Local Permaculture Groups

What is Permaculture?

Permaculture is a design science developed by Australian ecologists Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the late 1970’s, but as a practice it has been around for much longer, wherever humans have chosen to live in balance with their environment.
Permaculture, as a design system, is unique in that it identifies and integrates holistically all of the elements that define sustainability. These include critical issues like energy use and fossil fuel dependence, climate change and changing species in our environment, the re-localization of food and resource production, and the ethics involved in all of these questions … and much more.


Permaculture Ethics and Principles

Image courtesy of Permaculture Principles under Creative Commons Licence


The Twelve Principles of Permaculture by David Holmgren

1. Observe and Interact – Beauty is in the mind of the beholder. By taking the time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.

2. Catch and Store Energy – Make hay while the sun shines. By developing systems that collect resources when they are abundant, we can use them in times of need.

3. Obtain a Yield – You can’t work on an empty stomach. Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work you are doing.

4. Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback – The sins of the fathers are visited on the children of the seventh generation. We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well. Negative feedback is often slow to emerge.

5. Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services – Let nature take its course. Make the best use of nature’s abundance to reduce our consumptive behaviour and dependence on non-renewable resources.

6. Produce No Waste – Waste not, want not or A stitch in time saves nine. By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.

7. Design From Patterns to Details – Can’t see the forest for the trees. By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.

8. Integrate Rather Than Segregate – Many hands make light work. By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.

9. Use Small and Slow Solutions – Slow and steady wins the race or The bigger they are, the harder they fall. Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and produce more sustainable outcomes.

10. Use and Value Diversity – Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.

11. Use Edges and Value the Marginal – Don’t think you are on the right track just because it’s a well-beaten path. The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.

12. Creatively Use and Respond to Change – Vision is not seeing things as they are but as they will be. We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing and then intervening at the right time.


Bill Mollison’s Design Principles

1. Relative Location – putting things in the right place to make connections.

2. Each element performs many functions – the more multifunctional, the more productive.

3. Each major function is supported by many elements – provide for basic needs (eg water) in more than one way.

4. Energy efficient planning – use zone and sector analysis and elevational planning; determine energy flows.

5. Use biological resources – use plants and animals to do the work (eg geese grazing, worms aerating, living fences).

6. Energy cycling – recycle and increase energy and catch, store and use energy on site to fullest potential; create cycles.

7. Small scale intensive systems – start at the back door and work out; intensively managed systems are more productive; use stacking of plants and animals.

8. Accelerate succession and evolution – imitate natural systems but make it happen faster; raise levels of organic matter, introduce pioneer and climax species (soils).

9. Diversity – polycultural systems increase sum of yield; not number of elements but number of functional connections.

10. Edge effects – productivity increases at the boundary of two systems; maximise edges on site (patterns).

Attitudinal principles (Mollisonisms)


  • Everything works both ways – turn problems into solutions.
  • Permaculture is information and imagination intensive – quality of thought determines yield.
  • Long and protracted thought rather than thoughtless careless actions.


Energy Efficient Planning – zones

  • Zone 1 – Kitchen Garden and Ultilities (visited very often, if not every day)
  • Zone 2 – Intensive Production Area (require regular observation)
  • Zone 3 – Extensive Production Area
  • Zone 4 – Managed Habitat
  • Zone 5 – Natural Habitat


Permaculture Ethics

1. Care of the Earth – includes all living and non-living things; plants, animals, land, water and air.
2. Care of People – promotes self-reliance and community responsibility; access to resources necessary for existence.
3. Fair Share /Setting Limits to Population & Consumption – gives away surplus; contribution of surplus time, labor, money, information, and energy to achieve the aims of earth and people care.

These ethics form the foundation for permaculture design and are also found in most traditional societies. Permaculture also acknowledges a basic life ethic, which recognises the intrinsic worth of every living thing. A tree has value in itself, even if it presents no commercial value to humans. That the tree is alive and functioning is worthwhile. It is doing its part in nature; recycling litter, producing oxygen, sequestering carbon dioxide, sheltering animals, building soils and so on.


More detailed information is available in these pages

Background on Bill Mollison
David Holmgren and his Definition of Permaculture


Key information sources

Permaculture Principles

Detailed information about permaculture ethics and the design principles




  • Mollison, Bill, with Slay, Reny Mia, Introduction to Permaculture
  • Mollison, Bill and Holmgren, David, (1978) Permaculture One: A Perennial Agriculture for Human Settlements, Transworld
  • Mollison, Bill (1972) Permaculture Two
  • Holmgren, David, (2002) Permaculture – Principles and Pathways beyond Sustainability
  • Mollison, Bill, Permaculture – A Designer’s Manual
  • Morrow, Rosemary (2006) Earth Users Guide to Permaculture, 2nd edition
  • Jacke, David with Toensmeier, Eric (2005) Edible Forest Gardens Vol 1 & 2
  • Allen, Jenny (2002) Smart Permaculture Design
  • Soloman, Steve, Gardening When it Counts – Growing Food in Hard Times
  • DVD The Real Dirt on Farmer John

Soil, composting, worms

  • CSIRO Discovering soils booklet – what’s wrong with my soil? CSIRO Publications
  • Hodges, Jeffrey (1990) Natural Gardeneing & Farming in Australia, Downs Printing, Australia
  • Murphy, David (2003) Earthworms in Australia, Hyland House
  • Rodale, Robert (1992) The Rodale Book of Composting – easy methods for every gardener, Rodale Press
  • French, Jackie …many titles, great stuff.
  • Taylor, David & Yvonne (1993) The Compost Book, Reed New Holland
  • Jenkins, Joseph (2005) The Humanure Handbook, (259 pages downloadable free from www.jenkinspublishing.com/humanure.html)
  • www.soilfoodweb.com.au for in-depth info about soil.

Gardens and seed saving

  • Woodrow, Linda, The Permaculture Home Garden
  • Bennett, Peter (1995) Organic Gardening (6th Edition)
  • Blazey, Clive (2000), The Australian Vegetable Garden – what’s new is old. Diggers Seed available on-line www.diggers.com.au
  • Cundall, Peter (1989) The Practical Australian Gardener, Penguin
  • Fanton, Michael and Jude (1993) The Seed Savers Handbook. The Seed Savers Network www.seedsavers.net
  • French, Jackie (2000) The Earth Gardener’s Companion – a month-by-month guide to organic gardening
  • Smith, Keith (1990) The Backyard Organic Garden, Lothian
  • Woodward, Penny (2000) Asian Herbs and Vegetables – how to identify, grow and use them in Australia, Hyland
  • Romanowski, Nick, Edible Water Gardens – growing water plants for food and profit, Hyland Hous Wild Lime


  • Bairacli Levy, Julliette (1952) The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable, Faber & Faber
  • French, Jackie (1993) The Chook Book, Aird Books


  • Water not Down the Drain
  • Grey Water, Black Water, Aquaculture
  • Mcquire, Stuart (1995) Not Just Down The Drain – a guide to re-using and treating your household water, Friends of the Earth
  • Neilson, K.D. (1997) Design and Construction of Small Earth Dams, Inkata Press
  • Romanowski, Nick (1994) Farming in Ponds and Dams, Lothian
  • Romanowski, Nick (1992) Water and Wetland plants for Southern Australia, Lothian
  • Van Dok, Wendy (2000) The Water Efficient Garden
  • Yeomans, P.A. (1993) Water for Every Farm, Keyline Press


  • Ableman, Michael (1993) From the Good Earth, Harry N Adams
  • Smit, Jac (1996) Urban Agriculture: food, jobs and sustainable cities, UNDP (published by City Farmer – Canada’s Office of Urban Agriculture, cityfarm@interchange.ubc.ca
  • Woodward, Penny and Vardy, Pam (2005) Community Gardens; A celebration of the People, recipes and plants