Permanent Publications, 2017

ISBN: 978 1 85623 309 5


Reviewed by Marian Van Eyk McCain


Maddy Harland is the founder and long-time editor of the Permaculture Magazine, the inspiration behind the Permanent Publications publishing house and a guiding light for the whole Permaculture movement in the UK and beyond. Plus, as one of her colleagues points out at the start of this book, she is also a teacher, an author, an activist, a healer, and a visionary. And of course she practises the principles of Permaculture in her own garden and in her own life. She has published this book to celebrate the Magazine’s 25th anniversary.

Permaculture, which originated from the work of  Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in Tasmania in the 1970s and has since spread throughout the world, is a way of farming and gardening that studies and mimics Nature’s own methods and optimises fertility and eco-sustainability on land of any size from the smallest courtyard to the largest farm. However its key ethics of ‘Earth Care’, ‘People Care’ and ‘Fair Shares’, in Maddy’s own words, … are disarmingly simple at first viewing but have a wisdom that deepens as we apply them. We apply them not just to gardening and agriculture but to most other aspects of our lives, and Maddy, as a systems-thinker, sees that bigger picture and talks about it in the editorials she has been writing for the magazine since 1996, the subject matter of which ranges far and wide and yet always hews close to those core principles.

Because of this, her editorials carry words of wisdom that deserve to be re-read and treasured long beyond the life of a quarterly magazine, which is why I am glad that they are now being preserved here in book form, and will hopefully be read by whole new generations of Permaculturists and others for a long time to come.

As well as a collection of editorial essays, Fertile Edges is also the story of a magazine, tracing it through its evolution over the 25 years since its inception. And it is Maddy’s own story, chronicling as it does the phases of her life as a wife, mother, householder, writer, permaculture practitioner, editor, author and publisher. Plus it touches here and there on the growth and development of The Sustainability Centre—a project with which Maddy has been deeply involved since its inception. This is a former Navy base in the South Downs of Hampshire now repurposed into an independent learning and study centre for everything to do with eco-literacy, sustainability and green ways of living and being, and since 1998 it has housed the offices of Permanent Publications and the Magazine.

All these narratives are arranged chronologically, in sections, with each section being accompanied by a brief commentary on what was happening in the wider world at that time, both in terms of international political news and the changing zeitgeist.

The book is aptly titled. As Maddy explains, In permaculture design, the edge is where the ecotones meet: the sky with the land, the woodland with pasture, the river with its banks and freshwater with saltwater in an estuary. These edges are where light intensifies for greater photosynthesis, nutrients are captured and biodiversity blooms. Edges are where people from different places cultures meet and interact—as did Maddy’s own heterogeneous set of ancestors—and where several narratives are placed side by side as they are in this unusual book, to create a wider picture. Edges are the most fertile places of all, and Maddy Harland lives and works and writes and publishes in a fertile space where big picture-thinking, creativity and deep knowledge of Nature’s processes meet and give birth to new ideas, new optimism and new hope.

Writing about the biggest problem we all face—climate change—Maddy writes: Whether you are a gardener, a healer, an artist, a soldier, a corporate magnate, a politician or a scientist, you are standing with the rest of humanity at this fork on the road to climate change and we do have a choice. What do we do? What Maddy does is to keep living and loving and working hard and sharing her vision. She is an inspiration to us all.

NB: If you prefer to order your copy of Fertile Edges direct from the publisher, go to: