If you’ve found this post, you’re likely wanting to learn a little more about permaculture without spending lots of money on a permaculture design course or lots of time combing through the internet for the best articles on permaculture.
I’ve been there!
Well, I wanted to simplify that process for you and compile a short-list of books that I have found helpful while beginning my own journey into a permaculture lifestyle.
The following books are all in my own permaculture library and I have not been paid to advertise them. This list certainly does not represent everything that’s out there, and I know there’s plenty that I haven’t found time to read or even heard of.
I’d like to mention one thing before diving into my recommendations: information is a resource. In permaculture, we learn that resources in surplus can cause chaos. This is especially true of information. There’s so much information out there that you may feel like you need to absorb it all before starting anything on your own. Information-overload often leads to inaction.
But getting started in permaculture is all about taking action. So after reading through my recommendations below, I highly urge you to focus your energy on one book at a time and try to take some sort of action based on what you learn before you move onto the next.
By doing this, you will find that you’re slowly building upon what you learn over time and eventually will have adopted a regenerative lifestyle without even realizing it!
So without further ado…
The Best Permaculture Books for Beginners: My Recommendations
A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture
I recommend this book most often for people beginning their journey into permaculture. Written by Toby Hemenway, this book guides you through the basics of permaculture in an approachable way.
The reason why I recommend this book so strongly is that it is a self-proclaimed guide to home scale permaculture. Often, people get so wrapped up in the large scope of permaculture that they don’t feel they can connect to it on a personal level. This book focuses on smaller systems that can be implemented even in small urban backyards, with a focus on forest-gardening.
Gaia’s Garden is divided into 3 parts: The garden as an Ecosystem, The pieces of the Ecological Garden, and Assembling the Ecological Garden. Each section builds upon the last so that by the end, you understand not only the theory behind implementing a small system, but also how and why the system works so well. It also includes numerous tables full of plant recommendations for each layer of the garden. On top of that, the four-page bibliography is a great resource for further learning.
Hemenway was based in California and Oregon, so many of his recommendations are for temperate climate systems. But the information and how it is presented is useful for all beginners in the permaculture world, especially those that are coming in from a gardening background.
Side-note: I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet, but I’ve heard great things about his second book, The Permaculture City, published in 2015. The book focuses more on urban and suburban environments and how permaculture thinking can be applied not just to gardens, but also to how we organize our cities and communities.
for Home Landscapes, your Community, and the Whole Earth
Another great book for starters is Practical Permaculture by Jessi Bloom and Dave Boehnlein. Published in 2016, I found this book to be an excellent broad introduction to permaculture that’s easy to read with great illustrations.
Dave and Jessi give a clear overview of permaculture that covers everything that would be taught in an “intro to permaculture” course. They then provide a detailed blueprint for a design process that is appropriate for small to mid-scale installations, with a focus on home landscapes and small community projects. Just this part alone is well worth the time you put into reading it.
From there, the authors go a little further and give some practical (see what I did there?) information on permaculture systems like rainwater harvesting and animal systems. The drawings truly complement the text and help understand the concepts being talked about along the way.
To cap it all off, the book includes a listing of 50 useful plants for the permaculture garden for all types of climates, as well as a chapter on invisible structures: things like social and economic parts of society that are not physical parts of a permaculture design. Understanding invisible structures is very important for creating a design that will function well within your community.
Overall, this book is a great investment and will give you a great foundational understanding of permaculture.
Real-World Permaculture for Farmers
If you’re wondering how permaculture can be applied on a larger scale or come from an agricultural background, Mark Shepard’s book on “real-world permaculture for farmers” is the book for you.
In Restoration Agriculture, Shepard explores the challenges and shortcomings of our modern agricultural system and provides a model for how we can can convert farmland back to perennial ecosystems while providing the nutritional needs to feed the population. The book contains detailed nutritional analysis comparing corn/soybean farming to a polycultural system that includes trees, shrubs, and pasture for raising animals.
What I like about this book is that it describes how annual cropping systems have consistently failed over time and led to the collapse of civilizations, a reality that we need to hear. But instead of just pointing fingers and saying that it’s not working, Shepard is taking action on his own property to trial systems that have the potential to feed the population while building soil and mitigating climate change along the way.
This book is ideal for farmers or those in the agricultural industry that want to learn more about how permaculture can be applied to large scale systems that produce enough food to feed the population, all while reducing the energy/chemical inputs needed in modern agriculture.
The One-Straw Revolution
This book is not about permaculture, but influenced the founders of permaculture at its inception. Masanobu Fukuoka’s manifesto on natural farming introduced a radical new way of thinking when it was published and has inspired permaculturists ever since.
Born and raised in Japan, Fukuoka trained as a scientist and worked in agricultural labs before rejecting the modern model of agriculture for a more nature-derived option. Based on his actual experiences, this book challenges all modern assumptions on farming and encourages a transition back to working more with nature.
In the book, the author (through a translator) describes his method of farming that uses no-till systems to produce an abundance of food year after year with only a few weeks of labor annually and minimal irrigation.
It’s a quick read that will make you think “Of course! Why aren’t we doing that now?”
I recommend this book if you’re looking to understand the thought processes and mindset behind permaculture.
Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability
While I’d label this book as more of an intermediate-level permaculture book, I wanted to mention it here because it serves as a great transition from basic to more advanced permaculture thinking.
Author David Holmgren, co-originator of permaculture, goes into detail about the twelve principles of permaculture. These principles, coupled with the ethics of Earth Care, People Care, and Future Care, provide a framework for how to take a basic understanding of permaculture and apply it more broadly to life. Principles like “Design from Pattern to Detail” and “Use Small and Slow Solutions” are commonly used in Permaculture Design Courses (PDCs) to help students make decisions while working on and implementing designs.
This book is definitely more cerebral that the others I’ve listed so far and goes in depth about how each of the twelve principles can influence decisions made in permaculture designs on all scales. Understanding these principles and how to apply them can make the difference between a system that lasts for hundreds of years and one that fails after the initial excitement wears off.
I refer back to this book on a regular basis and highly recommend it. If you’ve already got a solid understanding of permaculture and want to take your permaculture practice to the next level, this book is definitely for you.
Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual
Okay, this is definitely not what most people would consider to be on the list of “best permaculture books for beginners.” But if you like reading the nitty gritty details and enjoy somewhat dated language, Bill Mollison’s original textbook on permaculture design is the perfect choice for you.
This book is literally THE cornerstone of permaculture design. It’s used in most reputable PDCs as the backbone of the course.
Now, I’m not going to lie. The book is thick. It has small print. It takes a long time to get through.
But a complete beginner can read through these 550+ pages and come out knowing more about the theory behind permaculture systems than many certified permaculture designers. It has detailed drawings and figures to illustrate the points within the text, and offers a complete education on permaculture.
Most people won’t want this level of detail when they are just starting, and it’s definitely is hard to get through it. But if you were going to buy only one book on permaculture, this is definitely the one to get.
Well there you have it- my recommendations of books to get you started down your permaculture journey. They truly have brought value to me during my beginnings in permaculture, and I hope they help you along the way as well.
Remember to take this journey one step at a time. Read one book and try to take some action based on what you’ve learned. There’s no need to go buy these books if you don’t have the means- I’ve found most of them in my local library system.
Have other permaculture book suggestions for beginners? Then please leave a comment to share with the community! If you have any questions for me directly about any of my book recommendations, head on over to the contact page and send me a message.
Thanks for checking out this post, and happy reading!