There’s something to be said for the scattergun technique. — planting over 300 edible plants in your backyard to see exactly what sticks, what takes off and what dies in the process.
This is the technique used by Permaculture authors Eric Toensmeier and Jonathan Bates when they converted their tiny 1/10 acre suburban backyard into a perennial food garden of exotic plants located at Holyoke, Massachusetts. They transformed it into a functioning cold climate urban paradise. Well, you need to take a look at the houses that surround their suburban duplex to see what I mean. It’s like a glass of water standing next to a barren and thirsty environment.
Their house stand out like a beacon. A permaculture beacon of unusual plants.
It’s the only house in Holyoke with bananas growing out the front. And Sorghum waving in the wind. One look and you realize these are serious Permaculturists — with chickens to feed, aquaponics in the greenhouse and a small pond with edible plants in it. It certainly amazed Geoff Lawton — watch as he takes you for a spin detailing exactly what is growing in their amazing backyard.
Trailer only – watch the full video here!
What I liked about meeting Eric Toensmeier is that he’s an enthusiastic and very knowledgeable, self-described “plant geek.” He buys rare books on obscure plants and ravenously consumes them with detailed annotations. He doesn’t put these books on the shelf in his study for show. They are hidden in his basement library and when he shows you his rare and very expensive plant books, its like watching a medieval monk showing you a rare illuminated manuscript.
In this very small backyard, Eric Toensmeier and Johnathan Bates live with their respective wives in a duplex sharing their mutual passion for rare plants like good friends. It also ended up as a business opportunity for Johnathan who now sells these plants to other permies. As Eric says in the video, “We ended up with a collection that nobody had and everyone wanted, and here we are weeding all these things out of our garden, because they self propagate really well. We realized we could be selling these weeds for ten dollars a piece.”
They’ve successfully turned their passion into a success. Authoring a number of books including the book documenting their ten year labor of love on this garden, called “Paradise Lot.”
They grow over 200 perennial food plants in temperatures that plunge below minus 20°C (-4°F). Not every plant is a raging success — some you never want to see again. The boys share their successes and their failures in the longer format video available for viewing at GeoffLawton.com.
Eric finally admits that next summer he’s stepping out of his comfort zone of growing unusual plants and will now attempt to grow a plant he’s never grown before — the humble lettuce! Way to go Eric!