Learn online lots more about using plants in Permaculture. This course explores lots of productive plants that can be grown and harvested in a sustainable garden.

Course Code: VSS105
Fee Code: S2
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 100 hours
Qualification Statement of Attainment
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Learn to Use Plants Better in a Permaculture System

Learn more about plants that can be grown for useful purposes; to contribute toward greater self sufficiency and sustainability; providing food, fodder, fuel, construction materials or other benefits.

Consider how selecting appropriate plants and growing them in appropriate ways; you can create better ecological relationships in the garden or landscape, and improve the sustainability as well as productivity of the land over a long period of time.

Lesson Structure

There are 10 lessons in this course:

  1. Permaculture Gardens –Different Garden Systems
    • Function
    • Aesthetics
    • Ways of growing plants
    • Environmental conditions
    • Plant establishment
    • Growing in spirals
    • No Dig Beds or Composting Mounds
    • Organic Growing
    • Helping Plant Establishment
    • Trickle or Drip Irrigation
    • Mulching
    • Common types of organic mulch
    • Rules for How to mulch
    • Problems with mulching
    • Living mulch
    • Tree guards
    • Reduced cultivation
    • Crop rotation
    • Establishing plants on slopes –pocket planting, slope serration, wattling
    • Planting on arid sites
    • Direct seeding
    • Spray seeding
    • No till planting in lawns
    • Raised beds
    • Growing in pots
    • Biodynamics introduction
    • Biodynamic principles
    • Developing a biodynamic property
    • Biodynamic preparations and sprays
    • Soil degradation
    • Understanding and managing erosion
    • Salinity
    • Soil acidification
    • Soil compaction
    • Chemical residues in soils
    • Improving damaged soils
  2. Design –Planning Techniques and Skills
    • The design process
    • Gathering information and pre planning
    • Planning and design
    • Drawing the permaculture plan
    • Design Procedure – thirteen steps
    • How to represent different components on a drawn plan
    • Criteria for choosing the plants
    • Maintaining biodiversity in permaculture
    • Designing for low maintenance
    • Plants for small places
    • Lime loving plants
    • Useful conifers
    • Nut producing conifers
    • Other edible parts of conifers
    • Conifers as a source of oils, resins, building timber
    • Cypress and Pines
  3. Sector Planning
    • Zones 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
    • Sectors
    • Designing and Planting a firebreak
    • Fire prone areas
    • How to arrange a firebreak
    • Considerations
    • Fire resistant plants
    • Windbreaks, hedges and screens
    • Hedges for different conditions
    • Plants for windbreaks
    • Long narrow spaces
    • Growing plants in shade
    • Plants suited to full shade
    • Frost hardy plants
    • Coastal planting
    • Strategies for dealing with salt and wind
    • Hardy plants for inner city gardens
    • Pollution resistant plants
    • Nuts to grow in Permaculture -Aleurites, Argan, Athertonia, Barringtonia, Fagus, Brabejum, Castanospermum, Gevuina, Coconut, Couepia, Quercus and many others
  4. Design for Natural Pest, Disease and Weed Control
    • Understanding natural pest control
    • Bio control
    • Advantages and disadvantages of bio control
    • Natural pest controls with herb extracts
    • Other techniques for natural insect control
    • Understanding insecticidal properties of different plants
    • Natural weed control
    • Weed control with cultivation, mulch biological controls, grazing, etc.
    • Growing grain crops on a small scale
    • Hull less oats
    • Amaranth and Quinoa
    • Corn
    • Flours
  5. Complimentary Planting -Companion Planting
    • How reliable is companion planting
    • Repellent plants
    • Attractant plants
    • Plants that impact on the soil conditions
    • Planting combinations that may be mutually beneficial
    • Combinations sometimes considered undesirable
    • Plants that can improve soil –alfalfa, borage, caraway and others explained.
    • Green manure crops
    • Decoy plants
    • Nitrogen fixation
    • Legumes in permaculture
    • Cover crops
    • Grain crops
    • Plants for pets –dogs, cats, poultry
  6. Appropriate Technology in Permaculture Design
    • Energy conservation technology
    • Building biology
    • Environmental impact on buildings
    • Climate
    • Building location
    • Radon
    • Air quality and allergies
    • Temperature and humidity
    • Light
    • EMR and creation of electric fields
    • Solar energy
    • Greenhouses: design and function
    • Passive solar energy collection and active systems
    • Conservation and recycling
    • Kitchen waste management
    • Water saving measures
    • Environmentally friendly gardening
    • Growing Berries
    • Strawberry growing
    • Raspberry cultivation
    • Bramble Berry growing
    • Other berries –gooseberries, mulberry, etc
  7. Water Gardens
    • Planting in wet places
    • Understanding wet areas
    • Overcoming problems
    • Plants suited to bog gardens
    • Why have water in a permaculture garden
    • Designing for wet places
    • Managing water in sun or shade
    • Water life
    • Construction
    • Waterproofing
    • Managing a healthy pond
    • Plants that can damage ponds
    • Plants suitable for water –submerged, floating and bog plants
    • Growing water chestnut
    • Establishing a water garden
    • Creating a pond with a liner
    • Constructing a small dam or pond
    • Waste water treatment with reed beds
  8. Knowing Plants –Tree Crops
    • What zone to grow in
    • Orchard species suited to permaculture
    • Understory plants
    • Leguminous companions
    • Actinorhizal companions
    • Orchards
    • Planning for intercrop species
    • Tropical orchards
    • Dry land orchards
    • Fukuoka System
    • Nut trees
    • Almond
    • Cashew
    • Chestnut
    • Filbert
    • American hazelnut
    • Macadamia
    • Peanut
    • Pecan
    • Pistachio
    • Walnut
    • Harvest, storage and processing of nuts
    • Nut toxins
    • Fruit trees
    • Apples
    • Apricots
    • Peaches and nectarines
    • Citrus
    • Feijoa
    • Pomegranate
    • Olive
    • Plum
  9. Knowing Plants – Vegetables and Herbs
    • Introduction
    • Choosing the right spot
    • Considering the soil
    • Feeding plants
    • Plant when conditions are favourable
    • Cultivation necessities – Mulching, Rotating crops, watering, Pest control
    • Planting to maximize harvest
    • Planting vegetables
    • Disease resistance in vegetables –beans, corn, peas, lettuce, tomatoes.
    • Vegetables to grow in a permaculture system
    • Artichokes
    • Asparagus
    • Beans
    • Beetroot
    • Broccoli
    • Brussel Sprouts
    • Capsicum Eggplant
    • Onions
    • Rhubarb
    • Silver beet Sweet potato
    • Tomato
    • Zucchini
    • Herbs
    • Allium –chives, garlic, shallots etc
    • Angelica
    • Artemisia
    • Balm
    • Basil
    • Calendula
    • Cardamom
    • Chamomile
    • Coriander
    • Lavender
    • Mint
    • Parsley
    • Rosemary
    • Sage
    • Thyme
    • Other herbs
  10. Giving the Garden a Central Focus
    • The mandala garden concept
    • Surfaces
    • Keyhole beds
    • Herb spirals
    • Step by step construction of a mandala garden
    • Centre pond
    • Weed barrier
    • Outside the Mandala
    • Planting out
    • Organic materials – ashes, feathers, hay, leaves, sawdust, prunings, etc.
    • Mulching vegetables and herbs


  • Understand use, and establishment of, Permaculture gardens
  • Understand basic principles of permaculture design
  • Understand the role and function of zones in permaculture systems
  • Develop knowledge of natural pest, disease, and weed control methods
  • Understand the principles behind companion planting, and its function in permaculture gardens
  • Understand the features of, and applications for appropriate technology in permaculture design
  • Develop knowledge of the use of water gardens in permaculture design
  • Develop knowledge of a range of plants suitable for permaculture systems
  • Develop knowledge of a range of plants suitable for permaculture systems
  • Design a Mandala garden

What You Will Do

  • Describe how you would build a no dig garden approximately 10 X 3 metres in size
  • Create a table or chart which compares Permaculture with other styles of gardening
  • Find a home/house which has the potential to be developed as a permaculture system
  • Collect and list preplanning information relevant to the site.
  • Go into one or several gardens and look closely for pest , disease and weed problems.
  • Note any problems you see, and consider appropriate methods which could be used to control each of these problems.
  • Visit or contact a well stocked nursery (preferably a herb nursery).
  • List all of the companion plants which you are able to find for sale in that nursery
  • Contact companies which supply appropriate technologies, and obtain brochures or other information wherever you can. Read any literature you obtain
  • Research what products are available for building water gardens, and what water plants are available
  • Visit a nursery or obtain catalogues from nurseries which supply tree species which would be suitable for a permaculture set up.
  • Design and build a herb spiral.
  • Design a vegetable and herb garden based on permaculture principles which would produce enough food to feed you and your family for the entire year (presuming that you have the space to do so).

How are Plants Managed in Permaculture?

Here are some of the techniques: 
  • Early intervention – vigilant monitoring of crops.
  • Quarantine and hygiene - is used to minimise the introduction of pests and diseases and their spread - removal of fallen fruit can interrupt the life cycle of certain pests (fruit fly) and prevent spread of fungal disease. Removal of obviously diseased or pest infested plants will prevent further infestations. Removal of weeds, which are susceptible to the same pests as the crop. Growing buffers to prevent spread from nearby properties. Avoiding external inputs that may introduce pests and diseases.
  • Timing of planting eg. late plantings of brassica crops will help avoid infestations of the cabbage moth grub.
  • Pest forecasts - insect life cycles follow a seasonal pattern and (generally) insects develop more rapidly when it is warm and are dormant during winter. The rate at which insects develop is shown through research to be directly related to temperature and is usually also consistent within a species. This knowledge has led to the development (through computer simulation) of pest forecasts. Information relating to this can be obtained through the Dept. of Agriculture (Aust and USA) or DEFRA (UK).
  • Exclusion barriers – such as woven woolen fabrics and nets.
  • Mechanical control – bug vacuums, sticky traps (approved types only), light and sound.
Biological controls
Encourage natural predators that already exist locally ie. lizards, frogs dragonflies, spiders, and birds.
To be effective they need places to shelter and breed (eg. hollow logs), food (insects, nectar, pollen), water, shelter belts, ie. suitable plant species etc.
Many insects are also good predators of pests:
  • Ladybird beetles and their larvae eat aphids
  • Hover flies (Syrphid flies) eat aphids
  • Lacewing will control mites, caterpillars, aphids, thrips, mealy bugs, some scales.
  • Praying mantis eats most other insects, pests or otherwise.
  • Wasps attack many types of insects including caterpillars. Some plants (eg. chamomile, celery, hyssop, tansy, dill, and yarrow) can be planted to attract these wasps.
  • Woolly aphids parasites are attracted by clover (Trifolium sp.)
  • Lacewings which feed on aphis and other insects are attracted by sunflowers.
  • Goldenrod (Solidago sp.) attracts preying mantis and some other predators.
  • Hoverflies are attracted to Buckwheat.
Release of approved insect predators, parasites or pathogens.
This commonly involves the use of diseases which affect the pest or weed (the disease might be spread by an insect) or beneficial
insects which either eat or parasitise the pest. These control agents are sometimes known as antagonistic organisms. Restrictions apply however – some certification bodies for example only allow indigenous species or those that have at least a three year history of release. Bacillus thuringiensis must not be GMO derived.
Organically approved insecticides and fungicides
Chemically synthesised pesticides are disallowed in organic growing because they disrupt biological systems. In certain circumstances however where infestations cannot be controlled through other means, and as a last resort, most certifying bodies allow the use of certain (specified) non-synthetically derived chemical and biological controls. Some (but not all) of these inputs may also be registered for use with government bodies such as Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, Pesticide Safety Directorate UK and the Department of Agriculture USA.
Companion Planting
Companion planting is growing specific combinations of plants together for mutual health benefits and to reduce pest and disease incidences. It can be as simple as inter-cropping (growing another species with the main crop), providing edge plantings or more complex such as growing plants together for mutual benefit. There is no scientific explanation for the effects of companion planting however companion plants are believed to work in several ways:
  • May act as a barrier to the crop
  • May camouflage the crop
  • May confuse insect pests
  • May attract insects away from the main crop
  • Produce exudes from the roots that appear to deter pest attack
  • Produce chemicals that repels pests or masks
  • Controlled watering - in hot weather, too much water on the surface of the ground or the leaves will encourage fungal diseases and some insects. By using drip irrigation (where appropriate) these problems can be decreased.
Member of the Future Farmers Network

Member of the International Herb Association since 1988

UK Register of Learning Providers, UK PRN10000112

Alternative Technology Association Member

Member of the Permaculture Association

Course Contributors

The following academics were involved in the development and/or updating of this course.

Bob James (Horticulturist)

Bob has over 50 years of experience in horticulture across both production sectors (Crops and nursery) and amenity sectors of the industry.
He holds a Diploma in Agriculture and Degree in Horticulture from the University of Queensland; as well as a Maste

Diana Cole

Dip. Horticulture, BTEC Dip. Garden Design, Permaculture Design Certificate, B.A. (Hons)-Geography, Diploma Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development
Diana has been an enthusiastic volunteer with community garden and land conservation projects sinc

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