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Guide to Permaculture Design Courses



Here I’m going to get into the nitty-gritty of what Permaculture Design Courses entail.

I'm also going to walk you through what I learnt on the 12-day course at the Wild Olive Guest Farm, Stillbay, which followed the internationally-relevant structure of a PDC.

So, what is a PDC?

Permaculture Design Courses range from 12-14 day intensive programmes in which you will gain a comprehensive understanding of permaculture theory through tutorials, practicals, field work and supplementary readings and videos.

Courses are based on the book by Bill Mollison, Permaculture: A designer’s manual.

The aim is to ensure you are able to:

  • Design a permaculture system for yourself, and can assist in designing systems for others
  • Teach others through a thorough understanding of permaculture
  • Assess systems for sustainability
  • Who benefits from Permaculture Design Courses?

    Since the first Permaculture Design Course was offered in 1972, permaculture design has attracted people from all walks of life.

    Some of the professions of my colleagues at the Wild Olive’s PDC group included farming, graphic design, IT, rope access, relationship management and real estate.

    The only requirement is that you be interested in acquiring practical skills and knowledge of sustainable living.

    However, I found the PDC to be an intensive, fairly-advanced course. Thus, I’d highly recommend reading Bill Mollison’s: An Introduction to Permaculture, prior to the course.

    What can you expect as a result?

    By the end of the course, you will be able to confidently create your first permaculture design plan. You will also be awarded a Permaculture Design Certificate.

    This certification allows you to practice as a Permaculture Designer and develop a body of work in order to be fully certified after two years of work in the field.

    What’s more, the Permaculture Design Course enables you to use the term ‘Permaculture’ in your activities/business.

    What topics does a PDC cover?

    Below is a list of the topics we covered at the Wild Olive Farm’s Permaculture Course, which will be explained in more detail as we go through each day’s learnings.

    • Ethics of sustainability
    • Principles of permaculture
    • Pattern and design (Zoning and sectors)
    • Food garden layout (including seed to harvest, beekeeping)
    • Nature of ecosystem
    • Water harvesting and management
    • Alternative energy
    • Building soil fertility
    • Natural building design
    • Waste recycling and treatment


    • Meet the experts

      The PDC was facilitated by Hazel Mugford and Avice Hindmarch, two strong-minded and passionate women who each brought their respective strengths to the course. On asking how they met, Hazel relates how she received an abruptly worded email asking: "Who are you and what are your credentials". Not exactly an auspicious start.

      However, Hazel was intrigued when Avice mentioned she loved to bring games into her teaching methods. As this was not a common method used in SA, she agreed to meet, they immediately clicked, and the rest is history.

        Wild Olive Permaculture course facilitator, Hazel MugfordWild Olive PDC co-facilitator, Avice Hindmarch

      Previously an Accountant in Johannesburg, Hazel (pictured to your left) escaped the rat race to reinvent herself as a permaculture farmer and the proprietor of the Wild Olive Guest Farm, where she has been running permaculture courses for many years.

      Hazel’s story is an inspiring one – she literally transformed a barren sheep farm located on bed of solid rock into a flourishing permaculture garden. What started it all, she says, was reading a book by Linda Woodrow: The Permaculture Home Garden.

      Hazel didn’t rest there, going on to obtain a Diploma in Permaculture in the UK and a Permaculture Design Certificate in SA.

      She also holds a Permaculture “Train the Trainer” qualification, obtained in Wales from the Institute of Design Vision, which enables her to teach using methods designed by other permaculture teachers.

      Hazel’s enthusiasm is boundless and her passion unmistakable in everything she does. She states:

      “If a system is backed by nature, it becomes easy. If it’s hard, you’re doing something wrong”.


      At 70 years of age, Avice Hindmarch (pictured to your right) displays an extraordinary vitality, a strong connection to the earth, and a keen sense of curiosity.

      Avice worked as Nurse while raising four sons, feeding her family from their organic garden. She attended the first Permaculture Design Course in 1991 in Bryanston, Johannesburg during Bill Mollison's visit.

      Her perspective immediately changed. Coming from a long line of gardeners, Avice had always thought that gardening seemed like a lot of work. She was thrilled to realise that there was a better way of doing things, a way in which human energy is maximised, through designing systems in line with nature.

      Avice has worked in rural community development, establishing gardens for people with AIDS, Eco-township planning for Midrand, building a natural house of clay as well as being a founder member of an Eco-village. She continuously works on developing food sustainability on her own farm in Midrand, including cows, bees, poultry, vegetables and fruit.

      Avice has been facilitating Permaculture Courses since 1991 locally as well as in Ghana and Malawi. She is advisor to Spier BD Farm and other broadscale farms in the Cape where a rain- dependant vinyard was established, plus pastures for Nguni cattle.

      She is a longtime member of the Biodynamic Association of South Africa, and her expertise in this field formed part of the course.

      Avice also lists an additional interest, working with the healing properties of the vortex movement on water through Flowform cascades. These days she is based in Onrus and volunteers at Camphill Farm Hermanus to assist in training young aspirant farmers/gardeners.

      The best way to introduce you to Avice is through her words. In explaining the difference between Permaculture and Biodynamics (BD) she sums up how Permaculture is the practical aspect of farming whereas BD is the spiritual, with the statement:

      "Permaculture focuses on nature's working relationships, while Biodynamics strengthens the effect of the planetary forces and cosmic rhythms on plant life through applications of specially prepared substances. They complement each other."

      Find out about Permaculture Design Courses in South Africa


      To read my PDC blog about daily life on a Permaculture Design Course, click one of the following links.

      Permaculture Design Course blog: Day 1

      Permaculture Design Course blog: Day 2

      Permaculture Design Course blog: Day 3

      Permaculture Design Course Blog: Day 4

      Permaculture Design Course blog: Day 5

      Permaculture Design Course Blog: Day 6

      Permaculture Design Course Blog: Day 7

      Permaculture Design Course Blog: Day 8

      Permaculture Design Course Blog: Day 9

      Permaculture Design Course Blog: Day 10

      Permaculture Design Course Blog: Day 11

      Permaculture Design Course Blog: Day 12

      Permaculture Design Course Blog: Day 13

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