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Paradise Lot: Two Plant Geeks, One-Tenth of an Acre, and the Making of an Edible Garden Oasis in the City

Pinned on June 24, 2013 at 12:49 pm by Elizabeth Anderson

Paradise Lot: Two Plant Geeks, One-Tenth of an Acre, and the Making of an Edible Garden Oasis in the City

When Eric Toensmeier and Jonathan Bates moved into a duplex in a run-down part of Holyoke, Massachusetts, the tenth-of-an-acre lot was barren ground and bad soil, peppered with broken pieces of concrete, asphalt, and brick. The two friends got to work designing what would become not just another urban farm, but a “permaculture paradise” replete with perennial broccoli, paw paws, bananas, and moringa—all told, more than two hundred low-maintenance edible plants in an innovative food forest on a small city lot. The garden—intended to function like a natural ecosystem with the plants themselves providing most of the garden’s needs for fertility, pest control, and weed suppression—also features an edible water garden, a year-round unheated greenhouse, tropical crops, urban poultry, and even silkworms.

In telling the story of Paradise Lot, Toensmeier explains the principles and practices of permaculture, the choice of exotic and unusual food plants, the techniques of design and cultivation, and, of course, the adventures, mistakes, and do-overs in the process. Packed full of detailed, useful information about designing a highly productive permaculture garden, Paradise Lot is also a funny and charming story of two single guys, both plant nerds, with a wild plan: to realize the garden of their dreams and meet women to share it with. Amazingly, on both counts, they succeed.


Zannah Marsh says:

Compelling narrative, excellent permaculture resource I bought this book because I’m a budding urban gardener curious about permaculture (a sustainable, low maintenance, ecosystem-focused approach to growing food)… and I like a good story. Eric Toensmeier is a self-described “plant geek” and permaculture expert who also co-wrote “Edible Forest Gardens” a 2-volume, 1000+ page epic reference on the theory and practice of permaculture. Unlike EFG, “Paradise Lot” is a comparatively short, accessible, narrative account of Toensmeier’s experience turning a barren urban lot in Holyoke, MA into a “food forest.”At the start of the book, Toensmeier and his co-gardener Jonathan Bates (who contributes short essays scattered throughout the book) are single, impoverished, lonely 30-something plant geeks struggling to start a business, find a place to settle down, and get girlfriends. Part of the fun and suspense of the book is following their personal stories, which are skillfully and unobtrusively interwoven into the central narrative of the garden. The book is also a terrific introduction to key concepts in permaculture. Toensmeier describes the entire process, from selecting and mapping a site to designing the garden, collecting seeds, working the soil, planting, harvesting and even preparing some of the unusual edibles, troubleshooting invasives and dealing with pests. There’s lots of juicy details, but the technical information isn’t overwhelming. If you’re inspired (as I was) to learn more, there are comprehensive lists of resources (books, organizations, suppliers, etc) plus plant lists and garden maps in the book’s appendicies.Toensmeier writes beautifully, with a deeply-felt passion for plants and the natural world. In a broader sense, the book is about being creative, resourceful, and strategic in building a life and community that’s both sustainable and satisfying.Very inspiring! A wonderful book.

Jennifer A. Schultz says:

Not quite what I expected, but not bad, either. I expected more of the book to actually be devoted to the lot in question, rather than being basically an autobiography of two men who happened to garden in a small urban lot. I expected more of an in depth of: In year one, we planted x y and z and only y thrived. In year two y had grown W feet, etc. etc. I expected more before and after pictures or descriptions of the lot. That being said the book IS all about permaculture and forest gardens (even if the majority is about what happened BEFORE the lot or something tangential about their time on the lot, and not actually about the lot itself) and etc, and I learned more than I would have thought from a biography. I also appreciated that a lot of the plants described in the actual lot section appear to be available for sale on their website (Often I get frustrated about hearing of some great plant that it turns out is virtually unobtainable).

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