Moving into the Design Process: Exploring Placement

After completing my detailed analysis of elements, I felt a mindblock. Where to go from there? What next? I have so enjoyed the open-ended feeling of the assessment stage, I am almost hesitant to start actually making decisions. And how to start making decisions anyway?

A few days ago, I did an exercise that turned out to be very helpful. I printed out my chart of elements and cut out each element (leaving it attached to it’s associated description, inputs, outputs and access columns.) I mentally divided our kitchen table into a giant “chart” with Zone 1, Zone 2, etc across the top, and Full Sun, Part Sun and Shade Tolerant down the side. Then I picked up each element and carefully considered where on the chart it belonged. For example, annual gardens belong in zone 2 (my zones are a bit skewed from the classic permaculture zoning because of my small yard), and full sun. Firewood storage on the other hand can be put in zone 3 and full shade.


The tangible quality of arranging pieces of paper, as well as the practice of disassociating my zones and microclimates from the actual property were both very helpful. Insights were flying at me! I highly recommend this exercise.

After laying out the elements in a rough chart form, I wanted to create a graphic of the outcome. I wanted to preserve the disassociation from the actual property, to keep my mind open, so I didn’t use my previous zone and sector map but rather sketched a new one in the classic bullseye format. This is a chart really, just in a different shape. Each section represents not a specific place on our property, but rather a combination of circumstances which occurs on our property. I think the distinction is important because when I look at my actual map, I just can’t help but jump to so many conclusions based on past thoughts about it. What I’m trying to do now is free myself from those past conclusions and open my mind to new possibilities. Groovy, man.


If you don’t have a printable analysis of elements, no problem. You could use mine (pdf here) though it is to some degree site specific. But this exercise could work without a pre-made analysis too, just sitting down with a simple list of elements next to a (non-map based) zone and sector chart, and then thinking carefully about each element before writing it on the chart. Be smarter than me and use a pencil.

Note that if you do start with actual pieces of paper with the elements on them, your imaginary table “chart” might track different things than mine. My sun/shade consideration is basically just distilled sectoring as it applies to my land. Here, sun is the issue, the thing in demand. There are other microclimates to consider, and I did expand my considerations a bit in the bullseye chart, but to simplify the initial tangible charting process, I used just sun considerations for a basic starting point. In a desert climate you might put water access down the side instead of sun.

After making my basic chart, and placing all the elements on it, I added one more thing– the blue lines indicate where elements have beneficial or necessary connections to each other. Relative location– one of the bases of permaculture. This did take the edge off of the brilliant simplicity of the whole exercise (I had the most useful mental energy flowing when I was at the moving pieces of paper around phase), but it had to happen really, somehow, at some point. Let me know if you come up with a more graceful solution to brainstorming relative location superimposed onto zones and sectors.

Please let me know if you try this out! I’d love to hear how it works for others.

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One Response to Moving into the Design Process: Exploring Placement

  1. farmer_liz says:

    sounds like a good approach, I want to finish reading Gaia’s garden before I start designing, so I will come back to this, thanks for sharing.

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