Although I’ve been involved with permaculture for nearly a decade now, and on site here at Lackan for six years, practising permaculture on a daily basis, I had never done my PDC (Permaculture Design Certificate). When I was offered the chance to do a PDC at Carraig Dulra in Wicklow, led by friends Suzie Cahn and Hannah Mole, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

A view over the site at Carraig Dulra. Permaculture on marginal land in Wicklow.

The content is similar to the 2 day introductions that we’ve run here but obviously on a far more in depth basis over a fortnight, culminating in a group design taking 24 hours and then a final presentation at the end.

I have to confess that spending 2 weeks with a group of 30 people wasn’t something I relished. It is far from my personal comfort zone, and I knew from previous experience that it was this rather than the course material that I would find challenging. I was however fortunate enough to be able to organise a little caravan from Rita that gave me somewhere to retreat to. We had an amazing group – very diverse, and one where everyone got along well. A common comment was that we learned as much from one another as we did from our course tutors, and every single person there had something to offer the rest of the group.

Fellow participants Ed and Steve giving part of their group presentation

Initially I thought that it was the more hands on aspects of the PDC that I would enjoy, but as it turns out, I’ve spent the last 6 years doing nothing but hands on work and in fact it was the classroom based material that I loved. As well as our tutors Suzie and Hannah we had guest speakers on several occasions – John Dolan talked about water in the landscape; Dave Beecher convinced me that soil is a far more fascinating subject than I could ever have imagined, and John Duffy’s talk on Holistic Management ended up going on for hours by popular request.

We got to visit some amazing permaculture sites, which were truly inspirational, and hearing stories from other participants about their experiences and plans was refreshing.

Sharing and group participation was a core part of the course, with the aim of teaching us the value of group work, and of self organising systems, as well as stretching our boundaries. This was the area that I knew I would have difficulty with, and in truth there were occasions when I came close to walking away from the course. Again, the practical aspects of helping with cooking, cleaning, fire lighting etc were fine, and the challenging aspects were the circle work, sharing and similar activities.  I’ve given this a lot of thought, and as the fortnight went on I came to realise that it really was ok not to participate if I was uncomfortable, although not everyone would be confident to make that choice. I also realised that I never went beyond my personal boundaries (just), and that the experience was beneficial rather than detrimental, even if at the time I didn’t feel great about it.

What surprised me most about the PDC was that I found enjoyment in 2 areas that I genuinely never expected to. Firstly in working as a group. Our final design took place in groups of six, and I fully expected that I would struggle, as I am so used to making decisions without having to consult anyone other than Claire.  The reality was that our group seemed to work really well, and I realised that we produced far better results than one person could have done alone.

The second surprise was that although our design invited solutions both in physical and personal spheres, we concentrated largely on the personal, and that I suddenly realised the value of permaculture design in this area. Moreover I enjoyed the challenge of producing a solution that could genuinely lead to a positive outcome for the client. My physical, hands-on side, was able to manifest itself by wanting to see the solution to a less tangible problem given a form that would be practically useful to not just our client, but to a far wider audience.

So the design process was really a highlight for me. I love solutions. Before the PDC I described permaculture as a problem solving framework based on natural patterns, and so far I am standing by that. At the core of all permaculture is the need to find solutions fo problems of all kinds, and I really feel that my time at Carraig Dulra has significantly improved my ability to understand and implement the tools that permaculture design provides.