In the summer of 2002, in a rented RV dubbed Maxine, four friends and I drove the length of Florida. My good friend and plant geek extraordinaire Craig Hepworth was our guide, and took us to wonders like ECHO, the Fruit and Spice Park, and the legendary Grimmel Grove in the Keys. In a mere six days we sampled a remarkable 62 species of fruit. While driving through the Everglades, I mentioned that Ben Watson of Chelsea Green had asked me to write a book on perennial vegetables. By the end of an hour my friends had me convinced that I should go for it. Without their support I would not be typing these words right now. To Craig, Jonathan, Darini, and Scott, thank you.
When I first discovered permaculture in 1989, and the “agriculturally productive ecosystems” it promoted, I was sure that comprehensive lists of perennial vegetables had been developed. But as I investigated further in college, it because clear that, unlike fruits and nuts, there was no one place to turn for information on perennial vegetables. I began to piece together information from various sources, with help from Steve Breyer of Tripple Brook Farm and my trusty copies of Cornucopia and Hortus Third. To fill the gap, I founded and ran the Perennial Vegetable Seed Company for several years. While a nice idea, turned out that it was a bit before its time—and that I was clearly not cut out for the seed business.
It was during the years of the seed company that Jonathan Bates came to live with me. He quickly became my gardening partner and fellow plant geek. He carried much of the weight of the seed company in its last and most successful year, and together we grew out many perennial vegetables—several were from seeds imported from Europe. We learned how they grew, how they looked, and how they tasted (some terrible!). We stayed for three years, and then moved our whole garden to our current home, where we have quite a nice little garden (most of the photos in this book come from our garden, including many of the tropicals). So, thanks Jonathan, for sharing the excitement, for being such a swell, reliable guy, and putting up with the craziness of my writing for these past years.
Thanks to my parents, who both helped out with the challenging financial aspects of writing at key times, which made this book possible in a very real way. My mother came and spent many weekends, keeping me company while I wrote. Visits to my father in Arizona, and his fantastic cactus garden, built my understanding of arid-climate gardening.
Thanks as well to the crew at Chelsea Green Publishing. As I write the process is not quite complete, but I can say a big thanks to senior editor Ben Watson for proposing the book several times over the years, and sticking with me through a good bit longer than the year of writing we initially anticipated. The whole production and editing team has been great to work with—thus far John Barstow and Collette Leonard have been especially helpful. I am grateful to President Margo Baldwin for raising the flag of permaculture at Chelsea Green—they have become the premier North American permaculture publisher. Thanks also to Elayne Sears for her fantastic illustrations. Having worked with her on Edible Forest gardens, I knew what she was capable of and was able to build the book around the visual element.
Thanks to my pals Dave Jacke, Craig Hepworth, Jonathan Bates, Michelle Wiggins, and my mom, who reviewed several drafts. Thanks also to everyone who supplied photographs, including Ethan Rowland, Dave Jacke, Craig Heptworth, and Jonathan Bates. My coworker Jaime Iglesias, and friend and farmer Fermín Galarza, along with so many others from Nuestras Raíces, have shared with me many stories of life in rural Puerto Rico, and the role of many perennial vegetables in home gardens and homesteads there. Author, farmer, and teacher Miranda Smith has been a great guide through the whole writing and publishing process for this book (and for my previous one).
There are a few organizations out there that have pioneered work on perennial vegetables. They still stand out as demonstration centers, researchers, writers, and nursery sources for rare but important plants. Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization (ECHO) in Fort Meyers hosted me, allowed me to use their fantastic library, was the location for most of my best photos, and home of an inspirational edible landscape. Special thanks to the very busy Dr. Martin Price, who granted me a valuable interview in person, and site manager Danny Blank, who has provided special tours for me over many years. Plants for a Future in Cornwall, England, an organization that I visited in 1997, has done so much to promote temperate climate perennial crops, including a great demonstration site, nursery, book, and online database. The Occidental Arts and Ecology Center in Occidental, California, likewise has amazing gardens, a nursery offering great perennial vegetables, and courses and workshops to promote permaculture. They have been great with me on the phone, and I hope to visit someday. Finally, though now defunct, Triades in Hawaii, did incredible work, particularly publishing the Tropical Perennial Vegetable Series, promoting species suited to Pacific Island farms and gardens. Their work is being carried on by Agrinom in Hakalau, Hawaii.
Also thanks to the Internet radio station Delicious Lo-fi Lounge on live 365.com, which I listened to while writing essentially all of the species profiles. Give it a try while you are reading!
A special thanks to the memory and family of Robert Wagner. Bob was a dedicated plant enthusiast, who had an incredible collection of plants and books he collected in travels around the world. When he died a few years ago, the cold climates of the world lost an amazing resource. My thanks to his brother, who donated Bob’s seed collection to Seed Savers Exchange, and his books to the New England Small Farm Institute Library, as well as some tropical titles and duplicate copies to my own collection. These resources greatly improved this book—including rarities like Vegetables of the Dutch East Indes and a battered copy of Vilmorin’s The Vegetable Garden. I hope that this book can pass Bob’s legacy to the wider audience he deserved.
Much appreciation to my sweetheart Marikler Girón Ramirez, who has been so good to me, and has generously shared me with this book even when we would have rather been together.
I hope that this small work can be a humble contribution to permaculture and all forms of ecological gardening. Now that we have a guide to the species, we can experiment and find the best ways to incorporate them into our gardens. And let’s get breeding!
December 7, 2006