I devoured this book like a novel. It's not just a good gardening book but also a personal story and written in a readable style. It's about a forest garden, almost certainly the first and probably still the best example in North America. But it's also the story of a remarkable friendship and of a man obsessed with plants, but not so obsessed he didn't know how to love.
The garden was jointly created by author and his friend Jonathan Bates on a tenth of an acre (400m2) of degraded urban land at the back of their house. Optimistically, they had bought a semi-detached house with the intention of creating an edible paradise in the back yard and attracting two brides to fill both sides of the house. They were successful on both counts.
Eric Toensmeier is also the author of Perennial Vegetables and co-author of Edible Forest Gardens. Both of those are encyclopaedic books, ones which set out to give you a complete view of the subject and an idea of what to expect under typical conditions. This book is completely different. It tells you what actually happened in one particular garden over a number of years. It tells you about the plants which failed as well as the ones that succeeded, and things they got wrong as well as the ones they got right.
The opening part of the book tells you the experiences that led Eric and Jonathan to create that particular garden in that particular place. This is something that’s often missing from case studies but it’s important. People’s motivation grows out of their personal histories and the nature of that motivation is an important causative factor in the way the garden turns out.
Their personal stories continue to intertwine with gardening information throughout the book, but the emphasis is firmly on the latter. Here is a goldmine of information from a couple of people who have actually done it. There are chapters on: water gardening, the greenhouse, perennial vegetables, berries, tree fruits and nuts, chickens, nitrogen fixers, groundcovers and even some tropical plants which they manage to grow in Massachusetts, where snow lies on the ground for seven months of the year.
There’s also a very useful chapter on the design process. I found the way they worked with light and shade particularly valuable. This is perhaps the biggest challenge to forest gardening in temperate climates and their approach was both thoughtful and successful.
Another aspect of the story is how the garden didn’t end at the fence. Links with the neighbours started with gifts of produce and progressed to planting trees in their back yards which will improve the microclimate and pollination of the forest garden itself, as well as providing the neighbours with fruit. The links spread out to the whole city, where Eric works as a community farmer, and to the permaculture community all over North America, who visit in droves to see what’s going on.
Patrick Whitefield is the author of The Earth Care Manual,Permaculture in a Nutshell and How to Make a Forest Garden. His titles are also available in eBook formats for Kobo, Kindle, iPad and PDF for laptops and desktops.
Patrick also runs courses on permaculture design and related subjects. See The Land Course Online, an interactive experience including the Permaculture Design Course and much else. Please click here!
North American readers can buy Paradise Lot from Chelsea Green Publishing HERE.
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