Posted by & filed under Demonstration Sites, Food Forests, Food Plants - Perennial, Plant Systems, Trees, Urban Projects.

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

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!



13 Responses to “Perennial Abundance – Over 200 Food Plants on Just a Tiny 1/10th Acre of Cold Climate Urban Land”

  1. jeff brockman

    I have been interested in permaculture for a couple of years now and I truly believe sustainable living is the answer. Great work and a job well done.

  2. John Akin

    Love this and would love to do this on my 3/4 acre homesite but do not have the money to establish a permaculture yard. Is there a special design process and how well does this work in Florida? Awe struck John thx so much just breathtaking

    • Geoff Lawton

      Yes John we have students in Florida feeding their whole family from urban blocks of land after taking the Permaculture Design Certificate course.

  3. Ray

    As someone who is an ag professional, and a professional conservationist, i had to go see this site in person last year and it was all and more that i expected. Jon and Eric have designed a really beautiful place that just breathes life.

  4. Lance

    A love of plants instead of a fear of the future! This is why I love Permaculture and got ‘back into the game’ little over a year ago. Great work gentlemen!

  5. Chris McLeod

    Great work guys and thanks to Geoff and eco films for the virtual tour. I’d love to see more footage.

    It is particularly pleasing to see how densely Eric and John have planted their plot of land. Respect.

  6. Angela

    Where do I find the “non-traditional” plants? Read your book and am trying to incorporate as much as I can in my little town lot, but of course, skirret isn’t in the main stream catalogs. :) Thanks!

  7. Brad

    i am trying to do something similar in New Orleans
    we have warmer weather here, so its a different set of p[lants
    most tropicals wont grow here, but i am trying with a few like papaya mango, banana, starfruit, jaboticaba etc…
    i dont think its quite a 1/10 of an acre either, its a normal suburban house, but, im at %20 of my food being grown, and hope to increase that to %50 soon


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