Review: Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist

October 30, 2014

NOTE: Images in this archived article have been removed.

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Title: Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist
Author: Michael Judd
Publisher: Chelsea Green
Release Date: November, 2013
It’s remarkable how much information this slim paperback carries. It doesn’t try to teach all the basics of gardening and landscaping, but instead focuses on several projects: an herb spiral, a food forest, swales and hugelkulture, and an earthen oven, along with instructions on growing mushrooms and unusual fruits. Each is copiously illustrated with clear drawings and photographs. These are perhaps the best part of this book, as they convey the lighthearted tone of the text, while clearly showing whatever techniques or products they illustrate. My favorite photo is the little boy on the front cover, proudly displaying a container of berries, and his purple tongue. My favorite drawing is the mushroom man dancing with the tomato lady, a metaphoric illustration of the symbiotic nature of mycorrhiza (mycelium interacting with plant roots).
Judd mentions drinking good beer, and presents recipes for mixed drinks and wine from one’s own fruit, mentioning alcoholic libations so many times that he feels compelled to offer a disclaimer at the end protesting that he’s not actually an alcoholic. I don’t really know but I think most actual boozehounds fasten on one drink and show no interest in others—for them it’s not about the flavor. In any case, this gives you an idea of the fun-loving approach of this book.
I’ve tried some of the projects—hugelkulture, with mixed results, and mushroom growing, with mostly good results—but maybe now I’ll try winecaps, if I can find a source of woodchips. He’s also got me enthused about trying more exotic fruits, like seaberry, jujube, perhaps goumi berries. I don’t see a use for the earth oven, but it sure looks romantic in the yards in his pictures. It’s built mostly with cob (clay and sand and straw); Judd uses his to bake pizzas.
Perhaps because of where he lives, the book focuses on projects appropriate to suburbia (although any of them can be done in a rural setting as well, and some could be done on a city lot). His approach to food forests enables one to build a single guild with one sizable tree at its heart, in a city lot…or a scattering of these, intended to  eventually grow to flow together over the whole yard, eliminating the lawn (Mark Shepard in Restoration Agriculture talks of doing the same thing on a farm scale, with long rows of chestnuts and apples with smaller trees and shrubs and forbs below, and livestock grazing the alleys between these rows). The idea of the food forest is to mimic nature with its large trees surrounded by smaller ones, with shrubs and groundcovers below them…only here you choose the species so that they all provide you with food or medicine (or they provide services for the rest of the guild, like attracting pollinators and predator bugs, or fixing nitrogen).
If you’re looking for a comprehensive treatment of Permaculture, this is not it. But if you want something to spur you to trying something different with your yard, this guide is both inspiring and very clear, with detailed, step-by-step instructions. It would make a nice gift, for someone with at least a decent-sized yard to play with and an urge to get their hands dirty growing food.

Mary Wildfire

Mary Wildfire lives on the Hickory Ridge Land Trust in West Virginia with her husband Don. She endeavors to grow more and more of their food, while continuing her quest to figure out how to save the world. Currently she’s writing novels set in the near future, because she thinks the depiction of a positive future is dangerously neglected.

Tags: edible landscaping, food forests, permaculture