There are permaculture principles and permaculture ethics. The ethics are sometimes referred to as principles as well. I'll keep them separate.
The permaculture ethics are at the centre of permaculture philosophy and are broad guidelines of how we should behave towards the earth and towards each other.
The permaculture principles, or permaculture design principles, are the guidelines that you follow when you design a permaculture garden or bigger permaculture system.
The three ethics at the core of permaculture are quite simple and don't need much explanation:
Permaculture teaches us to observe nature, to understand our environment and so become more ecologically aware and responsible. The philosophy behind permaculture also looks at the global context, it is a big vision.
But the three ethics do not immediately convey the main focus of permaculture: the focus always was and still is on sustainable food production.
How permaculture design makes growing fruit and vegetables easier, more sustainable, reduces the work involved and produces a bigger and healthier harvest, that's what the following permaculture principles deal with.
Permaculture principles are the result of the observation of natural systems. They outline how things work in nature, and how you can apply that to your design. They also tie in with the three ethics listed above.
There are as many different collections of principles as there are websites about permaculture... Permaculturists keep identifying new principles, and everybody has a different focus.
My focus is food production on a garden scale. Therefore I will focus on the principles as they apply to the average home fruit and vegetable garden. I will cover those principles in detail and give you examples how to implement them.
These are the guidelines that will form the corner stones of your garden design: