Planting Perennial Polycultures of Multipurpose Plants

Why, it's a perennial polyculture of multipurpose plants! An apple tree, comfrey, milkweed and more! Photo by Dennis.

Why, it’s a perennial polyculture of multipurpose plants! An apple tree, comfrey, milkweed and more! Photo by Dennis.

A Permaculture Nugget

We’re offering several “permaculture nuggets” over the weeks leading up to the Permaculture Design Course. You can find the previous one, on Stacking Functions, right here. Please enjoy!

Want a new tongue-twister? Try saying “I’m planting a perennial polyculture of multipurpose plants” three times!

Planting a perennial polyculture of multipurpose plants is what I’m doing in my forest garden at Dancing Rabbit. Understanding this permaculture concept, though, might be a bit easier than saying it. Here’s what I mean.


Perennials are plants that live for at least two seasons – often more. Trees, berries, and a surprising number of vegetables are perennial. I prefer perennials because they:

  • save on human energy (you only have to plant once!)
  • build soil (you don’t have to disturb all the little critters in the soil each year as you do with annual)
  • are low-maintenance (once well-started they need little care)
  • have a long-term role in the ecosystem (critters can count on them for homes and/or food from one season to the next)
  • extend the harvest season (they’re already in the ground, so they have a head-start for spring growing)


This is the opposite of monoculture. I plant various species of plants all together in one bed, often centered around a fruit or nut tree, to form a diverse little community. Each plant has a different role to play within the community.


Every plant in the polyculture has multiple purposes by design. A single plant might have deep roots that draw up nutrients to share with other plants, attract pollinating insects with its flowers, and have leaves that are medicinal for humans.

Figuring out which plants work well together and what roles they play is just one fascinating part of permaculture design. You can learn more about creating perennial polycultures of multipurpose plants through the Permaculture Design Course (PDC) at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, August 29-September 6. Earn a permaculture design certificate while experiencing life in an ecovillage! Click here for more information and course registration.

Sharon has lived at Dancing Rabbit for the past six years. She has studied and practiced permaculture for close to twenty years, receiving an advanced design certificate and, most recently, a teaching certificate. She is the author of a permaculture curriculum for children, and will apprentice teach with Bill and Becky Wilson at Dancing Rabbit’s permaculture design course in August.

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