A well-kempt forest begs Our Lady’s grace;
Someone is not disgusted, or at least
Is laying bets upon the human race
Retaining enough decency to last. - W.H. Auden
The word permaculture is a portmanteau of "permanent" + "agriculture". Bill Mollison, a native of Tasmania, Australia, and David Holmgren (also from Australia) are credited with creating permaculture, in the early 1970's, as a set of integrated land management principles based on natural systems. Or, to use Mollison's own definition, "Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against, nature; of protracted & thoughtful observation rather than protracted & thoughtless labour; of looking at plants & animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single-product system." Arguably, the best reference work on permaculture is "Permaculture: A Designers' Manual" by Bill Mollison. Based on my observation, it is also likely, at the time of this writing, to be almost prohibitively expensive. No worries, there are many books and courses available. Nature is possibly the best teacher and there is a wealth of information available online.
Integral to permaculture are the 12 Principles of Permaculture, which are listed here, without elaboration, for quick reference. To some degree, some may be self-explanatory. Others may require more thought, or further study.
1. Observe and interact
2. Catch and store energy
3. Obtain a yield
4. Apply self-regulation and feedback
5. Use and value renewables
6. Produce no waste
7. Design from patterns to details
8. Integrate don't segregate
9. Use small, slow solutions
10. Use and value diversity
11. Use edges and value the marginal
12. Creatively use and respond to change
Possibly the first example that would occur to those with some knowledge of permaculture would be the food forest. It is a good example, although I would stress that it is certainly not the only application of permaculture principles. For my part, permaculture is a frame of reference (or tool if you prefer) that I take advantage of when making land management decisions. Is this change going to move my land closer to, or farther from, an integrated permaculture system? Will the implementation of this idea involve one or more of the permaculture principles in a positive way? In a negative way?
Finally, for me, some of the best examples of permaculture at work occur in environments such as natural forests or grasslands that thrive without any human involvement (or interference).
Time for a bit of name dropping and some links for further reference.
Joel Salatin, of Polyface Farms: The link included here is chosen for brevity and for direct reference to 5 of the 12 permaculture principles. 5 Principles Of Profitable Permaculture From Joel Salatin
Richard Perkins, of Ridgedale Permaculture in Sweden: Swedish farm grossing $275,000+ EVERY SIX MONTH SEASON!
Geoff Lawton: Principle #7, Design from patterns to details. But what do we mean when we say "patterns" in the context of permaculture? Pattern Understanding