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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 Paperback – January 25, 2013


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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 + Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, 2nd Edition + The Resilient Farm and Homestead: An Innovative Permaculture and Whole Systems Design Approach
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing (January 25, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1603583998
  • ISBN-13: 978-1603583992
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #75,189 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

With their shared passion for plants and a commitment to creating as self-sustaining a garden as possible on a minuscule lot in a small New England city cursed with a terrible climate and even worse soil, Toensmeier and Bates set about converting their urban backyard into a permaculture paradise. Informed by his work on a seminal, two-volume encyclopedia devoted to the concept of forest gardening, Toensmeier transformed the infertile and debris-laden property behind the duplex he shared with Bates into a natural ecosystem teeming with edible plants. As the authors’ postage-stamp-size front yard morphed into a lush, tropical showcase that astounded their Massachusetts community, the backyard incorporated all the components necessary to produce fresh fruits and vegetables year-round using cold-hardy, mostly native plants that would ideally require a minimum amount of work for a maximum output. As a memoir of a purposeful life, Toensmeier’s work is engaging, honest, and natural. As a directive to other gardeners eager to establish natural ecosystems in unlikely settings, his work is instructive, illuminating, and inspirational. --Carol Haggas

Review

“Eric has a leisurely, entertaining, and personable way of revealing how his own edible forest garden evolved. Along the way, the reader will learn design guidelines that can be used in virtually any climate. A good read full of insight and science.”--Robert Kourik, author of Designing and Maintaining Your Edible Landscape—Naturally 



Paradise Lot is an inspiring book that encourages exploration of the possibilities of growing edibles in any and every yard, no matter how small. And not only tomatoes or apples, but all sorts of edibles from hog peanuts (taste much better than their name) to pawpaws to mints to jostaberry. Join Eric Toensmeier and his friend Jonathan Bates on their ten-plus-year journey in creating a garden of eatin’ in a very small city lot. I can’t wait for the sequel!”--Lee Reich, PhD, author of Grow Fruit Naturally, The Pruning Book, and Landscaping with Fruit



“Just when I figured I had heard it all in growing food, comes a book that makes me realize I don’t know the half of it. Paradise Lot is an amazing, almost unbelievable account of how to grow some 150–200 food- and nitrogen-producing plants on a measly one-tenth of an acre, providing food year round in a cold climate. The authors reveal in great detail how they do this, starting with poor urban backyard soil and using totally organic and permaculture methods. They have raised 400 pounds of perennial fruits and vegetables in addition to many annual vegetables per year in this tiny garden. With more time, knowledge, and labor, they are sure they can produce appreciably more. If you want your imagination challenged and intrigued, this is the book for you. As the authors say, here is proof positive that with proper knowledge and will there is no such thing as food scarcity.”--Gene Logsdon, author of A Sanctuary of Trees and Small-Scale Grain Raising



“Although many of us dream of creating our ideal urban homestead from scratch, the reality is far less pristine: toxic soil, rampant exotic species, outdated codes, and all the other grit of city life. Paradise Lot is a practical manual, based on hard-won lessons, for working positively with the realities of our cities to create a sustainable, peaceful, and abundant oasis in the urban jungle. In this vivid and engaging work, Eric Toensmeier entices us with his journey as an example, explaining what to do, and what mistakes to avoid, to develop our own versions of an edible urban paradise.”--Toby Hemenway, author of Gaia’s Garden



“Our connection to place defines us as gardeners and farmers just as much as the plants we choose to grow. The integration of perennial plantings, microclimate, and natural beauty comes about by listening to the land. What a delight to then have one of America’s preeminent permaculture teachers share his personal story with both place and partner. Sometimes that meaningful insight we need in shaping our own garden path comes from hearing of the successes and foibles other gardeners found on their path. The gift Eric Toensmeier and Jonathan Bates offer in Paradise Lot is their heart for all things green.”--Michael Phillips, author of The Holistic Orchard and The Apple Grower



Paradise Lot is a magnificent story about how two young broke landless 'plant geeks' transform an urban lot into a permaculture heaven capable of producing all their fruit and vegetables as well as attracting suitable mates. The book is a groundbreaking work on temperate-climate permaculture as well as a personal saga, as the author’s discovery and discussion of the differences between theory and practice goes beyond anything in the current permaculture literature. The book has a lot of information on growing and using various perennial food plants and, of particular value, it includes specific accounts of what didn’t work and why as well as what did. Paradise Lot should be particularly useful to those with small lots or poor or abused soil. Much writing in permaculture is for people with plenty of land and money. This is permaculture for the rest of us. Best of all, Paradise Lot is fun to read. It overflows with love—love of plants, love of land, love of adventuring on the edge of knowledge, and love of living. It’s hard to put down. I read it in two large gulps.”--Carol Deppe, author of The Resilient Gardener and Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties



Paradise Lot is a timeless classic of urban permaculture in action that clearly shows design evolution over time. This is a true model of the change the world needs.”--Geoff Lawton, founder of Permaculture Research Institute and creator of Greening the Desert



Publishers Weekly-
In this charming, true-life tale of urban regeneration and the birth of a forest garden movement, Toensmeier, famous among permaculture enthusiasts for his Perennial Vegetables and as coauthor of Edible Forest Gardens, tells the story behind the Holyoke, Mass., garden featured as a test case in the latter, which, in the course of eight years, he and Bates transformed from a bare backyard wasteland into a flourishing, edible Eden. In true permaculture fashion, the book follows not only the progression of the garden but also its influence on and relations with its creators’ lives—including a surprisingly Austen-like romantic element—their neighborhood, and the larger permaculture and forest gardening community. Bates, whose nursery business, Food Forest Farm, is an offshoot of this garden, contributes philosophical and personal essays interspersed throughout the narrative. Fans of Toensmeier and Bates’s work will be thrilled to read the details of their experiments with polycultures, their problems with and solutions for pests and overly aggressive plants, and their idiosyncratic plant choices. Adventurous readers with conventional gardens and lawns may be inspired to venture into the more integrated, evolutionary approach that this book so vividly and appealingly portrays.



Booklist-
With their shared passion for plants and a commitment to creating as self-sustaining a garden as possible on a minuscule lot in a small New England city cursed with a terrible climate and even worse soil, Toensmeier and Bates set about converting their urban backyard into a permaculture paradise. Informed by his work on a seminal, two-volume encyclopedia devoted to the concept of forest gardening, Toensmeier transformed the infertile and debris-laden property behind the duplex he shared with Bates into a natural ecosystem teeming with edible plants. As the authors’postage-stamp-size front yard morphed into a lush, tropical showcase that astounded their Massachusetts community, the backyard incorporated all the components necessary to produce fresh fruits and vegetables year-round using cold-hardy, mostly native plants that would ideally require a minimum amount of work for a maximum output. As a memoir of a purposeful life, Toensmeier’s work is engaging, honest, and natural. As a directive to other gardeners eager to establish natural ecosystems in unlikely settings, his work is instructive, illuminating, and inspirational.



Kirkus Reviews-
The front yard was a short, steep slope of asphalt with a tiny strip of sterile gravel and subsoil," write Toensmeier and Bates, with a "backyard that looked like a moonscape, sparely populated with tufts of crabgrass." It was the perfect place to launch their experiment: Could two men with horticultural experience and a love of nature turn a typical compact backyard into a garden full of lush plants and edible food? The authors chronicle their 10-plus years of trials and experiments, as they transformed their "moonscape" into a permaculture of "trees, shrubs, vines, and herbaceous perennials" that produced food at every level. By analyzing their soil and plotting the movement of shade and sun for a year, the authors discovered the prime locations to build a greenhouse and tool shed. They knew where to plant trees and perennials so that they could bring their site to life, and they developed a deeper kinship with the space and with each other. Along the journey, the authors present ideas like sheet mulching, which can transform a lawn into a useful garden plot capable of growing tomatoes and sweet corn in the first year. They also share their thoughts on the plants that can become noxious weeds despite their culinary uses. Toensmeier and Bates discuss both their triumphs and their defeats, as they experimented with chickens, nitrogen fixers, ground covers, numerous kinds of berry bushes and water plants. Although not a how-to guide, the authors give readers plenty of choices and ideas to think about when deciding whether to embark on this kind of gardening.



Library Journal-

STARRED REVIEW "Part handbook, part memoir, this book details the evolution of a permaculture garden on an urban lot in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Having spent years describing permaculture gardens in a theoretical manner, Toensmeier (Perennial Vegetables) and his friend Bates (owner, Food Forest Farm Permaculture Nursery) put these theories into practice when they bought and moved into a duplex situated on a 1/10 acre rundown lot. Nearly a decade later, the lot is unrecognizable—a tropical paradise in the front and a wealth of more than 200 edible plants in the back. Toensmeier clearly explains the processes—needless to say, nothing changed overnight—that achieved this near-miracle. VERDICT: The authors’ prose pulls the reader into their lives, sparking a desire to see the result and try this kind of gardening. The appendixes are filled with useful information for readers who may be intrigued enough to create their own paradise. All readers interested in urban renewal or environmental issues will welcome this book."



ForeWord Reviews-

“Urban agriculture is becoming a hot topic in sustainable farming circles as more people become interested in organic foods, healthy eating choices, and environmental topics. Given population densities in some areas, “urban agriculture” might seem like an oxymoron to some, but with careful planning and a sense of adventure, even a tiny plot of land can yield a bumper crop.

Longtime friends Eric Toensmeier and Jonathan Bates certainly demonstrate the type of strategy and passion required for the effort. In their charming, insightful description of their tiny urban garden in Holyoke, Massachusetts, the two cover twelve years of growing, from their initial reaction to seeing the compacted, gravel-edged soil, to the moment when they have to consider the long-term future of their growing families, which likely means leaving their garden paradise.

Along with relaying various missteps and challenges, Toensmeier (with occasional contributions from Bates) layers together their experiences with natural pesticide controls, wild mushroom foraging, city regulations, berry plants, forest gardens, chickens, having girlfriends move in, trellis systems, and an array of other topics.

Dividing the garden’s history into four sections—sleep, creep, leap, and reap— Toensmeier creates a combination of personal memoir and permaculture guide. Filled with insight, but not too technical, he strikes an artful balance between giving useful detail and geeking out on gardening nuances. Although readers who want to learn more about compost and chicken coops may get the most out of their journey, Paradise Lot will still be a delight for someone who can’t even grow a houseplant.

As Toensmeier and Bates demonstrate, it doesn’t take twenty acres to start a garden filled with nourishing vegetables and gorgeous flowers; it just takes some vision, especially if the potential garden is a scruffy urban lot.

Part gardening guide, part personal story, the book is ultimately a call to action, with the pair proclaiming that it doesn’t matter what a patch of land looks like, as long as someone is willing to explore its potential. “We made our little paradise here,” Toensmeier writes. “Imagine what would happen if we as a species paid similar attention to all the degraded and abandoned lands of the world.”


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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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It was a very enjoyable read and I found it inspiring.
JJDsMom
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.
Zannah Marsh
I generally tend to skim through garden books looking for useful information, but this one I read cover to cover with great pleasure.
Sandra Hutchison

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

46 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Zannah Marsh on February 8, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
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55 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer A. Schultz on February 12, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By SanDiegoMama on February 10, 2013
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I loved Paradise Lot. It took me 3 days to read because I was reading so fast. I'm going to reread it again because it was so good. Love the stories in it. Very entertaining to read yet so much information at the same time that i need to go back with a pen and paper and take notes. Although they live on the East Coast with much colder weather and I live in San Diego, I feel that the book still helped me a great deal. I'm now even more inspired to work on my own back yard and food forest. I wish they would move to a new lot, start over and journal that garden as well! I'd buy that book.

I'm probably going to by their other 2 volume set about food forests. They explained about how they put that together and it seems like an encyclopedia of information that is very much worth having.

I'm sad that I'm not close to where they live. It would be interesting to take a tour after learning so much about the effort put forth in designing it all these years.

I'd recommend this to anyone who wants to create an edible yard. Very helpful.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Stuart Nottingham on July 31, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. We are just beginning our permaculture journey on a half acre in Omaha, Nebraska. Reading about Paradise Lot provided lots of ideas for what we will try.

The book is very readable and both authors bring their experiences to the pages in different ways. Eric writes more about the methodology, while Jonathan tells more about the personal/emotional experience. At least, this was my perception of their styles.

Overall, a very enjoyable book that is pragmatic and entertaining!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Comment on July 4, 2013
Format: Paperback
Part how-to, part memoir...all entertainment. Paradise Lot was a very informative book, easy for a garden newbie to follow. I really loved it!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Kindle Customer on June 25, 2013
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I bought this book because the "lot" is located in my area. I'm inspired by their entire concept for growing food!! Best of all it is working here in Massachusetts. Nice friendly writing very enjoyable to read. Best of all they are organic, so important in this toxic world we are forced to live in today...
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Sandra Hutchison on July 17, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
I really love this book because it talks about implementing a new idea in gardening in very practical terms, complete with the authors' own trial-and-error experiences. It won't give you every piece of information you might need to make over your yard, but it will definitely inspire you with an intelligent strategy for doing so. We also get to know the two authors and their lives, and it's interesting to watch how their charming families evolve along with their permaculture experiment. The fact that they do all this in a barren urban lot with neighboring trees (and neighboring neighbors) and all the other challenges most American gardeners face also makes this more useful than a lot of other gardening books (so many seem to be written for people with graceful estates and big budgets at their disposal). I generally tend to skim through garden books looking for useful information, but this one I read cover to cover with great pleasure. Highly recommended!
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