Scale of Permanence

I’ve seen a fair amount of folks reaching out on the internet for help with permaculture design. “How do I add permaculture to my property!” “Help make this more permaculture!” The one thing that I most often recommend to them to give structure to their project is the scale of permanence. It lets us know so much about a site, giving enough information so that I can actually make reasonable suggestions about what ways they might be able to influence it.

The Scale of Permanence is both a description of the local conditions that matter and a guide to the relative ease or difficulty of making any changes on their site. Also any changes to the left side of the scale have effects to the right, so climate affects all the other aspects while buildings (the built environment) really only influences zones, soils, and aesthetics. The idea being that you start making changes from left to right as you design.

How to use the elements of the scale of permanence.

These are some of the things to look for about your site. It can be helpful to put this information together in a document.

Climate type – Where it’s sunny and shady depends on your sun angle, which changes throughout the year. How much rainfall are you expecting? What impact might wind have on your site?

Landform – How do the contours of the site move water, is it an extracting pattern? What are the possibilities to influence the way water flows across your site and capture more? What is the sand/silt/clay content of the soil?

Water – What signs are there of more or less water. Does it pool or flow anywhere? Intentionally or unintentionally.

Access – How do you enter the site? How do people get around? Where do you need to go and what do you need to do on site?

Vegetation & Wildlife – What plants and animals do you already have on your site? What can you add?

Microclimate – Where is the environment enhanced or moderated by things such as sunlight, water, or wind?

Built environment – What buildings are already on the property and how do they interact with it to create additional microclimates?

Zones – How do you visualize the way that your land is used?

Soils – How rich are your soils?

Aesthetics – What does the way it look communicate to others?

Gathering all these data points will give you an excellent window into the current conditions of your land, as well as give insight into what the possibilities for change are and potentially what order to do them in. If you’d like help sorting these all out you can check out my Permaculture Design page. I’d love to help you integrate permaculture into your life!

Published by Milton

C. Milton Dixon is an permaculturist, forager, educator, and computer wizard. He is co-manager at the emergent Cooperative at Dawn Farm and teaches with Three Waters Permaculture. You can reach him at or 773.789.8887.

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