To observe this season’s featured plants from a permacultural perspective, we must look beyond their well-known features and see them in the context of natural systems and environments (both internal and external.)
Why should we bother to pause and gain this perspective on things? One answer comes in the form of a permaculture principle, designing from patterns to details: “By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.” (1) At first, it may seem faster and easier to skip the “big picture” learning and just memorize random bits of information about plants as you go along– like the facts that basil generally grows well in full sun and moist soil–, but the truth is that these details may not be very memorable in and of themselves; they may become overwhelming as you deal with more and more plants; and they may not add up to much enjoyment or environmental awareness for you as a gardener or as a would-be steward of sustainability in Southern Nevada.
If you can pause to pay attention to the patterns surrounding this season’s featured plants, then you can start to see similar patterns around a variety of other plants that are related to them climatically, taxonomically, and structurally. This shifting of focus means gradually trading memorization of miscellaneous botanical details for increased understanding of interrelated plant patterns.
For instance, if you want to get in the habit of cooking meals at home, and you want to make this easier for yourself by growing some basic ingredients like garlic and onions, then you can learn a lot by paying attention to the natural patterns surrounding green (bunching) onions. You will find that many of these patterns also apply to other allium family plants, including garlic and common bulbing onions.
Another goal of yours may be to grow plants that are well-adapted to the American Southwest or other desert environments. In this case, paying careful attention to the ‘Yoeme Purple String’ bean will yield much understanding of the patterns surrounding dryland-adapted plants.
Or maybe you have a very windy yard and struggle to find the right plants for it. By observing the pollination patterns around orach, a wind-pollinated plant, you may start to become aware of other types of wind-adapted plants, any of which might be well-suited to your situation.
1 “Principle 7: Design from patterns to details.” Permaculture Principles website.