the movement have alienated you.

    For me, permaculture brings to mind the only culture that can endure, that which loves the earth and is infinitely varied in time and place. Not at all rigid!

    Not knowing you personally, I concur with acondello just before me. (Reread those powerful words now, please.) The rest of us need and cherish your help. We will read your words no matter what the label. I do hope that you will consider using permaculture, at least in the keywords, to help others like me find you. (Lou says that you’re ‘beyond permaculture.’

    An added aside in response to the most recent poem: I am age 57. Please know that not all in my generation are selfish. Enough of us were, though, to make quite a mess. Are you and your partner interested in coming to rural Texas to join us in developing Isis Farms?


    • C.Condello says:

      First… Thank you for your kind words… I have no intention of leaving permaculture… But I am expanding horizons… I like the way you put it… Beyond permaculture…

      Texas is actually on my bucket list… But for the time being my work here is not finished… I appreciate the offer though… I will hold on to that thought…


  7. Blinksleep says:

    We are just getting our feet wet in this area, so very interested, but not surprised really, to hear about the various levels of snobbery involved. People need a religion and I was thinking it mimicked that behavior before I even got to your comparison to it in this post. I am a person of faith, but no longer involved in “religion” for many of the same reasons you are stating here. We have had a growing desire in the last few years to seek a way of life that made more sense, just in common sense, with the way nature is designed. This includes different building structures as well. I agree very much the word “perma” is misleading. Truly nothing permanent, or self-sustaining in reality.


  8. acondello says:

    Ignore the haters; they are a burden and a waste of time. You don’t need a degree or certificate. I have seen what you start with and I have seen the yields that are the end result. You are truly a gifted gardener and have an uncanny connection with the earth. You know inherently what others can study for years and never quite grasp. Keep it up.


  9. I like the term “complementary gardening.” There is no reason why you should abandon permacultural principles in general, but it people are getting all snooty about the use of the word “permaculture” as applied to landscape gardening, then it’s time to move on. You are right that even our best gardening efforts are transitory in the long run (“transiculture”). All we can do is to try to make our little corners of the world more beautiful and more earth-friendly in general. I support you in your quest for integrity.


  10. 1dreamingirl says:

    Yes. I find the perma phase just like the organic phase, which threatens to ‘dis’ anyone who thoughtfully employs creativity in their mechanisms. What I’ve found in my gardening (done in my spare time, so very homey and simplistic) is that there are several things I can utilize: forest guild, perma styles, no-till, xero-scape, hugokultur, and conventional. I’ve gleaned bits and pieces from all garden styles and put them into play in different areas of my property — there just isn’t one style that fits my needs. This allows me to use the sunny spaces, the semi-sun spaces, the abundance of trees, and the different soils, all to best advantage (with a lot of darned learning along the way).

    Your gardens are AMAZING! I applaud your efforts no matter what term you use. 🙂


  11. Cathy says:

    I don’t think you need to label what you’re doing Chris – the most important thing is it feels right for you and is good for your local environment, which includes a whole lot of factors… Permaculture is, to some extent, what my grandfather did as a market gardener from the 1930s to the 1980s. A lot of this old knowledge, built on common sense and observing nature, has been lost – that’s why we have to give it a posh name and make it a “trend”, hoping it will “catch on”. But you’re right – how can it be permanent in an everchanging and uncertain urban environment?


    • C.Condello says:

      Cathy – Thank you for commenting… I can relate with the part about the old-world knowledge and common sense being lost… In my own personal experiences… The so called “die-hards” often can’t see the forest… I’m not sure if that came out right… Let me try again…

      I mean… They are Completely clueless… Unless it’s a scenario covered in their little book… Or talked about in class…

      I feel labels like permaculture tend to create “closed” minded people… When in reality they should create “active” minded people… I think that makes sense…

      Anyway… I have an active mind… And I am glad you… And so many other people share this with me…


      • Kay says:

        And yet true die hards realize that nature didn’t read their precious book and therefore doesn’t always follow the “rules”. Experience in it’s many forms trumps books and everyone can learn from each other. I always enjoy your blog (regardless of the title chosen) but I am rather disappointed to hear of the rude emails you had received. They have lost the point of gardening (whatever form that takes)…to bring people together from all walks of life and to make a place a bit more beautiful than it was before…(and for me to have tasty stuff to eat too lol).


  12. I found your article very interesting and also very depressing in a way that so many seek to impose their views on someone contributing to the development of being in tune with nature and gardening. I think it’s great to reach the point where you know you need to move into fresh fields (oops, pun!) and have the courage to do so. Keep up the good work in whatever way is appropriate for you. Take care and good luck, I enjoy your posts however they’re labelled!


  13. Glad for you that you are moving on…Trying to justify, manipulate or squeeze an idea into a plan that complies with Mother Natures whims and fancies is not humanly possible…Your writing is noticeably better
    when you write from the heart, when you write from your personal experiences, not when you are trying to justify another persons concepts… Wilkensburg is your turf and you know what you know and if it applies to us here in Florida I may take your suggestions, if it doesn’t apply I still look forward to reading your post and enjoying your photographs…Life is changing and moving on, just keep on keeping on.
    Love, hugs and sobriety…ME and the Boss


  14. yellopig says:

    You might want to consider the term “complementary”, rather than “complimentary”, the former having the sense of “adding a missing piece”. Seems more like what you meant.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. alexlipinsky says:

    Great post Chris, I know exactly what you mean by permaculture as an excuse to be a lazy gardener. Being a newbie gardener, my second year I figured ‘these plants will thrive without being watered or weeded very often’. Dead wrong. Had a terrible year compared to my first.

    That being said, I am very interested in how the permaculture design principles can be applied to different industries.

    Thanks for the great perspective. As an urban farmer in Youngstown, Ohio, I’d love to come to Pittsburgh sometime and see what you’ve got going on.

    Alex Lipinsky


    • C.Condello says:

      Alex – Thanks for reading my post… I have had the same experiences as you with deciding I wasn’t going to weed and water… Didn’t work well for me either…

      Youngstown huh… I visited a stellar botanical garden there as part of my Master Gardener training… And After reading this comment my girlfriend said she wanted to go back…

      If you are ever around Pittsburgh and would like a tour, let me know..


  16. nannus says:

    I got interested in permaculture some time ago myself. I am still having a vegetable patch (in a self-harvesting scheme) but I am sceptical about permaculture. Permaculture was developed in an Australian environment where there is plenty of land and little regulations. There you might be able to buy a plot of land big enough and build your own house (if you have the necessary crafts skills, which Bill Molison might have but I haven’t). I am living in Germany in an urban environment. A plot big enough to do Designer’s Manual style permaculture here would be so expensive that I have to be rich to buy it. Otherwise, I have to move out on the countryside, but there are no jobs there that would allow me to earn enough money to finance the plot. So whatever way, I cannot afford it. If you look at a map of Germany you see that it is very densely populated, so it is just not affordable. Additionally, there are lots of regulations here about house building. The way Mollision described it, very few people here could implement it. Moreover, if you try to be self-sufficient, it becomes extremely work intensive. I am not sure the methods described by Mollison really have all been tried.
    I would like to see more real scientific research on workable methods of subsistence farming (on an individual or village level). But some of the people I have met in the movement are quite anti-scientific (woo-woo, in Mollison’s terms). I think the Designer’s Manual and some other books contain valuable hints, but I do not see this movement (if it is one) delivering much. Just do your own thing. Anyway, I enjoy your articles, although I don’t have land and I am only growing my 25 rows of vegetables every year.


    • C.Condello says:

      Your comment is spot on, and I can’t thank you enough for adding to this conversation… I share the same experiences as you… And seriously appreciate hearing about others experiences… Again… Thank you for commenting…


    • Earl Mardle says:

      As a recent denizen of Australia I’m pretty sure Bill M developed Permaculture because, as one look at the landscape will tell you, that country is massively overpopulated and its landscape is desperately poor. Permacuilture was a response, in that very hard land, to the need to eat because the alternative, in not too many years, is going to be starvation.

      Permaculture is vital as a concept because most of the places humans live in are heading in the same direction as Australia, our landscapes are becoming uninhabitable and unless we shift from the concept of immediate, short term gratification, and above all profit, then we are headed for extinction.

      That said, my first gardening book was the Permaculture Home Garden by Linda Woodrow, an Australian and I found it, like Chris, utterly entrancing. But by the time I had finished it I also knew that we are a VERY long way from finding out whether Permaculture is anything like permanent. I am now on 10 acres and, like Chris, trying all sorts of ideas from no-dig to hugels to deep dig to ponds and swales to food forest etc etc etc.

      I still weed, 30 minutes every morning at least, its the only way to keep on top of it. And my wife said it all about 6 months after we became serious food producers, saying, “this self sufficiency; its a LOT of work isn’t it?” Exactly.

      Another of my heroes is Noboru Fukuoka whose One Straw Revolution LOOKS simple and low effort but is surrounded by a lot of very hard physical work. But unlike Fukuoka, my fruit trees get pruned and my olives have had the most serious haircut of their lives, I am keen on pollarding and coppicing and check logs and anything that will work on the bit of land I happen to be working on. The Permie part of it is the constant attention to the state of the land – I call it listening to the garden – and the realisation that no part of it should be doing just one thing.

      As usual, the problem is not with the system, its the people, especially the second generation. Stuff them, just get on with it mate.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. C.Condello says:

    Dear WordPress – Please include a confirmation screen after pressing the publish button… A simple “are you sure you want to continue” would go along way in stopping the occasional accidental post…


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