Gardens as metaphors for learning ecosystems – The Permaculture Garden


In this series of blogs, Andrea Cardillo is exploring gardens as a metaphor for learning ecosystems. Over the past two weeks Andrea explored both the Italian/French and English styles of garden as metaphors for L&D organisations. This week he is focused on a Permaculture style of garden.

In my last two blogs exploring gardens as metaphors for learning ecosystems, I came to the conclusion that both the Italian/French and English gardens, whilst having some significant advantages, do not offer a truly sustainable model for learning ecosystems. So is a Permaculture garden the answer for an L&D system that is truly self-sustaining?

The Permaculture garden

A third and last powerful metaphor for a learning ecosystem is a Permaculture Garden.

Permanent agriculture (‘permaculture’ for short) is a system based on observing and imitating nature. Permaculture gardeners look at a natural ecosystem in its entirety, harmonizing plants, trees, roots, water streams to the existing conditions of the soil and the landscape.

Through this process, permaculture gardens produce food for humans and shelter and nourishment for local flora and fauna with minimal human intervention. This approach foresees a minimal need for watering, weeding and fertilizing, so that the entire natural system can survive and thrive over time.

I believe this is the best metaphor for how L&D departments are starting to envision permanent, self-sustaining learning ecosystems as an integral part of the wider organisational landscape. This philosophy embeds the main characteristics of what Laloux calls Teal organisations.

In an optimal scenario, purpose provides the system a clear reason for being. Significant freedom with responsibility is left to individuals about how to connect with that source of nourishment and how to develop and grow to be able to contribute to it.

  • Self-directed learning pathways for content (through e-learning or online repository of videos, podcasts, articles, etc.)
  • Reflective group and individual spaces (coaching, communities of practice, leadership reflection)
  • Leaders and senior professionals operating as mentors for new hires
  • Hackathons where competent people can gather to apply their knowledge to innovate and develop the organisation itself
  • Internal team coaching interventions to bring new teams up to speed or support them in moments of change or turn-around

All the above are examples of sustainable practices that may help organisations – and individuals – to embed a change- and learning-oriented mindset into their daily activities.

Of course, there will still be need L&D experts to help an organisation to embed and live the principles of a self-sustaining learning ecosystem. They will operate less as architects and designers, and more like expert gardeners capable of observing the dynamics and needs of the environment and intervening to support and adjust its natural evolution only as needed.

I think this third kind of ecosystem takes our level of thinking to a completely different challenge.

Could the L&D community (both internal functions and external consultants) work according to the regulatory principle of its own redundance? Could we seriously envision operating to embed a learning culture in our systems that it will not need our intervention anymore?

If you would like to speak to one of our experts about your L&D system, please get in touch.

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