All permaculture sites are experimental in nature. One reason is the bespoke character of every permaculture solution. We may be able to apply
universal patterns, but the way they are used is always influenced by local conditions and the intentions, resources and limitations of the people
involved. A second reason is the fact that permaculture is a very young discipline. Measured by the life cycle of a tree, there are still only very few
mature permaculture systems around, especially in the temperate parts of the world where growth is naturally slower. Where older sites do exist, very
little coherent, comparable information is available about them in the public domain. At the moment, nobody really knows how many well-established
sites there are that have been conceived, executed and consistently maintained with a permaculture approach. Slowly and retrospectively, with a fortyyear
delay, we are beginning to plug some of these holes in our knowledge.
I am not sure how many people practising permaculture are aware of both the experimental nature of their work and the benefits that a conscious
“research and development” approach could bring to what they do. If we want to move from guessing to knowing, or at least accurately predicting the
tendency of what effects our actions might have, we need to set our sites up as consciously designed experiments, record what we find – the failures as
well as the successes – and share them with each other freely and openly.
Forest gardens seemed to me an obvious early target for investigation. As a multi-layered, perennial, no-dig system they display many of the
characteristics that permaculture insists contribute to productivity and resilience. They are also widespread enough as a practice to supply a sufficiently
large number of sites (“samples”) to allow us to spot patterns and draw conclusions as to what might work or not.