Dependable Diversity

A family home and garden that is a model of urban permaculture.

By Pam Beck


The outdoor oven’s specialty is pizza topped with garden-fresh vegetables.The edibles begin streetside with assorted varieties of apple trees trained against a bamboo fence. Asian persimmons flank a peaked entry arbor, and behind the fence are herbs.

Hanging from one corner of the house is a large white painter’s bucket with a tomato growing from a hole in the bottom. Jeana found that, because of the pail’s reflective white color, this homemade system doesn’t overheat the tomato’s roots.

Elderberries and figs are sited along the side of the house, where these taller plants will not block sunlight to the vegetable garden. White rain barrels are neatly tucked around the back corner, sitting high above the garden to take advantage of gravity.

The original 700-square-foot vegetable garden is located in the back yard’s sunniest spot. It includes a small patio for rest and relaxation. The most striking feature of this space is one of Will’s creations: an outdoor cob oven shaped like a chicken’s head, good for a homemade veggie pizza—incorporating ingredients from the garden, of course.

Beyond the vegetable plot is the grape arbor and chicken coop with its own water catchment system. The back yard’s shady side is the perfect spot for a hammock, a small water garden fed from a word-burning hot tub, and inoculated shiitake mushroom logs.

In 2009, Will and Jeana’s property grew to 1⁄3 acre when they purchased the house next door. Since that building was derelict, they invited Habitat for Humanity to deconstruct it and resell the usable materials. They then expanded their vegetable garden by another 900 square feet on the old house’s footprint.

Fortunately, there was a garage in good condition at the rear of the property, which Will and Jeana converted into a community center for their neighborhood. This building stores recreational equipment for their son, Eli, and his friends, and has become a popular meeting space for monthly potluck dinners.

Will and Jeana open their yard to the public during garden and chicken tours, to students of permaculture, and to anyone interested in sustain-ability. They have posted informa-tion and videos about the creation of the garden on their website, The website also includes a link to free videos of Will’s permaculture classes at North Carolina State University.

The most striking thing about this property is that its attractiveness complements its efficiency. Will explains: “If a space is well designed to function seamlessly for its intended use, it will be used; if it is used, it will be loved; and if it is loved, it will become beautiful.”

Photography by Kyle Pearce

Originally published in Organic Gardening Magazine August/September 2013.