Permaculture Pioneer Maddy Harland

article image

Place of Residence: near Petersfield, Hampshire, on the south coast of England, an hour from London.

Background: Maddy discovered permaculture in 1990 when she saw a film, ‘In Grave Danger of Falling Food’ about Bill Mollison. Unknown to her at the time, it was to completely change her life — her garden, her household and even her job! She founded Permanent Publications with her husband Tim that year, and began publishing the first temperate climate permaculture books in the world. By 1992, they had launched Permaculture magazine – inspiration for sustainable living. They also found time to raise two daughters, remodel their house and plant a one-third acre permaculture garden — and have a lot of fun along the way.

Personal History: Maddy was born in London many moons ago. From an early age, despite a city upbringing, she loved to play in muddy urban streams and sit under trees admiring the dance of nature. Every summer, Maddy and her parents and three older brothers would travel to the wilds of Connemara on the west coast of Ireland to Loch Corrib to fish, fool around in boats and cook over fires. She was also exposed to an Ireland that no longer exists where people only spoke Gaellic, no English, and still lived a life untouched by the modern world. That formative time in such a pristine and beautiful place was unforgettable.

In true English tradition, Maddy was sent to boarding school from the age of 10, luckily to schools run by Quakers, who taught her many of the values she holds dear today, like social justice and corporate social responsibility, the benefits of ethical trade and of course to value and protect the environment. But, she didn’t take education lying down, and ran away to Scotland at age 14 to get a taste for adventure (and get in big trouble with her parents). Later came an English degree at university and an increasing desire to be a writer. The passion for good organic food and an interest in protecting the environment was to follow, and soon afterwards Maddy’s first job was to set up her own organic whole food store in Portsmouth, England.

Maddy loves nothing more than a day outside working in the garden, or walking on the hills around her home. Favourite holidays always involve camping, usually in Cornwall by the sea and a good dose of body boarding. She has recently acquired a Sea Eagle kayak and plans to take to the water as much as possible, probably dodging the English rain!

Current Projects and Other Fun Facts:

Besides writing and publishing, Maddy spends as much time in the garden experimenting with companion planting, brewing stinky liquid manures, propagating fruit trees, growing as much fruit and veg as possible. She also loves planting wildflowers and bee- and butterfly-nectar-producing plants. She also swims and walks as regularly as possible, and likes to meet unusual and inspiring permaculture people from all over the world. She recently met Sepp Holzer, an Austrian farmer who grows citrus and other fabulous polycultures at 4,921 feet.

Maddy’s company has won many awards for good ethical and green practice. The most notable was in 2008, when Permanent Publications won the Queens Award for Enterprise for its “unfettered commitment to sustainable development internationally.” The Queens Award is said to be the equivalent to a corporate knighthood. Maddy had to take off her jeans, put on a dress and go to a reception at Buckingham Palace with the Queen and other members of the Royal Family. “Quite a surreal experience for an alternative publisher,” she says. “But Prince Phillip and the Queen were very welcoming and knew about our work — and Princess Anne has a wicked sense of humour.”