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Permaculture was developed as a solution to the problems caused by Western agribusiness: unsustainable land use, land exploitation, environmental degradation, pollution, food insecurity, health issues and energy dependence. The term permaculture (a combination of the words “permanent” and “agriculture”) was coined by Australian ecologists David Holmgren and Bill Mollison in 1978 to describe an “integrated, evolving system of perennial or self-perpetuation plant and animal species useful to man”.
The concept was developed after the researchers had spent considerable time observing natural systems and studying the food systems of indigenous communities, and the gardening cultures of older civilisations such as those in Asia and Central America and Asia.
“Permaculture offers a radical approach to food production and urban renewal, water, energy and pollution,” Mollison further explains. “It integrates ecology, landscape, organic gardening, architecture and agro-forestry in creating a rich and sustainable way of living… The design principles are equally applicable to both urban and rural dwellers.”
If you are looking to garden or farm more ecologically and seeking comprehensive reference books on the subject matter, below we’ve listed some of the best books on permaculture to help you on your journey:
1. ‘Introduction to Permaculture‘ by Bill Mollison and Reny Slay
Written by Bill Mollison with Reny Mia Slay, this book targets general readers with its adoption of simple ‘layperson’s language’ and abundant illustrations and diagrams. The book provides a step-by-step introduction to permaculture concepts, principles and design strategies. It also includes lists of permaculture plants and uses.
2. ‘Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture‘ by Toby Hemenway
Described by some as simply the best permaculture book for home gardeners ever written, Toby Hemenway’s Gaia’s Garden offers practical advice for those looking to “work with nature and not against her” and apply permaculture principles to create a backyard ecosystem where human needs for food is met and where all diverse species of plants and animals work cooperatively. A great resource guide for budding permaculturists regardless of the size of their yards.
3. ‘Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture‘ by Rosemary Morrow
First published in 1993, Rosemary Morrow’s Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture is a great resource for novices and experienced permaculture practitioners alike. Revised and updated in 2010, this highly successful permaculture book outlines permaculture design principles and self-sufficiency techniques that can be applied to an urban or rural setting. It also make a great reference guide for people who want to live more sustainably and want to be more self-reliant.
4. ‘Bioshelter Market Garden: A Permaculture Farm‘ by Darrell Frey
For those looking to make a living from their permaculture lifestyle, this book offers plenty of inspiration. Written by Darrell Frey, a permaculture educator and the owner of Three Sisters Farm, a five-acre permaculture farm, solar greenhouse and market garden located in Western Pennsylvania, it is jam-packed full of illustrations, details of permaculture design and the management of an operational permaculture farm and learning centre. The book features a comprehensive study of Frey’s successful organic market garden developed within the framework of permaculture.
5. ‘Permaculture Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability‘ by David Holmgren
Written by David Holmgren, one of the founders of permaculture, this book brings together the lessons and concepts gathered over 25 years to deepen the reader’s understanding of the ever-evolving concept of permaculture that Holmgren co-pioneered in the 70s. The book comes complete with graphics, references and observations from practical experience.
6. ‘Permaculture: A Practical Guide to Small-Scale, Integrative Farming and Gardening‘ by Sepp Holzer
Farming on steep mountainsides in Austria 1,500 meters above sea level, Sepp Holzer’s book shares practical advice, knowledge and inspiration on how to build a farm holistically and ecologically in even the most impossible of landscapes – and make a sustainable livelihood from it too. His farm features a network of terraces, ponds, waterways, productive trees, raised garden beds and tracks and if he can achieve all of this on a steep slope, so can you!
7. ‘Permaculture Design Course Handbook‘ by Robyn Francis
This freely available 139-page handbook developed by Robyn Francis for Permaculture Education’s Permaculture Design Course in 1991 is a wonderful resource for beginners and continues to be regularly updated to include up-to-date findings (last major review of the guide book was completed in 2007).
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Cover image via David Holmgren.