In Sonoma Magazine’s March/April 2020 edition, Erik Ohlsen was asked their “Gateway Question.” Read on for what he had to share!

What’s the Latest in Eco-Friendly Design?
by Nate Seltenrich

It’s planting time in Sonoma, and local nurseries are busy. But many gardeners are asking for something new, something sustainable. Sebastopol-based landscape designer Erik Ohlsen wants to help. Through his company, Permaculture Artisans, Ohlsen creates eco-friendly regenerative landscapes of all types and sizes across Sonoma County.

Permaculture design focuses on working with nature, not against it. On Ohlsen’s 1-acre homestead, he feeds worms, stores rainwater in huge volumes, and grows more than 100 fruit and nut trees. The whole thing is maintained in a state of near-feralness to promote habitat and diversity. “When you come into my garden, it looks like a wild ecosystem,” Ohlsen says. “It looks like a wild jungle.” But that look’s not for everyone—nor should it be, he stresses. Permaculture principles can make any landscape more sustainable, whether it’s a clean and tidy English garden or a suburban yard with flagstone patio and pool.

Working with nature
Permaculture is about mimicking natural patterns and designing landscapes and gardens to function like ecosystems. That includes working with the water cycle, the carbon cycle, the movements of animals, and the development of healthy soils. The design process is rooted in observation and listening and treating every project very specifically.

Maximizing water
A lot of people’s homes were designed to drain all the water away. That leads to people over-irrigating, to stressed-out landscapes, and in a larger sense, cumulatively, to drought, floods, and fires. With every landscape that can hold as much water as possible, that’s a huge win.

Leaves are gold
One thing people can do is try to keep green waste on-site through a home composting system. And stop bagging and throwing away your leaves. Everybody does it, but that stuff’s gold. You could literally pile leaves two feet high, throw some straw over the top of it, and within two months, it’ll be soil-grade again, filled with worms and fungi.

Climate change and fire
We can’t treat every ridge and valley the same, because they all differ in terms of climate, topography, watershed, soil type, and vegetation, all of which play an important part in how wildfire might move or react. Permaculture provides a process for learning the story of a place, so that when we build a landscape it’s utilizing the natural resources rather than opposing them.


To learn more about Sonoma Magazine: https://www.sonomamag.com/

Erik Ohlsen is an Internationally Renowned Ecological Designer, Landscape Contractor at Permaculture Artisans, and Executive Director of the Permaculture Skills Center.

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