The article below appeared originally online at Would I Eat It Again Food Blog about Toby Hemenway’s book Gaia’s Garden, Second Edition: Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture.
I just finished reading this book. I have been reading as many books on permaculture that I can for the past month. This is by far the best book on the subject that I have found. Since permaculture was developed in Australia, most of the books deal with different plant and animal species and you have to constantly exchange north for south and vice versa. This book deals with plants that are available in the northern hemisphere, our pest, and most importantly it does it on the scale of an urban or suburban yard. Books from Australia tend to deal with the ideas and concepts without going into detail on how to implement them. Or they give practical advice if you have acreage, but not if you have a 1/4 acre plot.
Gaia’s Garden goes step by step describing what permaculture is, what all of the pieces are, how the pieces fit together, how to design your ecological garden, and how to implement it. While the author does explain how an ecosystem works, it does not feel like an elementary school lesson like most of the other books I have read recently. Unlike other books that mention a few species of useful plants, most of which are not available where I live or will not survive where I live. The author provide long list of plants that are useful and then provides a very helpful resource section where you can actually find someone selling the plant. Though the author lives in the north west and I live in the southeast many of the species overlap. I live in an area that does not freeze enough for many fruiting trees, or it is too hot for them. But It is too cold in the winter for most tropical plants too. Still I was able to find many cultivars of the species mentioned in the book that were breed for and available in this area. Ideas like keyhole gardens and guilds that are breefly mentioned in other books are gone over in detail here. Nothing that I have seen before this book showed how to link multiple keyhole gardens into a functional bed, he does. What little information I have read on guilds deals with individual trees, not an entire yard or food forest. The author shows how to build a guild around a single tree and how to build multiple connected guilds across a larger area.
This book is not meant to be all inclusive, it is packed with information, but no one book can cover everything. So he provides a bibliography filled with sources of more information on topics not fully covered in the book. I feel confident that I can design and implement a permaculture system for my yard based on the information in this book. I could not say that about any other permaculture book I have read. I got this book from ILL, but it has so much reference material that I will want to read through again and again that I will have to buy it. That is unless someone wants to buy it for me for a fathers day present.