Understanding nature’s patterns within a specific landscape gives a framework for sustainable permaculture design.

Permaculture is a philosophy not only for agriculture but to human interaction with nature. Its focus is to work with its natural systems and or build sustainable ones that don’t harm people, the next generation, or the earth.

Permaculture’s founding principles layout considerations to ensure the practical application of permaculture designs in a given area or climate, but permaculture patterning is the layout or blueprint for how we realize permaculture designs.

Start with Permaculture Principles

Observe and interact; design with patterns; integration; and use edges, these are just a few of the principles of permaculture that should be utilized for creating permaculture designs in any location.


Before you plant a single tree or till a row of soil, you must observe the natural landscape.

Take into account the climate and topography. This indicates what types of plants to grow, and how best to work with nature utilizing current water systems and land formations without causing destruction.

These are not passive observations, they are intentional: understand the soil (test it! See what minerals are missing), where water sources already exist (or do not, depending on the climate), if soil erosion is a problem, and the best areas to capture the sun’s energy for solar panels. These are all important to understand how to best work with nature for optimal harvests.

Before planting or building any structures, there should be an accurate map of the property, including all major landmarks and natural features (hills, sources of water, etc).

It is overtop of this realistic map that one will begin to place permaculture design patterns, according to zones.

Designing with Zones

Zones provide another level of direction for agricultural practices with permaculture design. This considers how to redirect energy and integrate processes more effectively and efficiently.

The number of zones depends on property size and available features, but ultimately your creativity and conditions will determine how you use your land with permaculture design.


Zone patterns spread away from Zone 0 according to permaculture designs (listed below) in the best use of energy, wise use of resources (water and sun), and to maximize natural growing methods for optimal harvests.

Zone 0

This is the first zone and usually indicates the lived-in structure, be that a house, a trailer, a yurt, or other building.

If it is not yet built, then wherever it is intended to be should be indicated on the map as Zone 0.

This is usually the smallest zone and has a small (or none at all) growing zone.

Zone 1

Zone 1 is the first growing zone, usually right up against the lived-in structure as an herb garden or kitchen garden, where plants are grown in pots or provide shade to the back veranda, for example.

Zone 2

The next zone is still close to the house, but usually has different requirements than a simple herb garden; this could be a larger vegetable garden, the chicken house rabbit pens, and a few fruit trees.

Zone 3

Zone 3 indicates larger fields, orchards fruit forests, or growing areas that receive less human interaction throughout the seasons.

Zone 4

This zone could be foraging areas, protected forests, or wildlife habitat. This zone, and any other zones used progressively, depending on the area of the property, see less and less human interaction or intervention. 

In this zone, humans don’t plant, for example, but may forage or hunt.

Planning with zones helps determine the best methods for integration, how to use energy efficiently, and how to plan before building. Understanding what areas on your land need swales or natural irrigation can save you time and energy years into the future because you’ve put your vegetable garden in a prime location. Another example could be incorporating land features into your home: like cleverly using the side of a hill as a root cellar or a spring house as a refrigerator.

Zones also help determine the best location to establish a house (or other structure to live in). For positioning solar panels for maximum energy collection, or lessening the impact to the environment when laying a foundation or digging plumbing lines, or septic tanks.

Design with Patterns

Using patterns is all about sharing and collecting energy; making sure that trees can act as windbreaks, but not interfere with solar panels, for example.

Sources of water and how to utilize water bodies on the property, or landscaping methods, such as digging swales for irrigation are essential to consider during the planning stages, before seeds are planted in the ground.


By using zones over a map of a property, one can integrate elements and optimize resources. For example, which moisture-loving plants to grow in swampy areas, and the best place to start an orchard or fruit forest.

Some trees can act as windbreaks while also offering nutrition through fruits or nuts, through integration.

Use Edges

Reducing waste isn’t just about what we throw away, but also reducing wasted spaces. Everything can serve a purpose, and proper planning with patterns considers how to use edges and margins effectively:

To grow food

As natural fences

Set up compost bins

For rabbit pens or chicken houses

And much more, to ensure we utilize the space we have to the maximum, without harming nature.

8 Patterns in Permaculture

There are eight specific patterns that permaculture considers as a framework for permaculture design, they are often found in nature. While these designs started as considerations for landscaping designs, it is easy to see how other approaches (such as architecture, building designs, etc.) could draw from these, as well. 

The eight patterns are:







Networks (Webs)



Spirals are a symbol found in nature, as seen by shells or the spiral formation of seeds within a sunflower.

Using spirals in permaculture designs has proven effective for herb gardens and natural irrigation.

A spiral also forms a foundational shape when looking at the entire landscape of a property; starting with the built structure that makes up the home and using spirals to extend out makes for a clear understanding of how and where energy is more likely to be required.


Wave patterns can be useful for working with natural elements – large rocks or water bodies – while still making use of space.

Waves are also ideal for ensuring the use of margins and edges of the property.


Streamlines are popular for planting trees in a row, as windbreaks or for ease of harvesting. They are also found in fields and underground irrigation, too. They are effective because they are straight and sometimes that minimizes resources and reduces energy needed.

However, it is important to not default to streamlines when planning, they do have a use but should not be the default approach, creativity is key, too.


Clouds provide freedom for natural areas. These patterns allow space for the environment to spread out, like forests and wildlife habitats, instead of bending them to suit a human’s plans.


Cloud patterns are also a good idea to use with livestock because it gives freedom to shift grazing areas without changing the entire permaculture plan.


Lobes are especially useful when growing in certain terrains, such as steep hills or along riverbanks. This allows one to maximize growing area, without destroying the environment.

Folks practicing permaculture in highlands, mountainous regions, or near volcanoes will find lobe patterns a common approach for growing food or planting trees.


Branch patterns are used in several ways with permaculture design; as pathways connecting all areas of the land and in understanding the flow of energy.

Permaculture design considers how energy can be used most effectively, so this concept should be used when considering solar energy, wind, and water sources, too.

If your lived-in structure is at the top of the hill, the flow of human energy, pumping of water for domestic use, and more should be considered with this branching pattern to ensure the best use of all resources in a given location.


Of course, branch patterns may also be used for water and irrigation from a main water source, and for roads and paths in a large permaculture program.

Networks (Webs)

Networks or webs provide a helpful layout for companion planting in vegetable gardens. Using branch patterns is integrated with webs, as well.

Not only are all parts of the garden easily accessible to weed, fertilize, and harvest, but the plants can provide pest control and replenish nutrients to the soil to benefit one another when they are in this formation, instead of straight lines.

Irrigation is symbolized through networks and webs, making adding necessary moisture much easier, with less energy or wasted resources, too.

Sometimes, the ‘grand scheme’ of a permaculture design resembles a web, if everything is integrated and harmoniously connected.


Scattering is nature’s method of regrowth, and should not be taken for granted. Since permaculture design includes working with nature, we can consider that some parts of a landscape are best left untouched; allowing for natural grazing, foraging, or to be protected grasslands.

It is preferred that the furthest zones (Zone 4 and up) consider scattering patterns or cloud formations, as there should be much less human intervention in these areas.