PDC – Permaculture Design Certificate

After taking a short one-day course on permaculture design in 2006, I’ve been pining to explore formally studying permaculture again, but this time, to go deeper. Ideally, that would look like signing up for a two week intensive residential course on a permaculture farm somewhere, in the traditional way, learning with a bunch of other enthusiastic learners – immersed. However, with a  young family I’m not keen to try and squeeze this in, nor do I have the leave to take from work, nor do I want to be away from the kids to pursue this. It’s just not me to indulge like this. I’m still keen on doing a residential course in the future, but I’ve been searching for something to fit around my circumstances.

I saw Geoff Lawton’s online PDC offering, which is spread across 20+ weeks, still has a design project component and because I have my own garden and community garden to contribute to, delving deeply into the theory among my existing practical exploration on the side really appeals to me. I can  almost fit in the 2-3 hours in each week to do this! 🙂 The course was launched  few days ago on my 40th birthday, so it also a lovely way to launch the next decade of my life with something so personally meaningful.

You can get an idea of Geoff’s approach as he’s released some materials free at the Permaculture Circle. and the course is structured around Bill Mollison’s Permaculture A Designers’ Manual. There are people from all over the world taking the course, many have acreage but there are plenty of backyard and urban balcony farmers too. Diversity right there. There are also teaching assistants who are experienced permaculture practioners supporting Geoff, so I think that a lot of thinking has gone into making this an online community of learning.

I’m also discovering that many people do multiple PDC courses – there isn’t just one ultimate one course that will fill your bucket brim full. Perhaps some people might rightly be critical of online study of something so practical, but for me right now,  mixing a deeper study of the theory, while I’m reflecting on my five years trying to self-practice permaculture design and starting new design adventures – fits my situation perfectly. One day, I would still love to head off on an intensive practical, when the stars and planets align to make this an option.

I’ll be trying to keep up with the course, and posting insights and understandings here. For me, having an accessible and well-planned online study option for a PDC is giving me an opportunity to expand my understanding without needing to be cram it all in or be away from my family to pursue this development experience. So I’m giving it everything!


Upfront-worthy veg

We’re the hippies of the hood perhaps, with our mostly native rambling front garden but I decided to forge on a bit further and gently introduce some vegetables as it’s a great growing site. It’s a first for me in an Australian garden growing vegetables in the front (did it in the UK as we had a very small space).

With wallaby and kangaroo grass seeding, flax lilly’s dainty clusters of nodding blue and yellow flowers, red and yellow kangaroo paw in flower and the sweet scent of native frangipani trees it’s a hot colour riot of sight and smell right now. A bee haven.  Mingling scents of native frangipani, rosemary, lavender and lemon basil too. So why not even more diversity with some produce in the mix!

Hot spires of kangaroo paw – they love chicken manure

The first adventures into mixing some veg into the front (we don’t have street verges alas!) was sacrificing a bed that had mainly herbs. We inherited heavy clay soil in this front garden, so I took a patient year of soil prepping including worm castings, mushroom compost, direct deep composting of kitchen scraps first, before attempting any removal or planting. Removing the large woody herbs wasn’t too laborious once the soil had improved (previoulsy impossible baked into hard clay!) and the tomato seedlings have loved their freedom!

There will be more front veg planting to come, longer term plans for strawbale or timbercrete to replace wooden retaining walls – so much to do – and I’m converting a lawn at the back first – so my guess is this is it for a while in the front.  But by tackling one small thing at a time – like a yield of heirloom tomatoes, which have always been challenging in my backyard raised beds, you find that you can slow down enough to think about design more, rather than just rushing in to plant and change everything all at once. It gives you time to observe.

Front veg bed of heirloom tomatoes, lemon grass, lemon basil, zuchinni

Yellow kangaroo paw on a backdrop of lavender.
Dianella (flax lilly) and native grasses under the native frangipani tree

Ramshackle insect shack hacks

I’ve been keen to try building nest blocks for blue-banded bees, by packing a clay/sand mix into rectangular PVC pipe after hearing about this technique and seeing it online.I’ve looked at a few ideas for insect hotels and made a list of materials required.

However, perhaps because of my recent sessions at Onkaparinga’s Living Smart sustainable living course, or starting my PDC, I’ve now crossed off the “buy rectangular PVC pipe” from my shopping list.

It would cost around $20 from the local hardware store for the PVC pipe. Not much in the scheme of things, but bees have been finding accommodation for thousands of years before PVC pipe came along, so…

First, I’ll keep an eye out for some off-cuts and unwanted bits of PVC pipe found in serendiptious moments out and about so that I can give these wonderful nests blocks from the Australian Native Bee Research Centre a go at minimum investment. They really know what works for attracting native bees, so that’s my ideal to work towards.

In the meantime, it’s Spring and bees need shelter. I used what I had in the spirit of experimenting with some ramshackle nests that I could probably call ‘ bee shacks’, and not quite bee hotels. For the less discerning bee, or indeed any insect interested in a small house footprint. Calling all bees and insects looking for a downshift!

The way I look at is, the wider bee community and insects in general make do with what nature provides, rarely to a formula or straight lines or perfect build.  So why not appeal to those opportunistic and adapatable personalities of nature , with my very own flavour of hacky haphazardness?

So here is a combination of weathered bamboo garden stakes I already had, hessian, twine and some mesh that was a plant protector, packed with a clay and sand mix (clay soils from our front garden), that I then accidentally dropped from a height- removing most of the clay/soil.


Lashed by twine onto a dodgy trellis – it will move slightly in the wind:


And also, an old pot packed with clay and sand, a few hints at what wandering insects might want to do to make a crash pad, and undaintily shoved on the soil underneath the borage.


Now to see, who, if anyone, shelters in these tiny share shacks!


Blue-banded bees (Amegilla) – native Australian bees

This is where I am logging the first sightings in my garden (McLaren Vale, South Australia) of native blue-banded bees (Amegilla) each year,  going back to 2014 which is the first year I noticed them and fell head-over heels in love.

To find out more about these incredibly beautiful bees, start with Australian Native Blue Banded Bees site. There are also some stunning videos around much better than mine.

Here are brief notes and observations in the last few years:


4th October- first blue-banded bee spotted in the garden (I’ve been away for 6 days).

I inspected last years nest and there’s now a woodlouse in it. Not sure if it’s moving in because a bee has already vacated, or is just moving in anyway. Will keep observing.

A woodlouse in last years Blue-banded bee nest


First sighting – 17th December! I was afraid the blue-banded bees were never going to return, but the weather has been quite wet.

3-4 bees sighted daily

30 December:  Very excited! Nest discovered in our backyard in the dirt wall between wooden decking steps!! I simply followed one of the bees.

Blue-banded bee (females) nest




October 23rd



Why you should definitely fail at craft with your kids

During these storm-laden school holidays, we managed a crafternoon or two. My favourite was one that resulted in two really messy tangles of alleged weaving.

I don’t even know my weft from my warp. I think my weaver ancestors would shun my over-tensioned noob things andattempts to lead my children into the weavers world.

Only my 8 year old daughter persevered on her frame, my five year old son escaping to sewing cards. 

Even our cat tried to intervene and steer the situation on course.

But in these abominations of weaving, curled and mishapen, there was still a hugely relevant learning moment.

Questions about weaving led to me showing the kids a video of Harris Tweed being hand-woven on the Isle of Lewis and then looking again at my Harris Tweed hat under a microscope to see incredible rainbow spectrum of all of the coloured threads that create this amazing fabric.

This led to discussions about why hand-woven items cost more to buy, the genius of turning natural fibre into textile,  the skill and time in hand-crafting textiles, the value of learning and perfecting a skill and the preservation of traditional hand skills even though machines can help. We’ll definitely follow this up by looking for weavers and woven articles at the local artisan market. 

To me this is why, even if you are not good at a particular craft, there is value in the trial.  Often too, there is a temptation to revert to ‘teach’ with making, to become instructional and to pass on technique after a self-trial. Yet, it’s actually a more holistic example of maker philosophy and design thinking to visibly struggle together, get it wrong together and celebrate the imperfection of untangling and undoing. 


How many times must Harris Tweed have turned into a slushy mess of sopping damp tangled fleece in the amazing process of perfecting this wonderful textile? 

Failing is how we learn the value and art of making.

How trees interact with rain

I caught a glimpse of something small and magical in the trickle of first rain and how a small fig tree catches and redirects the rain to efficiently distribute such a precious resource. It’s incredible to imagine the full interaction of water on earth, taken up into clouds, and cycled down into the soil, roots and fungi, into rivers and lakes, out to sea and back up into the clouds again. How the pattern of bark and shape of leaf plays its part.

This small tiny observation on a tiny water trickle, led me into lots of reading about how this connects to the bigger patterns of weather stemfall, interception, throughfall in ecological and permaculture thinking.

This is why observing the tiniest of interactions is all about learning.

Blink or pass too quickly by the tree and you miss a world of understanding.

It’s not a perfect video, but I captured it on my phone:

(there’s no audio)

(and if you want to read about it, see 6.6 How a tree interacts with rain in Permaculture A Designers’ Manual by Bill Mollison)

Ramblings about sustainability, nature and other lore

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