Fall 2011
Permablitz labyrinth sign
Diagram of the labyrinth that was being installed during a permablitz in Belfast. English photo.

By Jean English

“Look closely at the present you are constructing. It should look like the future you dream of.”

Alice Walker’s quote is one of several on the Belfast Area Transition Initiative website (BATI;

A “permablitz” that BATI organized and helped implement on July 20 fulfilled a dream for Cedar Street resident Karen Ireland and was a model project for others.

A permablitz is like a flash mob with lasting purpose. It combines the term “permaculture” – land use design based on ecological principles – and “blitz” – a sudden, intense effort. In Ireland’s case, that involved having a dozen or so people come to her yard, dig up the lawn and prepare ground for two gardens.

Some of those people were friends and neighbors, many involved in BATI; six were energetic young people from Climate Summer ( who were bicycling to seven communities in Maine in seven weeks to help with local, grassroots projects that benefit those communities, whether related to permaculture, city planning, health or renewable energy. Climate Summer participants learned about BATI by Googling “transition,” which prompted them to contact Belfast residents Susan Cutting and Jim Merkel, who had organized a similar biking expedition previously.

Lauren Audi, a Boston College student and spokesperson for the Climate Summer group that came to Belfast, said the group would connect different facets of the large movement addressing alternatives to fossil fuel use so that the social movement would be recognized by government and others. Climate Summer is producing a 2011 State of the Movement Report to catalog efforts of community groups in order to inspire other communities.

Growing more food locally, while having less lawn to mow, is one way to address climate change, and that’s what the permablitz was doing at Ireland’s home. Participants were replacing the lawn in her side yard with three raised beds that will grow perennials and vegetables. They amended the beds with Kinney compost, compost that Ireland had on hand, and aged bark mulch. Then they lined the paths between beds with cardboard topped with wood chips for an attractive, weed-suppressing surface.

Bindy Pendleton Students from Climate Summer
Bindy Pendleton of the Belfast Area Transition Iniative tends an existing garlic bed at Karen Ireland’s Cedar Street yard. English photo. Students from Climate Summer were energetic participants during their bike trek through Maine. English photo.

The backyard lawn was replaced with a 30-foot-diameter, seven-ring labyrinth. Paths in the labyrinth offer a place for walking meditation, while the beds will grow strawberries and fragrant plants, such as lemon balm.

Bindy Pendleton, who is involved with BATI and was one of the July 20 blitzers, was excited about the almost instant gardens that were being created. “It’s like an old-fashioned barn raising,” she said. 

Pendleton is also excited about permaculture.  “Edible landscaping is one aspect of permaculture,” she said; “and permaculture is one of the things I’m really interested in, because food sovereignty is so important.”

In promoting local resiliency, Pendleton said that BATI “is about reducing our addiction to fossil fuel. That means changing some habits. What food we eat and how we grow it is part of that.”

In addition to food, Ireland’s gardens will grow medicinal herbs – some, such as lovage, angelica, sage and tansy, donated by Pendleton.

Andrew Watkins
Andrew Watkins, with Climate Summer participants and Belfast area residents, created a labyrinth garden, to be planted with strawberries and fragrant perennials. English photo.

While the July 20 event certainly exuded a blitz-like quality, with abundant human energy going into the daylong makeover, a permablitz does take some planning. Ireland herself studied permaculture enough to plan what she wanted beforehand and move plants she wanted to keep to a temporary bed; and Andrew Watkins, who coordinated this permablitz, said, “This was all done in one day, but with two months of organization” by a core group.

“It’s exciting,” said Watkins. “Humans like order. This will be organic order, growing food with life-abounding energy.”

This was the second permablitz in Belfast, and a third was being planned for August.  For more information, see BATI’s informative website.

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