As a kid I was taught the mnemonic device “Never Eat Soggy Waffles” to help me remember the order of the four primary directions. It is a silly but easy to remember phrase. However, beyond the function of just remembering the primary directions it is pretty useless. The advice it offers isn’t particularly useful. You are not going to die if you eat soggy waffles and throwing them out would be wasteful. Can’t you just toast them? Some people may even like their waffles soggy and probably find the phrase offensive.
In permaculture we stack functions. Why not stack the functions of a our mnemonic devices too? Could we come up with a phrase that has more wisdom built into it?
I see a couple approaches we could take. The phrase itself could be something that inspires one to live a greater life. This would be better than some useless phrase. I want something more out of it, though. What if we could tie in intrinsic qualities of the primary directions into the phrase? I like this idea so let’s see where it takes us, shall we?
North has been the most important direction throughout history. Explorer’s of the past relied on the North Star (Polaris) to navigate. The position of Polaris over the northern pole contributed to countless voyages that shaped the world today, its impact on history is incalculable. How extremely convenient that there is a fixed point highlighted in sky that points the viewer north. In this sense North has always been considered the guiding direction.
North is also associated with cold. Images of snow, glaciers, ice blue waters come to mind. North’s season is winter.
In permaculture we try to read the landscape and work with it. A designer will look at the northern slopes (for those in the southern hemisphere you know to substitute in South here) and see a wet, shady, and cool micro-climate. The solar insolation on northern slopes is less. This is important when considering what to plant. Plants that require wetter and cooler conditions for your climate would do best on a northern slope.
Plants that thrive on northern slopes:
- Evergreen trees
- Leafy greens
- Plants with a short growing season. radishes, peas, etc.
East is commonly associated with renewal in many cultures. The symbolism of the rising sun and the start of a new day is obvious. New beginnings, salvation, the future, hope, and new growth are all linked to East.
Images of the sunrise and misty mornings come to mind when I think of East. East’s season is spring.
From a landscape perspective East facing slopes receive the first light. The plants planted here will get light during the coldest hours of the day and be shaded during the hottest hours of the day. For this reason eastern slopes tend to be cooler and wetter than western slopes, but not as cold as northern slopes. Another important aspect to consider here is that if there is a frost, damage to a plant’s leaves does not happen until the sun hits the frozen leaves. A frost sensitive plant is more likely to be damaged by an early frost on an Eastern slope.
Plants that thrive on Eastern slopes:
- Apricots & Peaches bloom very early and they are very susceptible to late frosts. One solution is to plant them on East facing slopes to delay when they bloom.
- Tender greens, kale, chard, etc.
South, being the opposite of the constant and true North, implies something wild or adventurous. South’s season is summer and with it the imagery of spontaneous growth and warmth. Health and vitality also come to mind.
Southern slopes are the opposite of Nothern slopes. They are warm and dry. Southern waffles are anything but soggy. Plants that need long, sunny days love southern slopes. All that sun exposure makes it perfect place for growing most veggies.
In passive solar design, the south face of the house is the most important and should be loaded with windows to soak up heat during cold winter days.
Plants that thrive of Southern slopes:
- Most everything
If East is associated with beginnings then West is associated with endings. The day ends in the west, so the symbolism of death is obvious. Wisdom would also be West because at the end we can look back with the benefit of hindsight. West’s season is Fall.
I think of golden sunsets and clear skies when I think of West.
Western slopes get direct sunlight during the hottest part of that day. They are generally hottest and dry. Since they do not receive direct sunlight until the air has warmed up they can be useful for plants sensitive to frost.
Plants that thrive of Western slopes:
- Most everything except plants that don’t tolerate heat well, such as leafy greens.
Putting it Together
So what can we come up with that uses the qualities of each direction? Nippy Eager Sweaty Hot….that sounds like some bad paperback novel to me. Looks like I’ll have to take this another direction.
Permaculture is about working with nature instead of against it. The four cardinal directions teach us about micro climates and niches. Different species will thrive on each of the four slopes. By paying attention to the land and how the sun interacts with it we can place plants in places where they can not only survive, but thrive. We can Nourish Every Species’ Well-being, including our own.
Nourish Every Species’ Well-being sounds much more permaculture to me then that soggy waffle mess.
What can you come up with? Put your ideas in the comments below.
Photo by Joy