What is Permaculture


David Holmgren


Bill Mollison

“Permaculture is a design system for creating sustainable human environments” (Mollison and Slay 2000).

The permaculture concept was developed in Tasmania during the 1970’s as a collaborative effort between Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. They coined the word permaculture (as a contraction of permanent agriculture) to describe their “integrated, evolving system of perennial plants and animals useful to man” (Mollison and Holmgren 1978, p 1). Whilst acknowledging that “normal gardening for annuals is part of a permacultural system” the focus of Permaculture One was on perennial, tree-based, cropping systems.

It soon became apparent that permaculture had applications beyond the perennial polyculture “Food Forest” concept. A decade on, in his encyclopaedic publication Permaculture: a Designers Manual, Mollison (1988) described permaculture as

“ … 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.”

Despite the focus on design in that statement, permaculture has continued to be viewed in terms of productive landscapes. In his definitive update of permaculture for the 21st century, Permaculture Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability, Holmgren (2002) summarised the then current visionary view of permaculture as

“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 they organise themselves are central to permaculture”

but, he also pointed out that “permaculture is not the landscape” and that he saw permaculture as

“…..  the use of systems thinking and design principles that provide the organising framework for implementing the above vision”

Dave Jacke (Jacke & Toensmeier 2005) was the first author to set out a clear step-by-step design process for permaculture design and his ideas are being widely adopted today.

As a design process, it has practical applications in the design of not just our landscapes, but also our societies and built environment as well. In keeping with that broadening of its application, the term itself is now seen to represent “permanent culture” rather than “permanent agriculture”.


Holmgren, D. 2002, Permaculture Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability, Holmgren Design Services, Hepburn, Vic.

Jacke, D, and Toensmeier, E. 2005. Edible Forest Gardens (2 vols). Chelsea Green, Vermont, USA

Mollison, B. and Holmgren, D 1978, Permaculture One, Corgi, Melbourne.

Mollison, B. 1988, Permaculture: a Designer’s Manual, Tagari Publications, Tyalgum, NSW.

Mollison, B and Slay, R. 2000, Introduction to Permaculture 2nd edn, Tagari Publications, Tasmania.


The Permaculture Design Course

Mollison began teaching permaculture in January 1981 when his first Permaculture Design Course was run over 140 hours in Victoria. It quickly consolidated into a two week intensive 72 hour course with an established curriculum to produce trainee designers. Completion of a PDC became the entry point to the developing permaculture profession and the right to use the term “permaculture” was vested by Mollison in the graduates of these courses.

In the mid 1990’s permaculture educators associated with Permaculture Melbourne began offering extended part-time PDCs. These gradually increased in length to cater for the new ideas coming through the movement, to provide more background on ecological processes and more opportunity to examine bio-regional applications, in addition to the standard 72 hour curriculum. The resulting syllabus that has been developed for teaching permaculture in temperate south-eastern Australia now requires a minimum 100 hours of student contact to deliver.

In the early 2000’s work began on the development of a competency-based Accredited Permaculture Training package through the national TAFE system to enable students to gain qualifications that could be recognised for employment purposes. These qualifications, through Certificates I to IV and a Diploma at level V, incorporate the PDC curriculum, extended to provide measurable competency-based skills.

Notwithstanding the availability of TAFE and some university-level permaculture courses, the PDC remains a very popular and empowering entry to the permaculture movement.