Paradise Lot

Thoughts inspired by 'Paradise Lot- Two Plant Geeks, One-Tenth of an Acre and The Making of an Edible Garden Oasis in the City'  by Eric Toensmeier with contributions from Jonathan Bates.  Published by Chelsea Green in 2013.

Eric Toesnmeier's blog is
Jonathan Bates blog is

I really enjoyed reading this book because is was light, interesting and most amazingly nerdy.  If the world was separated into plant geeks and not plant geeks, I would self identify with the former.  As such,  I was absolutely delighted to read about different trials, tribulations and successes with all kinds of unusual plants (as well as Eric Toensmeier and Jonathan Bates habits of reading old dusty tombs in search of unusual edible perennials, spending many hours on the plants for the future site, and trying to cultivate and eat all kinds of amazing botanical treats).  The amount of diversity of trees, shrubs, ground-covers, vines and aquatics that they have stuffed into one-tenth of acre is incredible.  I think I now have a few plants that I need to look up and see if I can get my hands on some seeds or plants....

Allium cernuum- Nodding onion, native to BC, edible and beautiful,  in the food forest, Creston, BC

Paradise Lot is the journey of making an urban oasis come true using permaculture design, methods and different tools and techniques.  The way they explained their process and how it fits both the place, time, skills, interests, money, labour and people using the site is a fantastic look into the permaculture design methodology.

Food Forest in Creston one year after planting (the cottonwoods in the background were already there)

Paradise Lot is an example of urban permaculture on degraded land, and in a city with issues of race, class, immigration and economics just like most other cities.  Too often we think of permaculture as a gardening technique, or something that only homesteaders can use in pristine rural areas.  As Larry Santoyo says: "Permaculture is design protocols for decision making and problem solving.  Those design protocols are based on patterns of nature and the convictions of a conserver society." You can apply those design protocols to your job, to your relationships, to how you organize your desk, etc,  it's just that for the past 30 plus years the permaculture community has developed around living systems, and producing food (which is very much needed and important). As well as continuing the push the edges of food forests, agro-ecology, waste cycling and natural building, many permaculturalists are working along the social edge of the permaculture sphere these days to  to create community resiliency, to develop sustainable livelihoods, to create communities that are less dependant fossil fuels, to reform municipal laws that make it difficult to live sustainably.  City Repair in Portland does many interesting projects to help repair both the social and environmental fabric of the city.

Cob wall built in PDX to separate a school playground from a busy street

In fact, many really interesting permaculture projects are happening in urban environments on degraded land, working in community with a diversity of people.  And I will argue that there is a more of learning community around permaculture in urban areas than in rural areas, because there is more opportunity for classes, workshops and informal gatherings where high densities of people live, as well as more of an web presence.  The people who are being awesome homesteaders and using permaculture to put it all together in rural areas generally don't use social media as much to share what they area doing, are isolated physically from lots of people, and are maybe too busy milking cows, raising children and exploring the forest.  Don't get me wrong, I think we need all these examples of regenerative, sustainable living, urban and rural, but we also need to share with each other the power of earth repair in whatever way we can.

Permaculture Workshop at the AREA, Calgary, AB

Like many permaculturalists, Toensmeier is great a weaving together land management and food traditions from different cultures and useful plants from his area, as well as from around the world.  He studied the rampant weed ecologies in degraded lands in his city to observe how nature fixes degraded urban landscapes.   He found mixtures of native trees and shrubs with other more well known urban 'weeds' living together on compacted, barren soil.   He used this as a foundation to how to repair the soil and land on his degraded lot.

Resilient plant life and human touches in between buildings in NYC

Toensmeier ties in indigenous management systems and discusses the idea of disturbance and how we shape our environments.  Toensmeir also talks about the emergent properties of design, of how when you create a good design, the whole is more than the sum of the parts... and unexpected and wonderful things can happen.  Permaculture allows us to repair degraded landscapes and create living systems that are more diverse, more productive, and better off than how they started.  Paradise Lot is definitely worth the read for anyone interested in edible perennial plants, food forests and permaculture design in temperate areas.

The Iron Horse Ranch- an abundant urban homestead in East Vancouver

"One of the principles in Permaculture : A Designers' Manual that has always inspired me is that "the yield of a system is theoretically unlimited.  The only limit on the number of uses of a resource possible within a system is in the limit of the information and the imagination of the designer. "  Our experience reinforces this idea and refutes the notion of scarcity." Toensmeier, Paradise Lot

A riotous display of asparagus, yarrow, coriander, dill, sea buckthorn, quince, comfrey, borage, calendula, raspberry
and many more speices on what used to be an old mill site in Creston, BC

"Even only halfway knowing what we were doing, we have increased the beauty, ecosystem health, and food production of what was once an empty lot.  We made our little paradise here.  Imagine what would happen if we as a species paid similar attention to all the degraded and abandoned lands of the world. " Toensmeier, Paradise Lot


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