Paradise Lot: Two plant geeks, one-tenth of an acre, and the making of an edible garden oasis in the city

Deano Martin | Saturday, 18th May 2013
A funny tale of two single plant nerds, creating a permaculture garden of perennial and annual plants in the suburbs.
Author: Eric Toensmeier and Jonathan Bates
Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing Company
Publication year: 2013
RRP: £13.95

This is a lovely book that tells how the author and his friend move into and develop a one-tenth of an acre plot of land in the suburbs.

By telling a story, the book is personal, and gains personality as a result. Despite not setting out as a 'how to' manual, there is plenty of useful information contained in it, as you would expect from the man who helped to write Edible Forest Gardens, and wrote his own book on perennial vegetables.

This book includes lists of useful plants, examples of some of the planting schemes used in the garden, and the way that they came up with the overall design. The book has given me a number of new plants to research and try, which is always exciting for a plant geek like me.

There are plans and pictures of the garden including a 'before' picture, which is really useful. Perhaps of most use is the author's honesty, describing the things that didn't work the way that they had hoped for, and the steps that were taken as a result.

I particularly liked the inclusion of annual vegetables in the design, and the author's own thoughts of their place within their garden, along with perennials and trees. I'm interested to hear how their next generation of polycultures perform. I loved the author's hope that over time their garden will look primitive compared to what the full potential of gardening at this scale will eventually be. This is just one example of the optimism that runs through the whole book.

There are some things that may challenge the perception of some readers. The section that says that deep aeration with a broad-fork in year six 'may have been the most important advancement we made in regenerating our soil and growing healthy plants' is one of those.

The statement that 'laying sheet mulch on top of compacted soil had about the same results as making a compost on top of concrete' and that worms would have loosened the soil 'after fifty years' is likely to be another. I agree, but many won't.

The author writes that production could probably be increased by using bio-intensive methods for their annual crops which I found interesting. Another challenge may be the statement that permaculture design 'starts with clarifying your goals, because if you don't know what you want, you are unlikely to achieve it'. Perhaps it's time for a better design process or framework?

I can't find anything wrong with this book although I would have loved a full list of what the garden produces. 400lbs of perennial produce sounds amazing, but as most of it is water (fruit and salad), it won't feed a person for a year. (Think half a pound of apples and half a pound of lettuce per day!) This is acknowledged nicely by the author, writing that they buy food from a store, but that their experiments may help others to 'make newer and more interesting mistakes rather than repeat those that we have already made'. I couldn't agree more.

Buy the book, read it, and then go out and make more interesting mistakes. 

North American readers can buy this book direct from the publishers, Chelsea Green.

Further Resources

Read: Plants for a Future: Alternative food crops for your garden

Read: Planting Naturalistic Polycultures in the Vegetable Garden

DVD Review: Regeneration: an earth saving evolution

Book review: Sowing Seeds in the Desert: natural farming, global restoration & ultimate food security 

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