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Published by: Dave Boehnlein on 04/04/2018

Patterns From Nature

Patterns From Nature

Here we are again; ready to embark on another spring at the Bullock’s Permaculture Homestead. This time of year always makes me think about the macro-patterns that govern our lives. In Nature, things often take on the pattern of a pulse (heartbeats, respiration, tides, etc.). Plant growth pulses too. Big shots of growth in the spring and fall, each followed by relative periods of rest in the summer and winter. These pulses affect us too with regards to the energy required of us. 

Winter is a time where we can be in a relatively restful state. Along comes spring and we must put out a pulse of energy to get the lawnmower ready for another season, put out the patio furniture, prepare the vegetable garden, etc. In summer the workload eases up a bit as things are fairly self-maintaining. Then fall comes and we must spend that energy again to make sure everything is ready for the coming winter.

I remember learning about patterns in Nature in my first sustainable design course. It didn’t make sense to me. I recognized that there were patterns in Nature and this was fine and dandy. What do these patterns have to do with me? People were very into the lecture, talking excitedly about the spiral pattern of the chambered nautilus or the strength of the honeycomb. The question that I had trouble answering was, “So what?” There are patterns all around us, but what does this have to do with how I design things? I didn’t believe that the best garden bed design was a spiral just because that’s the way the chambered nautilus did it (have you ever tried to work in a spiral bed with a wheelbarrow?).


It wasn’t until about two years later when it finally clicked for me, thanks to one sentence in a lecture by sustainable design educator Toby Hemenway. The gist of what Toby said is that Nature doesn’t screw around with things that don’t work or even with things that are less than the most efficient. Nature gravitates toward getting the job done in the most efficient way. That’s why certain patterns repeat in Nature…that’s why I care! I also want to do things in the most efficient way.


Once I looked at patterns in Nature through the lens of the efficiency-minded pragmatist, it made a lot more sense. One can’t just apply patterns haphazardly, though, and expect to end up with a functional system. One has to look at the goal and ask, “How does Nature do this?” It isn’t just about applying patterns from Nature, but applying them properly (of course spiral garden beds don’t work well with wheelbarrows…wheelbarrows have the goal of ‘flowing through’ while spirals create opportunities to flow ‘in and back out again’).

This realization helped to make me a better designer. Once I started working with Terra Phoenix Design understanding the proper application of patterns from Nature became an important part of my design toolkit.

At Terra Phoenix Design we seek to help clients by creating designs that work with Nature instead of against her. In this way we help our clients achieve more sustainable lives through greater efficiency, increased self-sufficiency, and improved productivity. Clearly, the book of Nature’s patterns is often where we turn when seeking the best way to solve a design problem.

So now I often find myself taking the time to observe those patterns I see around me. Once I attuned my senses, I found them throughout all aspects of my life. Now I apply these patterns to my design work where they make the most sense, like an artist with a full palette of colors.

Well folks, take a deep breath…that spring pulse is almost here! 3…2…1…go!

Cross-posted from: Terra Phoenix Design Blog

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Dave Boehnlein

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