New York Times garden columnist Anne Raver recently visited Eric Toensmeier and Jonathan Bates’s Paradise Lot in Holyoke, Massachussetts.
Enchanted by the garden full of delicious perennials, and the charming love story that brought two plant geeks the “Eves” they dreamed of, she penned this piece.
Not only does Raver celebrate Eric’s new memoir, Paradise Lot, which tells the whole story of turning a barren Massachusetts backyard into a veritable Garden of Eden, she also highlights the practical beauty of permaculture — a holistic, beyond-organic, systems-thinking approach to gardening that Chelsea Green has been promoting for decades.
Eric Toensmeier has been a proponent of the low-work, high-yield system as well, writing Perennial Vegetables, co-authoring the two-volume Edible Forest Gardens, and starring in the new DVD Perennial Vegetable Gardening with Eric Toensmeier.
Read Anne Raver’s entire article on Paradise Lot here, and spread the word!
Oh, and Happy Valentine’s Day!
HOLYOKE, Mass. — It was the build-it-and-they-will-come principle that inspired two self-described plant geeks to buy a soulless duplex on a barren lot in this industrial city 10 years ago and turn it into their own version of the Garden of Eden. Their Eves, they figured, would show up sooner or later.
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, tells the story of how it happened. Published by Chelsea Green this month, it’s just in time for armchair gardening — and Valentine’s Day.
It’s a love story intertwined with the tale of how a small, barren backyard shaded by Norway maples, with an asphalt driveway in front, became a place that could sustain about 160 kinds of edible plants, including pawpaws, persimmons, Asian pears, gooseberries, strawberries, blueberries and rarities like goumi (tiny berries with a sour cherry zing).
Dwarf kiwi vines now climb up mimosa trees, with a lush carpet of shade-loving crops like currants, jostaberries (a cross between black currants and gooseberries), edible hostas, Solomon’s seal and May apples.
Ramps, that wild leek so coveted by foodies that it’s being stripped from eastern forests, thrive beneath the pawpaw trees, and so does giant fuki (Petasites japonicus Giganteus), with its four-foot-wide leaves. And fuki is not just a beautiful leaf that lends a tropical look to the landscape; like rhubarb’s, its stalks are edible.
“You can already see the flower buds, here and here,” Mr. Toensmeier, 41, told me one freezing day about two weeks ago.
He fingered the little bumps emerging from the frozen-looking ground, picturing a spring still invisible to the eye.
“It’s our first flower as soon as the snow is gone in March,” he said. “We eat the leaf stalk” — boiled and peeled, he explains in the book, then marinated in raspberry vinegar, shredded ginger and tamari — “it’s like weird-flavored celery.”
At the moment, however, this paradise is an icy landscape of bare trees, stumps and limp leaves, with sprigs of water celery peeking out of the frozen pool. In the summer, water lotus blooms here, but after last week’s storm, it’s under two feet of snow.
Marikler Giron Toensmeier reached down to pick a bit of water celery emerging from the frozen pond. It was about the size of a snowflake, but it was green and tasted like celery. “And look, praying mantises,” she said, touching one of the wrinkled egg cases stuck here and there among the dried grasses and twigs of the sleeping garden.
Ms. Toensmeier, 38, a native of Guatemala, is one of the Eves.