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Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-scale Permaculture

4.39  ·  Rating details ·  4,002 ratings  ·  312 reviews
Permaculture is a verbal marriage of "permanent" and "agriculture." Australian Bill Mollison pioneered its development. Key features include:

- use of compatible perennials;
- non-invasive planting techniques;
- emphasis on biodiversity;
- specifically adaptable to local climate, landscape, and soil conditions;
- highly productive output of edibles.

Now, picture your backyard as
Paperback, 240 pages
Published September 27th 2001 by Chelsea Green Publishing Co (first published April 1st 2001)
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Average rating 4.39  · 
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Sep 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a great book!

I don't read a lot of gardening books for fun (I find them dry) but the personal experiences, anecdotes, and concrete examples in this one make it a breeze. It appears quite well researched, and it answers all kinds of questions I've had for a long time about Permaculture and even urban gardening. (How safe is food grown next to a busy street? for example)

Why did I wait so long to read this book? As far as I can tell, this is going to be one of my foundational gardening books,
Mar 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone with any amount of land and the desire to cultivate it
I've found now a few different "comprehensive teach yourself permaculture" books, each tailored to a different audience. Food Not Lawns for the punks and the community organizers, The Urban Homestead for the busy, The Transition Companion for the big picture people and Toolbox for Sustainable Living for the tinkerers. Gaia's Garden stands above these books for its general appeal, a guidebook in clear, flowing language for understanding and working with the ecology of cultivated environments.

Mina Villalobos
Jun 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book is quite the game changer if you, like me, had a very traditional understanding of gardening and what a garden should look like. As a designer, it completely changed my way of seeing landscaping and what a landscape should look like and work like. This book teaches the basics of permaculture in a practical, non preachy way. It helps you design a forest garden, gives you the bases to work with large scale gardens and small scale gardens -though the actual small scale gardens could use m ...more
Nov 27, 2019 rated it it was ok

It's hard for me to critique this book without also critiquing permaculture as a movement. So let's focus on my problems with the whole movement, in re gardening, which is this book's focus. I'll probably be ranting before I'm done.

1. There is nothing original in the ideas of permaculture gardening. It's cobbled together from previous ideas and given a shiny new name.
2. It's internally inconsistent. "Work with nature. Be minimal in your designs." But also, step 1, do major earthworks, step 2,
Mar 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Loved this book! Practical ways to implement permaculture--which is the most efficient way to garden. As I dream of my own fruit orchard, I want to lay it out as recommended in this book: with bird and insect attracting shrubs (to deter fruit tree predators without spraying) and nitrogen-fixing plants (to lesson the need for fertilizers) and mulching plants (to decrease the watering needs). I love the idea of planning out my landscape so it takes care of itself (as much as possible).

Mar 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely loved it.
Jun 12, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great overview of permaculture and gardening with "guilds" of "useful" plants. I almost passed by this one because I found the title off-putting. I was afraid I'd be hearing about Mother Earth, nature's balance, and the perfect harmony with which indigenous peoples once lived. The book still has an odor of this, but if you sift through it you get some tremendously helpful information for the new-to-permaculture gardener. In section three I found exactly what I needed: a spreadsheet of recommende ...more
Donna L. Long
Apr 01, 2015 rated it it was ok
I wanted to like this book but it has some of the same problems that many permaculture books do, it focuses on exotic plants to create a permaculture garden. Permaculture to be ecologically-responsible needs to focus on knowing, using and growing the plants of a particular locale with some non-invasive exotics added. Planting non-native plants simply continues the destruction of an ecosystem. The native plants of North American with a few exceptions have been ignored as food and medicine. Native ...more
Jul 19, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Gardeners, plant nerds
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a book that should be on every gardener's shelf regardless if you have one acre or one hundred. This book got me thinking of my own gardens as living, changing, interconnected environments and not some space I keep my plant collection. The ideals are something that any gardener, regardless of experience or gardening style can incorporate for a healthier and more active ecosystem. ...more
Dec 15, 2007 rated it it was amazing
My first permaculture book and still probably my favorite. Lots of practical information about designing gardens and landscapes, and good case studies, too. Hemenway is preparing a new edition that should be even better, but until then...
Apr 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I never thought a permaculture book would make me laugh out loud. Toby explains complex ideas in layman's terms and often adds dorky humor. I want to be his best friend. ...more
"Gaia's Garden" provides an excellent introduction to the concepts of ecological gardening. Toby Hemenway's writing style is very approachable, yet he still manages to convey a great deal of information throughout the pages of this book. Ideas such as ecological succession, food web interrelationships, appropriate resource utilization, efficiency, and interspecies compatibility are explored in great detail. The broad themes will be familiar to those who have studied sustainability, holistic land ...more
Aug 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
I didn't find the sections on "zones" all that helpful for conceptualizing an urban lot. There was also a great deal of emphasis put on edge concepts like sheet mulching and greywater recycling, which won't have applicability for many people.

That said, this book was excellent because it gave me many practical ideas for water management, garden design, and plant selection. One of the better gardening books I have read.
Nov 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I found this book to be incredibly informative and thought provoking at times. I learned a lot! I found this at the library and will definitely be adding a copy to my personal collection.
Jun 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Inspirational. I learned so much that I will be incorporating into my own garden.
Feb 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: permaculture
Toby Hemenway's book lives up to its reputation as one of the most accessible introductions to the permaculture design method and its applications to creating an ecological garden. He covers the gamut, from observation to designing, soil building to water harvesting, beneficial insects to plant selection, guilds, sectors, zones, and so on. Hemenway writes in a welcome conversational tone and this is no textbook, but "Gaia's Garden" still also includes some great reference material. My copy is so ...more
Kait McNamee
May 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
I went into this book fully expecting the complete hippie experience with "medicinal" herb recommendations and whatnot. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised with science! Of course, there are some flowery descriptions and sentiments, but Hemenway uses facts about plants to describe how to create functioning ecosystems. There are A LOT of applicable facts in this book, useful for everything from small scale gardens to huge amounts of acreage. Of course, there are some things that aren't super poss ...more
dale paul
Jan 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: botanicals
I've learned more about musical form from this book than I have in any music book. Aside from that, Gaia's Garden has inspired me to further readings on permaculture and its applications. I'm recommending it to my friend's family who's just bought a farm. How efficient and wondeful the farm will be once they've applied these principles. For those who know nothing of permaculture, but a little about gardening I suggest you beg, borrow, or steal this book. ...more
Abe Louise
Aug 08, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: gardening
after reading this book -- which has some didacticism amidst its informed passion -- i risked an experiment in scandinavian composting with a huge (10 foot x 20 foot) pile of brush and branches in my yard. it did shrink by 2/3 in a year, but never compacted enough so that i could do as the author instructs, and make a grassy hill or shapely bench out of it.
Oct 25, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gardening
This is intended for people who have sizable properties. The author even concedes that, but I didn't realize. He has added a chapter for those who live on standard city lots, as I do, but I found the permaculture lecture by a local consultant at the Master Gardeners' brownbag lunch series more helpful than this book for my situation. I admire those who do it, but it's a long-term project. ...more
Jul 28, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Those looking for permaculture inspiration and general info
I learned that I have a lot to learn! But what a fun and interesting book - general, but maybe even hard to fully grasp without at least some hands-on 'training' in permaculture - a classic nonetheless (and has an amazing bibliography). ...more
Dec 14, 2007 rated it really liked it
The author's idea of "small-scale" is still larger than my own backyard, but I like his writing style and find myself endlessly fascinated by potential permaculture projects, such as worm boxes, chicken tractors, and greywater irrigation systems. Sustainable living is super sexy!! ...more
Jan 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I found this book inspiring. It has really changed the way in which I approach my house, my yard and my garden. It breaks down the concepts of permaculture in a way that makes it easy for the beginner to understand and apply.
May 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: gardeners, farmers, ecologists, and everyone else
Of all the permaculture books I've read this is the best intro to the concept. Plus, it's an enjoyable, interesting, and pretty book in it's own right. I re-read it occasionally just for the inspiration to do useful and interesting things with our yard. ...more
Steph Myers
Apr 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: diy, food, gardening
Great basic introduction to permaculture with pictures, plant suggestions and permaculture techniques to get any homeowner starting saving water, growing food and creating their own littl oasis. Recently redone, it's definitely a part of the permaculture canon. ...more
Feb 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gardening
The most accessible book on permaculture I've picked up so far. Lots of helpful diagrams, inspiring photos, and useful charts. Maybe I'm geeking out on permaculture, but I can't put it down. ...more
Feb 17, 2014 added it
Maybe I'm just not to read gardening books. ...more
Paulo Adalberto Reimann
Very good

Great book, great tips. Shows the Gaia principles. Easy to follow. Once read, it is a matter just to start.
Nov 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A great introduction to permaculture gardenings.

Standard American yards consist of a monoculture of grass along with, maybe, some intensively managed garden beds. Copious resources resources (in the form of fertilizer, pesticides, water, physical labor) are imported to sustain this impoverished landscape yet low yields and pests are common.

Permaculture gardening proposes to mimic design principles from nature to produce sustainable, resource-efficient landscapes that are useful to people as we
Lot of useful info in this but Hemenway really, really likes to drive home his point by repeating it 8 times in a single chapter. Then 3 times in the next one. Then 5 times in the next etc etc etc and oh my god I know soil building is important please stop explaining why every three pages.

This book could easily have been cut by 1/3 and still been as useful.

But it is useful! As an intro to permaculture it explained a lot of what I was wondering about and a lot of basic techniques and the theory b
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Toby Hemenway was an American author and educator who has written extensively on permaculture and ecological issues. He was an adjunct professor at Portland State University, Scholar-in-Residence at Pacific University and a field director at the Permaculture Institute (USA).

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