The 11 Best Books on Permaculture and Food Forestry

In the rapidly changing world, the ancient practice of permaculture emerges as a solution to sustainable living. While experimenting with your garden  remains invaluable, books offer a bridge to the vast reservoir of knowledge and expertise cultivated over decades by seasoned practitioners.

In curating this list of permaculture books, I considered not only the depth of content but also the diverse experiences and backgrounds of the authors. I’ve handpicked each book to represent a specific niche or perspective in the permaculture world, ensuring a holistic understanding for readers.

Here is a quick list, with links to where you can find them:

  1. Best for beginners: An Introduction to Permaculture by Bill Mollison
  2. On permaculture design: Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual by Bill Mollison
  3. On permaculture philosophy: Permaculture Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability by David Holmgren
  4. On small-scale permaculture: Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway
  5. On temperate climates (UK and Europe): The Earth Care Manual by Patrick Whitefield
  6. Another beginner’s guide: Permaculture: A Beginners Guide by Graham Burnett
  7. Easy read: Permaculture Design: A Step-by-Step Guide by Aranya
  8. On social permaculture: People and Permaculture by Looby Macnamara
  9. A case study on permaculture: The Resilient Farm and Homestead by Ben Falk
  10. Guide to planting food forests: Edible Forest Gardens by Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier
  11. On urban permaculture: The Permaculture City by Toby Hemenway

Read on for my in-depth review on each of these books. Here are the 11 best books on Permaculture you can find:

Best for Beginners

1. An Introduction to Permaculture by Bill Mollison

Bill Mollison’s “An Introduction to Permaculture” is an excellent starting point to the world of permaculture. As a co-founder of permaculture, Mollison breaks down the essential principles and practices of this holistic approach to land management.

Bill Mollison
Bill Mollison Image credit

Designed to establish systems that echo natural ecosystems, this book delves deep into a myriad of topics ranging from soil and climate to energy and water. By illustrating permaculture applications in various contexts such as urban, tropical, or dry environments, it paints a comprehensive picture for its readers.

Crafted in an approachable language with an engaging tone, the book also packs in helpful extras like reading references, plant lists, a terminology glossary, and details about permaculture institutes and courses. A valuable asset for anyone aspiring to build a sustainable and harmonious world using permaculture.

On Permaculture Design

2. Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual by Bill Mollison

Become a master at designing and planning your farm with Bill Mollison’s “Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual”. This comprehensive guide is not just a book, but the foundation of the 72-hour Certificate course in Permaculture Design.

It’s a must-have for those passionate about constructing resilient systems inspired by nature’s own. Spanning across 14 detailed chapters, it touches on everything from climate, soil, and energy to implementation strategies.

The manual comes alive with its vivid illustrations, maps, and real-world examples showcasing permaculture’s flexibility in various settings, be it tropical, urban, or rural. Beyond its engaging content, the book encourages readers to think outside the box, emphasizing patterns and planning over mere tools.

Addressing pressing issues like climate change, water pollution, and soil degradation, Mollison shows how permaculture offers solutions for a sustainable future. Written in a lucid language complemented by a conversational tone, this manual isn’t just informative but also an eye-opener.

Whether you’re new to permaculture or looking to deepen your expertise, this book will reshape your perspective on sustainability and your role in the larger ecosystem.

On Permaculture Philosophy

3. Permaculture Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability by David Holmgren

Delve into the profound philosophical roots of permaculture with David Holmgren’s “Permaculture Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability”. Holmgren, a co-originator of the foundational 72-hour Permaculture Design course alongside Bill Mollison, expertly breaks down the 12 design principles of permaculture.

David Holmgren at his house Melliodora
David Holmgren. Image credit

Each principle comes alive with its unique action statement, symbol, and age-old proverbs that encapsulate its core essence. Beyond its practicalities, the book paints a vivid picture of permaculture’s impact on larger issues like peak oil, climate change, and food scarcity.

But Holmgren’s exploration doesn’t stop there; he delves deep into the socio-cultural aspects of permaculture, highlighting its significance in areas like communication, education, and wellness. Through his words, readers are nudged to see beyond conventional methodologies, urging them to embrace patterns and holistic thinking.

The book also serves as a visual treat, adorned with diagrams, maps, and photos that amplify permaculture’s applications across varied terrains and setups.

Wrapped up with useful reading resources, plant lists, a key terminology glossary, and insights about permaculture courses, this work is a treasure trove for anyone keen on understanding the philosophy behind permaculture. Engagingly written with a touch of warmth, it’s a recommended read for those eager to view the world through the transformative lens of permaculture.

On Small-Scale Permaculture

4. Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway

Dreaming of transforming your backyard or small plot into an ecological wonder? Look no further than Toby Hemenway’s “Gaia’s Garden”, a world-renowned guide that stands as the best-selling permaculture book globally.

Through its pages, Hemenway instills the fundamental ethos of permaculture: harmonizing with nature produces thriving, resilient gardens. Covering an array of topics from soil, water, and design to animals and plants, this book paints a comprehensive picture of permaculture’s nuances.

Its vivid examples and illustrations showcase its adaptability, be it in an urban setting or tropical terrain. Crafted in an accessible language and sprinkled with a welcoming tone, “Gaia’s Garden” invites readers to venture beyond conventional methods, urging them to think in terms of natural patterns and holistic designs.

The book not only outlines the art of gardening but also addresses pressing challenges like climate change and food scarcity. Serving as a beacon for sustainable and harmonious living, it’s a must-read for those keen to reimagine their gardens and their role in nurturing them.

On Temperate Climates (UK and Europe)

5. The Earth Care Manual by Patrick Whitefield

Explore permaculture through the lens of temperate climates with “The Earth Care Manual” by Patrick Whitefield. This in-depth guide, written by one of Europe’s leading experts in temperate permaculture, serves as a pathway to sustainable living.

Whitefield’s 25 years of hands-on experience shine through in this book, tailored especially for regions like Britain where climate and soil conditions differ from tropical areas.

From gardening to energy utilization, the book unpacks permaculture principles and how they can be woven into everything from the tiniest apartment to expansive farms. Adorned with illustrations, diagrams, and real-world examples, the manual is as visually engaging as it is informative.

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced practitioner, Whitefield’s wisdom will guide you in crafting low-input, high-output systems that truly embody sustainability. More than just a book, “The Earth Care Manual” stands as a testament to living in sync with nature, offering not just knowledge but also a beacon of hope and inspiration for a harmonious future.

It’s a must-read for those residing in temperate regions, or anyone with a passion for ecology, gardening, or a sustainable way of life.

Alternative book for Beginners

6. Permaculture: A Beginners Guide by Graham Burnett

Stepping into the world of permaculture can be both intriguing and daunting. However, Graham Burnett’s “Permaculture: A Beginners Guide” simplifies this holistic methodology, making it accessible to all.

With its comprehensive breakdown of permaculture principles and practices complemented by illustrations, this book is the perfect starting point. From ethics and gardening to energy conservation and community integration, Burnett, a seasoned permaculture expert from Britain, introduces readers to the adaptability of permaculture — be it a cozy balcony or a sprawling farm.

Renowned environmental activist and beekeeper, Brigit Strawbridge, also lends her voice through a foreword, enhancing the book’s credibility. Written in an engaging and understandable manner, this guide not only equips you with knowledge but also ignites the passion to initiate your own sustainable journey.

Whether your aspirations are geared towards self-sufficiency, wildlife conservation, or impacting the world positively, Burnett showcases how permaculture can be your blueprint. “Permaculture: A Beginners Guide” isn’t merely a book; it’s a pathway to aligning with nature and rediscovering oneself.

Easy Read

7. Permaculture Design: A Step-by-Step Guide by Aranya

Navigating the realm of permaculture design can be intricate, but Aranya’s “Permaculture Design: A Step-by-Step Guide” simplifies it. With its vibrant visuals, flowcharts, and easily digestible language, this book offers readers a seamless journey through the entire design process.

Aranya, with his extensive experience as a British permaculture teacher and practitioner, touches upon topics from ethics and patterns to surveying and presentation. The book also equips readers with numerous examples and online resources suitable for various settings, be it a modest balcony or an expansive farm.

Especially tailored for those residing in temperate climates, this guide ensures readers don’t get overwhelmed with jargon or complex terms. Its systematic approach, complemented by informative diagrams, ensures a smooth learning curve for the novice and serves as a valuable reference for the seasoned designer.

The core essence of the book goes beyond just being a guide; it’s a route to attaining harmony with nature and oneself.

For anyone keen on understanding permaculture design in a clear, concise manner and desiring to make a positive global impact, “Permaculture Design: A Step-by-Step Guide by Aranya” is the perfect companion. It underscores the importance of designing in sync with nature, providing readers with both knowledge and inspiration.

On Social Permaculture

8. People and Permaculture by Looby Macnamara

People and Permaculture” transcends the traditional notion of permaculture being solely land-centric, illuminating its application in fostering robust, harmonious human connections and societies.

Authored by Looby Macnamara, a seasoned permaculture expert from Britain, this book stems from her two-decade-long journey in the field, combined with insights from global practitioners.

The book seamlessly flows through three segments. The initial part elucidates the core ethics and principles of permaculture, tailoring them to human dynamics. The subsequent section lays down a structured approach for human-centric design, employing the four zones and twelve domains dedicated to nurturing human care.

The final section arms readers with over 50 tangible activities and methodologies to enhance well-being, communication, and creativity. A rich tapestry of anecdotes, visual aids, and practical exercises ensures the content resonates with readers.

This book is an indispensable resource for those eager to delve into the nuances of permaculture or those aiming to enrich their life experiences and positively influence others. The emphasis on social permaculture makes it even more relevant, highlighting its role in reshaping societal and cultural frameworks.

A Case Study on Permaculture

9. The Resilient Farm and Homestead by Ben Falk

The Resilient Farm and Homestead” by Ben Falk stands as a compelling testament to the power of permaculture, resilience, and sustainable living. Drawing from his journey of reviving a barren hillside in Vermont into a thriving permaculture farm and research hub, Falk sheds light on diverse areas encompassing water management, soil enhancement, food cultivation, energy dynamics, architectural planning, community involvement, and individual well-being.

Beyond being merely instructive, the book serves as a hands-on guide, enriched with detailed diagrams, charts, and actionable steps, enabling readers to embed permaculture concepts into their unique circumstances. The narrative is further brought to life with captivating visuals, capturing the remarkable transformation achieved by Falk.

This book emerges as a prime case study on permaculture, vividly illustrating its versatility across varied terrains, scales, and climatic conditions while highlighting its potential to drive meaningful ecological and societal transformation.

It underscores how permaculture equips us to navigate the modern-day challenges like fluctuating climates, dwindling resources, economic shifts, and societal divides. Moreover, it elucidates how these principles can pave the way for rejuvenating our ecosystems, communities, and personal wellness.

The Resilient Farm and Homestead” is more than just reading material; it’s a blueprint for fostering a sustainable coexistence with nature and our communities.

Guide to Planting Food Forests

10. Edible Forest Gardens by Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier

Edible Forest Gardens stands as a two-volume tour de force, seamlessly integrating forest ecology, permaculture, and edible landscaping into an all-encompassing guide for crafting your personal food forest.

Authored by Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier, both seasoned experts in ecological design and gardening, the duo present their holistic vision and methodology behind the successful design, planting, and upkeep of edible forest gardens in temperate zones.

The initial volume introduces readers to the ecological foundation and ideology of forest gardening, elucidating the principles, patterns, and mechanics that underpin it.

Furthermore, it offers a panoramic view of forest gardening’s historical context, merits, and potential challenges, coupled with an in-depth examination of the forest garden’s seven-layered structure: canopy, low-tree, shrub, herbaceous, ground cover, vine, and root.

Volume two transitions into a hands-on manual detailing the design, inception, and care of a forest garden. Rich with real-world examples and case studies, it’s bolstered with diagrams, tables, and a comprehensive plant matrix showcasing a myriad of edible and functional species for every layer.

The authors also provide invaluable insights on plant selection, polyculture designs, pest and disease management, product harvesting and preservation, among others.

Edible Forest Gardens emerges as an indispensable guide for individuals aiming to curate landscapes that are not only sustainable and resilient but also abundant. Beyond being a gardening guide, it encapsulates the essence of ecology, culture, and the boundless capabilities of humanity. It beckons readers to envision and shape their surroundings into vibrant ecosystems teeming with food, medicinal resources, shelter, aesthetic appeal, and shared joy for the entire community.

On Urban Permaculture

11. The Permaculture City by Toby Hemenway

The Permaculture City disrupts traditional perceptions of urban living as a root cause of ecological and societal issues, presenting it as part of the solution. Penned by Toby Hemenway, a prominent figure in permaculture design, this work extends the permaculture ethos—mimicking nature’s design patterns—into the urban sphere.

He introduces a vision of urban environments as resilient, abundant, and sustainable spaces, working in tandem with nature and community welfare.

Delving into diverse subjects, the book encompasses foundational permaculture design elements, practical avenues to develop urban food infrastructures, efficient water collection, energy conservation, urban transport, income streams, and communal connections.

It enriches readers with global case studies and models of thriving urban permaculture initiatives, accompanied by actionable steps and strategies to architect your personal urban sanctuary.

Beyond its educational value, the book instills a sense of motivation and empowerment, urging readers to reconsider their urban interactions and mold cities into centers of prosperity, variety, and balance.

The Permaculture City is a compelling read for all, from urban permaculture novices to veterans, tenants to homeowners, green-thumbs to advocates. It offers a fresh lens on urban living, backed with pragmatic insights to realize this vision. This book is set to reshape your urban experience and perception.

Final Word

In an age of digital immediacy, the timeless wisdom contained within the pages of these books reminds us of the profound connection between land, knowledge, and community. Permaculture, at its heart, is not just about sustainable farming or ecological design; it’s about cultivating a mindset of balance, growth, and interconnectedness. As we close this chapter, remember that every garden began with a single seed, and every permaculture journey starts with a thirst for knowledge. May these books serve as your guiding compass, and may your endeavors be fruitful, fostering a better and more sustainable world for all. Here’s a quick list of the books in this article. Happy reading!


  1. Best for beginners: An Introduction to Permaculture by Bill Mollison
  2. On permaculture design: Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual by Bill Mollison
  3. On permaculture philosophy: Permaculture Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability by David Holmgren
  4. On small-scale permaculture: Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway
  5. On temperate climates (UK and Europe): The Earth Care Manual by Patrick Whitefield
  6. Another beginner’s guide: Permaculture: A Beginners Guide by Graham Burnett
  7. Easy read: Permaculture Design: A Step-by-Step Guide by Aranya
  8. On social permaculture: People and Permaculture by Looby Macnamara
  9. A case study on permaculture: The Resilient Farm and Homestead by Ben Falk
  10. Guide to planting food forests: Edible Forest Gardens by Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier
  11. On urban permaculture: The Permaculture City by Toby Hemenway