Permaculture – A Beginner’s Guide (free extract)

Some years ago Graham Burnett produced Permaculture: A Beginner’s Guide. It’s a nice 76-page introductory look a permaculture — a very readable booklet to get you looking at the world, and your garden, through the permaculture lens. It’s in no way a substantial, technical how-to type manual, but rather a good inspirational dose of permaculture principles with a broad smattering of practical examples of how to apply them. In short, it’s a great tool to get one started on the permaculture pathway.

One personal observation on a possible downside to this otherwise excellent perma-intro is that the illustrations tend to leave one thinking permaculture is only for a sub-culture of people: the hand-drawn illustrations are populated with unshaven punks, sloganned t-shirt anarchists, dreadlock-wearing ethnic minorities and suchlike. Even the cartoon guy demonstrating the composting toilet has to be stark naked. The December 2008 update of this book would have done well to replace these images with ones that didn’t tend to leave one feeling permaculture was just for the fringe elements of society. But it didn’t. Perhaps next time.

Anyway, I thought I’d provide a link to a freely available 24-page extract (3mb PDF) of the book that could be useful for those trying to explain permaculture to friends, family and colleagues.


  1. Those cartoon people weren’t as bad as your description led me to expect. They’re certainly no worse than the the classic “Birckenstock-Clad Teenagers Assembled Around Giant Cardboard Mess in Front Yard” image that is so prevalent on permaculture websites.

  2. I think (i may be wrong though) what JBob is trying to say is why is it that “Birckenstock-Clad Teenagers Assembled Around Giant Cardboard Mess in Front Yard” type pictures are perfectly acceptable, but “dreadlock-wearing ethnic minorities” is all of a sudden an image issue for permaculture?

  3. El martes recién pasado inicié con los ojos vendados la aventura más bella de mi vida, me fui de la costa del Pacifico de Guatemala (95 metros sobre el nivel del mar) a cultivar una pequeña área a 2200 metros sobre le nivel del mar y no se que hacer, tengo todo el deseo de hacer las cosas bien hechas para no destruir ese lugar tan bello, por lo que les pido que escriban algo en español para principiantes en permacultura ¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡ Ayúdenme!!!!!!!

  4. (Translation of Mr. Mazariegos’ post) Just last Tuesday I blindly began the most beautiful adventure in my life. I went from the Pacific coast of Guatemala (at 95 m above sea level) to a small plot at 2200 m ASL that I want to farm, but I don’t know what to do. I have every desire to do things properly so that I don’t destroy such a beautiful place. Thus, I earnestly ask you to write a Beginner’s Guide to Permaculture in Spanish. Please help!!!

    Saludos, Sr. Mazariegos. Por favor hágase clic sobre la siguiente enlace.


  5. Cheers for the positive comments on my book Craig – sorry you weren’t so keen on the people populating the book – I did think about editing some of their dreadlocks and mohicans when I updated the book, but then I thought that that would be betraying them and making them into something that they are not – all those characters come from my head (though a few are based on people I actually know in real life) and to me they all have their own little personalities and stories. I originally produced the book for fun without much idea of what I was going to do with it once it was finished, rather than being commissioned by a publishing house with any editorial constraints or brief to work to, hence it evolved into the quirky little thing that reflected my own biases and background. The punk/DIY/anarchist subculture is where I have my roots, and it was a journey through the protest scene that brought me to the positive solutions based philosophy of Permaculture. Although its a scene I personally feel I’ve moved on from in many ways, I feel its still valid and so are the people in it. I dunno, to give them respectable haircuts and put them in smart suits would somehow feel artificial and false, and would homogenise something about the book’s intrinsic character somehow – I guess we in the permaculture scene make enough compromises when trying to get our voices heard in the mainstream (I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s put on a shirt and tie when attending a meeting with ‘respectable’/’influential’ funders/consultants/politicians, etc when I’d rather be sheet mulching in my muddy jeans and teeshirt!!) Besides I’ve now distributed several thousand copies of the book, and its been translated into several languages, and the feedback has pretty much always been positive, the only folks who have picked up the characters in the book being too ‘fringey’ are yourself and Rob Hopkins who made similar points to yourself so I guess the punks and hippies are there to stay as most people seem to like them… As I say, its not really the ‘scene’ I’m in now though, so future books (I’m working on one at the moment) will probably see more concessions to ‘mainstream’ fashions and styles however!!!

    BTW the ‘stark naked compost toilet guy’ is meant to be Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’, and was meant to be just a little joke about ‘the can’ being the place where much of us get our mediation done!

    As I say, thansk for the mostly positive comments, I very much appreciate them and hope I’m not coming across as too precious about my creations! Cheers for now, Graham

  6. PS One more thing Craig – any chance you could change the link in the review to https://www.spiralseed.co.uk/flyer/ so that folks can buy it direct from me rather than through Amazon – that way more of the cash goes direct to me rather than giving Amazon the rather huge cut they take of the cover price, and will help to fund more books and permaculture projects! many thanks!

  7. Hi Graham – no problem, I’ve corrected the link.

    And sorry I didn’t pick up on ‘the thinker’!

  8. David Holmgren refers to Grahams book as an example of the link between Permaculture and counterculture (PP&PBS – note 7 pgxxxi)and i will often direct interested people toward ‘A Beginners Guide’ as one of the best ‘hard copy’ guides to what permaculture design is all about – it might be nice if GB felt able to put his explanation (nb – not as an apology) above as a preface to future copies – Interestingly there is a new book out ‘Permaculture Design’ by Aranya (very well respected PDC teacher in the UK) that is an almost academic guide to the process for those that have completed a PDC or are seriously considering one. Aranya wouldn’t look out of place in one of Grahams illustartions

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