To design a weekly learning session to explore permaculture principles, and their application in the garden.

To complete the design in one day (8 hours).

Date: 14 June 2023 – 3 July 2023
Client: Participants, myself as facilitator
Status: Implemented
Domains: Education and culture, land and nature stewardship, health and spiritual wellbeing
Ethics: earth care, people care, future care

Starhawk’s Nine Ways of Observing, Collage, Consultation, KT Shephard’s 5 Elements design tool, mindmaps, PNI, SPELLS Goals, Canva


Carla’s Design Forum, Resources document, Tutorial with Katie Shepherd, KT’s blogs, Glennie Kindred’s ‘Sacred Earth Celebrations’ book, Isla Macleod’s ‘Rituals for Life’ book, permaculturewomen.com, freepermaculture.com, Spiral Seed ‘Ecology of the Self’ pamphlet & Permaculture poster, Morag Gamble’s Permaculture Principles Masterclass, Wendy Ann Greenhalgh’s book ‘Mindfulness and the Art of Drawing’, Maddy Harland’s ‘ Future Care‘ article 

Session planning and facilitation skills, drawn from my own work experience. Creative skills drawn from my arts practice. Mindfulness skills drawn from the years I have attended yoga. Knowledge of ‘greener growing’ methods from all my permaculture learning and community growing practice. 

Principles: Starhawk’s common sense principles
  • Energy is Abundant but not unlimited
  • Resilience is true security
  • Take responsibility
  • Get some! Obtain a yield
  • Creativity is an unlimited resource
Framework: obrAdimer (observation, boundaries, resources, assimilate, decisions, Implement, Maintain, evaluate, reflect)


Between March 2022 and February 2023 I delivered a programme of workshops on food growing as part of a lottery funded project. A number of people who attended the workshops regularly have said to me often since they finished that they miss them. I wanted to find a way to offer a space for learning, but without grants funds, the only way I can see to do it is to charge people. I came up with the idea to structure a session a little like a yoga class, where people come weekly, pay a nominal fee and have a good experience. This design plots the route to setting up and holding that space for learning.


As a way to begin, I used Starhawk’s Nine Ways of Observing. The most useful insights from this process were:

  • I wonder how to frame it to include nature connection and creativity, how to best appeal to people’s desire for connection…
  • I wonder how to reach the allotment growers?
  • I wonder how to measure if it’s been a success and how to measure if people are enjoying it?
  • Need a system for bookkeeping
  • Who is available on a Friday morning?
  • Who will pay?
  • Establish a pattern for the groups, so we do the same opening and closing exercises, creating a rhythm so people know what to expect, and it makes it easier to deliver if you know the shape of it. And easier to replicate in other places at other times.
  • Legalities, public liability insurance, risk assessment
  • Physical space – how many people can I accommodate? 
  • How the sessions meet our aims for Wild Ceridwen CIC to establish learning communities which increase skills and knowledge for personal and collective benefit, encourage the sharing of skills, knowledge and wisdom of the living world and our ancestors, support life-long learning and personal growth through supportive individual practices and engage in the process of generating new place-based knowledge and insights through research and design (theory and practice) which leads to action in communities.
  • There aren’t many folk using permaculture in what they do in this area. That makes me sad as there aren’t many people to connect with, but I also see it as an opportunity, a niche to fill and grow into. 

The collage I made in response to the ‘Observing from Stillness’ activity. Made using left over materials from Mari Writh’s Paper workshop as part of the ‘On Loss and Damage’ exhibition at The Turner House.

I noted my own wants and needs, ideas and inspiration etc, as the facilitator, and I used a survey from a recent project to consider what participants might want to learn about. 


I explored the parameters of the design to identify opportunities and limitations.


Three questions have emerged as a way to begin to approach the Ethics. 

How am I going to make sure I am caring for the Earth in the design and through the decisions I make?

How am I going to make sure I am caring for People  in the design and through the decisions I make?

How am I going to make sure I am caring for the Future (seven generations hence, grandchildren’s grandchildren)  in the design and through the decisions I make?

There’s also something here about encouraging and supporting others to care, through engaging in a learning process which supports deepening into our experience of being and living in our homes, gardens and communities, in the pursuit of lower impact, more sustainable and regenerative cultures. In People and Permaculture, Looby Macnamara says ‘the Ethics provide us with the reasons we want sustainability, the Principles point to how to do it.’ 

The mindmap below explores the ways in which this pursuit of connection to the Earth, lower impact living and regenerative cultures show up for me in this design.


In terms of resources to physically run the workshops, I have most of what I need, including:

  • Space
  • Chairs
  • Paper and art materials
  • Notebook
  • Flipchart paper and markers
  • Blackboard
  • A garden – to demonstrate
  • iPad – to view session plan and info

I have 20 cups, and plenty of herbs in the garden for tea. But I would like to get a large teapot. I’ll keep my eyes open for one. I’d also like to make some elements decorations from glass jars, and get a singing bowl for creating good vibrations and some tea lights. 

In terms of resources for the content of the sessions, I am compiling this list, which I will add to week by week. I’ll also make a page on the Wild Ceridwen website for people to access these resources:


In order to bring all the information I gathered in previous stages together, I organised insightful phrases and ideas using the PNI tool. 

From all this activity I was able to identify a set of SPELLS Goals for the design (Simple/ Sensible, Purposeful, Enriching, Limits, Living/Lively (regenerative), Significant). 


I was able to glean a range of useful insights through the process of thinking about the principles and how they apply. 

As I come to the end of the Observation and Assimilation phase, four functions of the design have become clear:

  • To allow me to practise teaching permaculture
  • To begin building a following, for whom I can then create and offer more courses in the future 
  • To allow me to come to my own definition of permaculture and deepen into my understanding of the principles in action, learning by teaching
  • To generate an income, get a money yield


I used KT’s Five Elements tool as a way to go back through all the information I had gathered this far, and to produce a sprawling ‘Design Decisions’ document, which you can read here. From this I was able to identify a range of decisions that I needed to make, and things I needed to do in order to bring the sessions into being in the IMPLEMENTATION stage. 

The decisions seemed to form into four categories. I could see that they formed distinctly around the elements, which I’ve expressed in brackets.

  1. Creating Convivial Space (organising and holding) [GROUNDED – EARTH ELEMENT, WATER – FEELINGS, SPIRIT – LEARNING AT CENTRE]
  2. Content for sessions [AIR – IDEAS, EARTH – THE DELIVERY]
  3. Marketing & Promotion [AIR & FIRE – IDEAS AND ENERGY]

One of the biggest decisions I made was choosing a name. I approached this by writing down all the names I could think of, whilst Googling other examples of people doing mindful gardening events (you can see these links in the Design Decisions doc) and using Canva to play with images. The name I settled on is beautiful! 

Into the Mindful Garden – A gentle introduction to the art of permaculture design for gardeners and growers.

I used the Decision Categories document to create a list of design decisions – things I need to do to in the implementation phase of the design:


To begin bringing the session to life, I created the following documents:

Curriculum outline – an overview of the plans for the 12 sessions. A useful document for capturing the wider aims of the sessions. Supplemented by individual session plans for each session. 

What is Permaculture? – a document to share with learners through the resources page on the website (password protected). This document is also significant as it represents the first time I have tried to articulate my own definition of permaculture. 

Marketing and Promotion – a checklist for me to use as I go about spreading the word about the sessions. 

NOTES: A useful document for me, for learning in the beginning stages of my planning. A spot for me to gather information about applying the principles.

I created a flyer, and various versions of it for sharing on social media and in shops, the library etc. 

I made a project page on the Wild Ceridwen website, for interested folks to find out more, including Terms and Conditions. 

I also created a password protected page for resources for participants to access, I send a link to this in the welcome email. 

I wrote a welcome email to send to people when they booked their place.

I started sharing and promoting the sessions in various ways, identified in the Marketing and Promotion doc. 

And then I set about tidying the garden to make a lovely, inviting space for people. See the Instagram Reel here

I wrote a risk assessment, and finalised the session plan.

On Friday 30th June at 10am, 5 women came to enjoy the first session. My methods for payment worked, everyone paid £7.50, either in cash or by card with my new Sum-Up device. We enjoyed the lemon balm tea, served with either honey, lemon juice or elderflower cordial, which my friend made. It was wonderful! Then I got busy preparing for week 2…


Maintenance of the design will encompass weekly delivery of the workshops. A pattern has now emerged for the sessions, which include exploration of a principle, a mindfulness exercise, a skill to use in the garden and a creative activity. As the weeks go on I’ll do an individual session plan. 

I do ask participants what their take-away is at the end of each session, but I find it hard to record this on paper whilst listening, and I want to listen well. 

As part of the ongoing delivery, I will need to define ways to gather feedback from participants about their experience. In order to demonstrate our community interest with our social enterprise, we have to submit a yearly report to the CIC regulator. For this we must gather data on our impact. Ideas so far include a survey/feedback form which I ask participants to complete during session 6, at the mid-point, and during session 12, the last one. 

By the end of the 12 weeks, I will have a workshop ‘package’, which I can offer in other places at other times. I have been thinking about offering it on Zoom. 


The overarching aim for the design was:

  • To design a weekly learning session to explore permaculture principles, and their application in the garden.
  • To complete the design in one day (8 hours).

I did design a weekly learning session, and the main part of the design (up to the point where I tidied the garden in implement) was completed in 8 hours (excluding evaluation and reflection). However, the nitty gritty planning of the sessions and doing all the marketing and promotion required much more time. The purpose of the time limit was to make the design smaller. My word count for this one is 3262, so that feels like I achieved what I was setting out to do there.

Were your project aims met through the design solution you created? Here I addressed each aim in turn to explore how it had been achieved. I feel satisfied that the aims were met. 

I am interested in this diagram, from Aranya’s book, which expresses Bill Mollison’s ideas about energy investment over time.  

It is relevant here because I feel like the design, and the plans for the sessions required a lot of energy initially, but now the set up is done, there won’t be so much energy required week by week as I continue delivering them. Hopefully, as time goes on I will get more participants, which will mean more money yield, and I’ll plan the sessions week by week, in line with the structure that I now have for the sessions, therefore with little input required, leading to deepening learning for myself and my participants over time. 

I identified four core functions, which were fulfilled by the design:

  • To allow me to practise teaching permaculture
  • To begin building a following, for whom I can then create and offer more courses in the future 
  • To allow me to come to my own definition of permaculture and deepen into my understanding of the principles in action, learning by teaching
  • To generate an income, get a money yield

What was challenging?

It’s hard to place a value on my time. I’ve never done this before, as my projects have always been grant funded. It’s feeling now like maybe £7.50 isn’t enough. In a meeting with my fellow director’s I heard myself say about sticking to the day rate of £250, which at £7.50/head, I haven’t. This was always intended to be a 3 month trial. It’s all about testing and learning. I was able to offer this course at a low cost as I don’t have to pay for a venue. And I wanted to test out if people would pay. My business partner has expressed an interest in running the session in Usk. We will test out charging a bit more for it there. Maybe £10 per 2 hour session would feel better. 

I see that doing more planning around costing would also be a good idea. 

What went well?

All of the participants expressed an interest in learning more about permaculture.

At the take away go around I asked if they had enjoyed the mindful activities, the grounding exercise and the drawing, they all said they had enjoyed. 

The Garden was a beautiful, inviting space. 

The sessions have enabled me to integrate all my key interests, in permaculture, creativity, gardening, growing and being mindful.

I began the session with a mindful grounding exercise, and finished with a pause for reflection on gratitude. This felt like I opened and closed a ritual space, love that!

Coming back to the Ethics

Taking the ethics into consideration alongside the aims of the design brought forth the following insights, which deepened my feelings about how the ethics apply. 

Next time:

  • I’ll put up the pagoda if it’s raining again, to create more undercover space. If I get my desired number of 10 participants we will need this space too. 
  • I’ll give more concrete examples of the principles in action, using a flipchart and the blackboard. One participant stated that she was expecting lots of information. 
  • One participant offered her garden as a venue, that’d be nice, to travel around and learn in a different space. I’ll fix up to visit her garden first to do a risk assessment.


Ethics – Earth Care, People Care, Future Care. In a tutorial with Katie I talked about the Ethics, and that I’d felt perhaps I’d over complicated them. Katie’s response was that the ethics need to be complicated and complex, for us to get the best from them. I attended to the ethics firstly in the Boundaries phase, and then revisited them in relation to the aims of the design in the Evaluation phase, where I asked’Is what I am doing ethical?’.  I found the three questions I came up with in the Boundaries phase useful, and would like to deepen into this question about ‘how do we experience ourselves as embedded in the living world’ next time. I feel like the design has enabled me to embody Earth Care in the work of delivering the sessions in a number of ways.  The relationship between People Care and my pursuit of good livelihood continues to stir my curiosity. I have to earn money to take care of myself. 

Principles – This time I choose to focus on just 5 principles, whereas in my designs up until now I have covered all in a set. The ones I chose were fit for the purpose of this design. They helped me see a good range of things I needed to make sure I paid attention too, especially around the admin/organisation side of things, like risk assessment. The consideration of the principles brought forth many of the design decisions that were necessary to implement the design. 

Framework – OBRADIMER


I modified OBREDIMET because I like the Assimilate stage which I got from the MSCEADE (Map, Survey, Consultation, Explore Parameters, Assimilate, Design, Evolve) framework by Sarah Pugh, and I don’t find Tweak to be very useful for my iterative way of designing. 

I enjoyed using this framework, not quite as much as Jame’s Chapman’s simplest design framework though, which remains my favourite so far. I prefer Observation to Survey, and I like how it links to the first Holmgren Principle, and it’s more useful for a social/people focused design. 

I extended Boundaries to include Explore Parameters (Again from Sarah Pugh’s MSCEADE framework), as this was more useful. 

I have actually come upon my own framework that I’d like to experiment with at some point, maybe for the last design. Its present articulation it: Intention, Observation, Exploration, Assimilation, Actualisation, Evolution, Evaluation (Findings) and Reflection (Appreciation).


Starhawk’s Nine Ways of Observing – a brilliant and generative tool. I was able to glean many useful insights from the process. I enjoyed the Observing from Stillness one most, which led to my creating the collage. 

Collage – After I had done 15 minutes of observing from stillness, the idea to make a collage with some materials I’d collected from a workshop came forth. As I sat making my collage I was thinking about aspects of bringing the design to life. The notes I made in this process further added to the insights I’d gained in the reflection. I think I’ve got a new tool that I’d like to try again ‘Thinking through Collage’, where you make and let thoughts come in the process.

Consultation – It was easy to identify my own needs, but a bit harder to anticipate the needs of the participants, as at the time I was doing it I didn’t know who they would be. I used a previous survey to inform that part, which worked well. I see now, looking back, that the things in the ‘What might the group want to learn?’ mindmap are all things that I have learnt so far, and that I’d like to learn more deeply too, by teaching them. 

It’s so hard to untie myself from the designs. I’ve had feedback in design 3 that it would be good to try out designing for someone else. I’m not sure that I ever will do this, because of the nature of my work. I think this might come later, when I go for more grant funds as we develop Wild Ceridwen – as for that I’ll need a good amount of community consultation. 

I also see that I am building on the ‘ Grow Food. Eat Well.’ workshops I delivered as part of the ‘Growing Together – Grow-along’ project, and indeed deepening into certain aspects of the teaching I did for those. Plus adding the mindfulness and creativity elements too, as well as talking explicitly about permaculture this time. 

KT Shepherd’s 5 Elements Design Tool – Hugely useful and generative tool. I really enjoyed the witchy/earth-based spirituality quality of this, even though I used it to make some pretty functional decisions. Katie said she was delighted with the way I’d used it, as for it to be used in that was exactly her intention. 

Mindmaps – Mindmaps are showing up a lot in my designs now. I find them so useful for getting all my thoughts out on paper. Maybe I ought to try something else, I wonder what that could be? Mind you, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ comes to mind. 

Canva -To design the poster, I’m delighted with it. The information I came to in the process reflects me entirely, and seems to integrate my own interests well. I’ve had good feedback about the flyer, ‘I think it’s fab. Really sounds encouraging, inviting, inclusive and worthwhile.’ and ‘The flyer looks beautiful, and sounds like a really interesting day’. 

PNI – I used this as a tool to bring a large amount of information together and sift out the useful bits. It worked, and informed the writing of the SPELLS Goals.

SPELLS Goals – This is the second time I have used this tool that I devised. I love it, it really helps to focus my intentions. I think I’ll always use it now. And, I probably need to write a blog about it to share it with others.

Aims, Goals and Functions – I’m interested to learn more about the difference between these aspects of the design. It’s only in recent designs that this idea of functions has showed up. I have set out my thinking in the notes below. 

Next steps:

  • Try the ‘Thinking through Collage’ tool again.
  • In terms of the design’s functions: one other thing I notice other tutors doing to build an audience is a monthly newsletter, or a weekly email. I probably ought to think about doing that. And being more mindful about collecting people’s emails and growing a mailing list.
  • Use Yeoman’s Scale of Permanence like a Spheres of Influence tool.
  • Write a blog about SPELLS tool.
  • Read Starhawk’s ‘The Fifth Sacred Thing’.
  • Ethics – add ‘How do we experience ourselves embedded in the living world?’.
  • For a future design, try out your own framework. (After the creative practice design, where I will explore permaculture as a creative design process, and its relationship to my own creative practice).

The design is probably still too big. For the next one, I’ll do a design web in an hour, to help me choose what herbs to add in some spaces that have come up after annuals in my raised beds. 

As I was writing the design up, I was also doing a Reflection & Review process as part of my IPA. This added another dimension to the next steps, especially in terms of which tools, frameworks etc I still want to try out in my remaining four designs.