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My top 10 books that inspired our project

At the beginning of 2017 Permanent Publications sent us an email expressing an interest to publish a book on our polyculture trials and experiences. I’d been thinking about writing this book for some time and responded with gleeful enthusiasm.  I’m happy to announce that we have signed the publishing agreement and have already started to work on the book.  The working title of the book is Polycultures –  Designing and Creating Polyculture Gardens, Farms and Landscapes, and you can find a draft overview of what the book will cover here.

As I prepare for a winter of writing I’m looking around at the books on our shelves and seeing that many of the books that inspired us to get us started with our project are from authors published by Permanent Publications. So after a little deliberation on whether or not I should do a cheesy 10 top blog, here it is. I should really be spending this time writing the book, but I can’t help but to write this post as a small token of my appreciation and respect to all the incredible authors and people at work, and to Permanent Publications for facilitating the dispersal of so much wonderful and useful knowledge.  So here is my top 10 books that have inspired our project.

The order does not denote how good I think the books are, it’s more based around the order I read the books.

1 – The Permaculture Garden –  Linda Windrow

Top of the list and the book that got me in and going with our project is by the ingenious, wonderfully pragmatic and endlessly enthusiastic  Linda Windrow – The Permaculture Garden.

Six – eight months after we had moved to Bulgaria, a friend of ours, Kalina, visited our garden and gave us this book after returning from a PDC with “The Gelaw” – Geoff Lawton in Australia. We had not heard about permaculture before, and after reading this book during a wet winter I knew it was all about to change. (A side note – before reading this book we were considering opening an ATV track!)

2 – Plants for a Future by Ken Fern

Next is the excellent work of Ken Fern – Plants for a Future. Ken, originally from my neck of the woods in South London, used to be a bus driver. He and and his wife Addy have spent decades studying plants of medicinal and edible value and moved out to Cornwall in 1989 to plant out 28 acres of land with the plants they had discovered. Ken continues to work on an extensive database of useful plants that you can find here. His book is amazing, presenting a variety of plants for a variety of purposes.

3 – Creating a Forest Garden by Martin Crawford

The authors and books that I find most interesting and useful are those written from experience and perhaps no author fits this bill better than the main man of temperate forest gardens, Martin Crawford.



Martin Crawford also writes the excellent quarterly publication Agroforestry News. I highly recommend subscription to this journal as essential reading for all who are interested in temperate tree crops and agroforestry.

4 – Botany for Gardeners by Brian Capon

It’s not essential for a grower to understand plant physiology and the scientific basis of how everything is working but it seems to me to be inevitable. The book that I found delivered this knowledge in a way that only someone who has dedicated their life to trying to understand the complexity of plants and plant care can, is the Botany for Gardeners by Brian Capon.


5 – Micheal Chinery – The Natural History of the Garden

The passion for garden wildlife that Micheal possesses dances off every page of this book. It takes you on a journey into the often overlooked world of the incredible diversity that can be fostered in the natural garden. After reading this book you will probably never look at an Earwig the same way again :)


6 – The Earth Care Manual by Patrick Whitefield

The late Patrick Whitefield left with us a number of excellent books all written from his experience in the field and with the level head of a man that has seen it all before. The Earth Care Manual is, perhaps, the best overview of permaculture out there.


7 – Edible Food Forests by Dave Jacke, Eric Toenmioser

Delving deeper for knowledge on forest gardens and perennial systems lead me to what is without doubt the most extensive book on the topic. Dave Jacke and Eric Toenmioser absolutely nailed it in Volume 1 providing a thorough vision and theoretical overview of forest gardening.  Volume 2 has everything you need to know on the practical side of things although I still don’t get the pattern language chapter and would love to hear from someone that does :)



8 – Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway

The late Toby Hemenway’s Gaia’s Garden is a beautiful book that infuses you with will to get out and do it. Packed with great ideas that are well illustrated, and wonderfully concise scientific explanations to how it all works, this book is a pleasure to read again and again.


9 – The Theory and Practice of Agroforestry Design by Paul Wojtkowski

Probably one of the most overlooked (or under quoted) books in the field, perhaps because of its academic approach to the topic. This books provides an excellent framework for Agroforestry and is full of practical guidance specifically suited to large scale adoption of these practices.

10. The Internet by The people out there doing it!

There are so many people around the world at work and play sharing their experience and inspiring each other. Thanks to everyone for your actions and may our ripples turn to waves.

 If you appreciate the work we are doing you can show your support in several ways.

Paul Alfrey

Hi I'm Paul, Originally from the UK I moved over to Bulgaria with my family 12 years ago and set up the Balkan Ecology Project. Prior to that, I worked as a freelance Arborist in the UK for 15 years. Balkan Ecology Project is a family project run by myself, Sophie and our two boys Dylan and Archie, and supported by the amazing volunteers we have hosted here over the years. We aim to develop and promote practices that provide nutritious affordable food while enhancing biodiversity and work to achieve this by: - Researching, designing and implementing systems on the ground - Providing working examples of our designs at our sites open for the public to visit - Providing quality education and training to aspiring growers and landscapers - Providing consultancy and design for landowners and farmers across Europe - Practicing an open source policy, whereby we disseminate our results freely and share all aspects of our work - Growing, selling and promoting the use of plants and plant communities that have high ecological and nutritional value Our activities currently include: Biological Plant Nursery, Educational Courses, Local Land Stewardship, Polyculture Research, Market Gardening​, and Consultancy and Design.


  1. also, can you specify if any of these books are more introductory? I know that there is always something to be learned from every book, but I’m trying to be selective about which books I buy!

  2. Which book would you is best for learning where to put what plants where in particular climates? for home gardens. Design basically.

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