What is Permaculture?

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What is Permaculture?

Permaculture is a word originally coined by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the mid 1970’s to describe an “integrated, evolving system of perennial or self-perpetuating plant and animal species useful to man.” – Bill Mollison and David HolmgrenPermaculture One, 1978.

It originally referred to “permanent agriculture”  but was expanded to include “permanent culture” as social aspects were seen to be integral to sustainable systems.

Since then, various authors and practitioners have developed their own definitions and it’s often been difficult to summarise the overarching concepts in just a few words or phrases.  Therefore, to assist members and people who are new to permaculture the following collection of definitions might provide a deeper understanding.

Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labour; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single product system.

– Bill Mollison

Consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fibre and energy for provision of local needs. People, their buildings and the ways in which they organise themselves are central to permaculture. Thus the permaculture vision of permanent or sustainable agriculture has evolved to one of permanent or sustainable culture.

– David Holmgren

Permaculture is a branch of ecological design, ecological engineering, environmental design, construction and integrated water resources management that develops sustainable architecture, regenerative and self-maintained habitat and agricultural systems modelled from natural ecosystems.

– Toby Hemenway

Permaculture is about designing sustainable human settlements through ecology and design.  It is a philosophy and an approach to land use which weaves together microclimates, annuals and perennial plants, animals, soils, water management and human needs into intricately connected productive communities.

– Bill Mollison and Reny Mia Slay

Permaculture is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems.  It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people — providing their food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.

– Geoff Lawton

Permaculture is the art and science that applies patterns found in nature to the design and construction of human and natural environments.

– Larry Santoyo

Permaculture is a way of life which shows us how to make the most of our resources by minimising waste and maximising potential.  Conscious design of a lifestyle which is highly productive and does not cause environmental damage.  Meeting our basic needs and still leaving the earth richer than we found it.

– Graham Bell

Rosemary Morrow, Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture, 2006, summarises the main features of permaculture:

  • It is a synthesis of traditional knowledge and modern science applicable in both urban and rural situations.
  • It works with nature and takes natural systems as models to design sustainable environments that provide for basic human needs and the social and economic infrastructures that support them.
  • It encourages us, and gives us the capacity and opportunity to become a conscious part of the solution to many problems that face us locally and globally.

A very useful diagram is the Permaculture Flower Poster designed by David Holmgren to describe some of the specific fields, design systems and solutions that have been associated with the wider view of permaculture.  He has generously made this available under a creative commons licence, and this poster is free to copy, distribute and transmit for non-commercial purposes, but must not be altered.

Download the PDF here.  Permaculture Flower Poster.