Sense Making: Exploring the Accessible Permaculture Garden

How does being out in nature make you feel? What senses do we engage whilst we remember that we are a part of nature not separate from it?

I best understand permaculture when I think of it as good relationships between folks and their environments – relationships that enable both people and planet to sustain and be part of a flourishing and resilient ecosystem. My take on how we might engender this ‘permanent culture’ (as it was initially described) is to explore the diverse opportunities for how the practice might be more accessible for folks. The more folks who are included, the more nourishing and flourishing the relationships and practice.

This is relevant to my journey into permaculture practice as I am chronically ill and members of my family are Disabled – we all have what folks might call non-typical access needs. With 15% of Disabled people making up the world’s population I expect this also may well be an experience that has affected the life and day-to-day of you and your kin.

Throughout this project I attended to opportunities whereby everyone, including those living with Chronic Illness or impairment, could learn about and access permaculture practice. Alongside this I chose to explore the energy-efficient relationships that can be propagated within permaculture practice in relation to wellbeing. For this permanent culture to thrive we need to attune it to different people’s ways of doing things. Some folks might not have the energy or ‘spoons’ to be very physically involved in their permaculture ventures. Through this project I explored low-exertion ways of observing and interacting with the environment that would assist and inform my sustainable growing and gardening.  I considered in depth ways in which weather observations and mappings could be undertaken via mindfulness and sensorially regulatory activities. Watching light and shadow patterns on the walls inside my home cast from the sun, plants and weather in my shared garden enabled me to map a great deal of site-specific information. Sun traps (warm patches), shelter belts (protected from the elements) and wind speeds could all be mapped by observations from my windowsill. This enabled me to better plan and curate my permaculture site.

I decided to grow a low maintenance medicinal food garden (an ongoing endeavour), a research exploration inspired by my households’ combined experience of chronic illness and care responsibilities for ourselves and others. At home, whilst my Dad was with us, we had to take his mobility and low vision into consideration to afford him agency and participation in our normal everyday activities. This inspired me to explore the ways in which we could better understand the health of our plants through touch and sound; two senses to which my Dad had access. I ideated a companion tool in response that compiles auditory and tactile information (where safe) that can help us identify what our plant may be missing nutritionally in the environment in order to thrive. I explored the plants ailments using the Social Model for Disability methodologically with keen gardeners with low vision as my stakeholders – this enabled me to map other sensory information attributed to the unhealthy plants on site. The companion guide is only in its first iteration and requires co-productive prototyping and workshops with the wider blind community. It has future scope as a permaculture gardening podcast, radio format guide or personal audio manual.

A design iteration flow chart map. The first image shows unhealthy leaves in the garden. The second shows a visual nutrient guide for unhealthy plants. The third depicts information to be read aloud by a screen reader or audio guide ' Tactile Observations for Older Leaf Tip Burn: Leaves feel gnarled, rough and crisp to touch at the tips. Try adding companion  plants that accumulate:  Nitrogen & Zinc' The fourth image depicts a prototype of a tactile audio manual with inbuilt speaker. This also has scope to be compatible in future iterations with the RNIB tactile MP3 player or Connect Radio Show.

Sound and Tactile Permaculture

Accessible Permaculture

Mapping sustainable opportunities