Paradise Lot: Creating Eden in the Suburbs

by ziggy on February 5, 2014 -- 0 comments -- Follow

ParadiseLot-bookAs I enter a new phase in life with the goal of obtaining raw land to create my own slice of homesteading delight, my appetite for books and stories about permaculture, especially of a more personal account is ever greater. This is a fortunate time, as the number of books over the past decade have only been increasing as people have had more time to take permaculture principles to the field, garden, and home with new results to share. Landowners and prospective owners should consider themselves lucky to not have to go in quite as blind as before with books like Paradise Lot, by Eric Toensmeier and Jonathan Bates.

Actually, in this case a landowner could mean anyone with even a tiny backyard to their name, as this dynamic duo have created an unbelievable patch of perennial goodness on a mere 1/10th of an acre. Their experiment and book are a testament to the idea that even supremely ravaged land in suburban deserts can be transformed into thriving ecosystems, providing an abundance of soil, food, habitat, and ultimately reward.

A Look at Paradise Lot

The premise is simple. Toensmeier and Bates set out to acquire property of their own to put to test the theories Toensmeier has been developing as he co-authors Edible Forest Gardens. (The creation of that epic two volume tome is woven throughout the story of this book.) As Toensmeier describes in Paradise Lot, he is dispirited with writing about permaculture and plants all day without having any land to even test his own theories. Toensmeier and Bates join forces, and the duo takes on a challenge — can they transform a suburban lot into a thriving food forest? They buy a duplex in Holyoke, Massachusetts, perhaps an unlikely setting, and set about establishing a perennial garden busting through the seams with a diverse spread of multifunctional herbs, shrubs, vines, and trees. They set out to not only prove that permaculture principles are viable, but that anyone, even people with little property of their own can implement these ideas.

Paradise Lot - Before

The original Paradise Lot, pre-paradise

And the results are, quite frankly, hard to believe. The book recounts the first eight years of that tiny 1/10th acre Paradise Lot experiment. The authors guide us through every step of the way, highlighting successes and blunders, and going into deep detail about the planning, implementation, maintenance, and evolution of their burgeoning food forest. Toensmeier’s knowledge of plants is clearly incredibly vast, and the book is full of descriptions of every manner of herbs, shrubs, etc. that sometimes sound like they’re from another planet. (Note: Toesmeier also wrote Perennial Vegetables, a resource/directory of uncommon plants geared towards permaculture-minded gardeners and growers.) Somehow, they manage to turn a barren, compacted backyard into a garden with literally hundreds of varieties of plants, a big majority of them perennials, providing huge amounts of food and habitat for wildlife. The few images in the center of the book are stunning and prove the work described. It is, in a word, an amazingly uplifting story.

There are any number of things to be amazed by when reading Paradise Lot. Between the plant knowledge of the team, the fact that they accomplished what they set out to do, the stories of how the mini food forest actually operates according to the theories… The implications are simply astounding. The whole time I sat there reading this book, I kept saying to myself “and this is just one tiny backyard in a single suburb.” To think if more people in neighborhoods across the country followed lead, and larger patches of agricultural land were transformed into food forests, the industrial agriculture, health, and ecological disasters might start to look a little different.

Paradise Lot - Toensmeier and Bates

Paradise Lot, years later and the forest garden blooming

I am grateful towards Toesmeier and Bates for their dedication to goal of creating a piece of paradise, for being the plant geeks that they are, and providing an amazing story in the process. Whether your intention is to create a small garden in your backyard, or to implement a larger scale permaculture design on several acres, this book definitely earns a place on your shelf. It’s relevant, entertaining, resourceful, and nothing short of a miracle, really.

Paradise Lot
ISBN: 9781603583992
Book Format: Paperback
Number of Pages: 248
Book Publisher: Chelsea Green
Pub Date: March 4, 2013

Eric Toensmeier has studied and practiced permaculture since 1990. He is the author of Perennial Vegetables and coauthor of Edible Forest Gardens with Dave Jacke. Toensmeier has worked as a small-farm trainer at the New England Small Farm Institute, has managed the Tierra de Oportunidades new-farmer program of Nuestras Raices, and is a graduate and former faculty member of the Institute for Social Ecology in Plainfield, Vermont. His current interest is in large-scale permaculture farming as a carbon-sequestering solution to climate change. Toensmeier’s writing, consulting, and teaching business is based at, where he posts his latest articles and videos. He lives in Holyoke, Massachusetts.

Jonathan Bates owns Food Forest Farm Permaculture Nursery (, a nursery specializing in educational services and useful/edible plant sales. He has been studying, creating, and working with rural and urban gardens in the Connecticut River Valley for over a decade. With a bachelor’s degree in biology, and an MA in social ecology from the Institute for Social Ecology, Jonathan loves wild crafting with friends, and working with folks to better the world we live in. He cofounded and is a board member of the Apios Institute, is a teacher at the Yestermorrow Design/Build School, and is a farmer with Nuestras Raices, Inc. He lives in Holyoke, Massachusetts.

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