Petition for permaculture

Since 2005 Richard Wallner has been developing 9 hectares of land in Charente in the west of France, following the principles of permaculture. In keeping with this he would like to construct a home and other farm buildings on his land so that he doesn’t need to use energy to get to work. He is supported by local politicians, including Françoise Coutant, the Green vice-president of the Poitou-Charente regional council. But the mayor of Wallner’s commune refuses to grant planning permission.  If you support his efforts to create an organic farm, producing and selling ecologically friendly eggs and vegetables, you can sign a petition here.

If you understand French and have a few minutes to spare, there’s a lovely video of Richard Wallner explaining how he cultivates his land, the joy he feels in working with nature to do this and his aims to create an ecologically friendly farm in all senses: to use renewable energy and ecological building materials as well as organic methods of food production; and to create a model for others in rural communities to follow.

In a world that is rapidly running out of fuel and cannot feed large numbers of its people, this kind of local initiative and example seems to me to represent the only sustainable future.

A gift

a gift of lemons

While I was in the garden this morning covering the strawberry plants and the broad bean shoots with le voile d’hivernage to protect them from the cold nights that are forecast for this week, our neighbour gave me these lemons from his tree.  He’s one of our oldest friends in the village, the first who welcomed us here ten years ago, and his gift made me very happy to be part of this community and its cultural and linguistic mix.  It’s a village where I can have three conversations in three different languages – Occitan, Spanish and French – in the 50-metre walk from my house to the shops and where languages are spoken, discussed, enjoyed and compared in conversations at the market stalls, where as well as the more familiar local Occitan words and the Spanish words used by many of the inhabitants I can chip in with examples, matches and counter-meanings in Welsh and English.  It’s a village whose population appreciates the traditions and histories that brought them all together, the past feeding into the present and on into the living future, a place where diversity is valued, where the big picture is noted, world events and concerns discussed, but where it’s also recognised that we are all small pieces of the huge and colourful mosaic that makes up humanity.  This morning’s gift of light made me so glad to be here.

>Why do we garden?

>I was sitting in the garden at midday, in the shade but looking out at a perfect late summer day with a cloudless sky and a cooling north wind, contented with what we have there. Lo Jardinièr was lighting the barbecue, I was preparing freshly picked vegetables for him to grill. As I sliced aubergine and pepper and wrapped goats cheese in vine leaves, I started to think about what we are doing in our garden. I suppose you might call it our philosophy – the ideas and aims which run through our life and our gardening. These can be summed up in answers to the questions Why do we garden?‘ and ‘How do we garden?’

palm

1. Enjoyment

This is the most important. We love being in our garden. We enjoy working in it and, even more, we enjoy relaxing in it. Were lucky that we live in a place where the sun shines for 300 days of the year (although it seems a bit less this year) and where we have days throughout the year when we can sit in the sun in the garden. We enjoy cooking and eating there, entertaining our friends and family or simply being on our own there. We love good food and for us the best thing about having the garden is growing our own delicious food – we like it when there is as short a time as possible between harvesting, cooking and eating – preferably just a few minutes.

rose

2. Organic gardening

We believe that vegetables taste best when they are grown organically and that all our food should be as natural as possible. We add compost and manure to the soil to improve it. We use no chemical pesticides or herbicides, only occasional applications of Bordeaux mixture, which is acceptable in organic gardening, and soapy water against black fly and other insects when absolutely necessary.

oleander

3. Gardening with the environment

We are trying to grow plants and varieties which are suited to the climate here. Vegetables will always need a lot of water, but we are trying to ensure that all our ornamental plants are drought-resistant, once they are established. This means watering new plants for the first year or so but after that they survive on their own. The plants that grow well here include cistus, oleander, aloe vera, prickly pear and palm. We have planted an apricot tree and two olive trees which need watering only in extreme drought conditions.

aloe vera

4. Conservation of water and other resources

We are trying to water the vegetables as efficiently as possible and we have installed drip-feed systems and the terracotta pot system in order to save water. We also save water used for washing vegetables, etc. to use in the garden. As far as the global environment is concerned, we try to damage the planet as little as possible. We dont fly, ever. We have a small car and dont travel far in it. We go on holiday by train.

5. Eating local food

We try to eat only food from our garden or from within a 100-kilometre radius of Gabian. We buy almost all the food that we dont grow ourselves in Gabian, in local shops and in the market, and we buy local wine (this is easy since it grows all around us!). The only food items which travel any distance to get to us are coffee and the Spanish olive oil which we use for cooking. And very, very occasionally we eat steak. When we eat meat, like most people here, we usually have pork or chicken, reared fairly locally and which, I read in the Guardian today, take less water to produce than cheese.

6. Community

When we bought our garden we found ourselves part of a community of gardeners, many of whom had inherited their plots from their parents. Were lucky to have their advice about gardening here and we enjoy sharing ideas, plants and produce with them and our other friends in the village and the surrounding area. And since beginning this blog earlier this year I’ve found people all over the world with similar ideas to ours and we’ve become part of that community too.

7. Living with the land

This really sums up all of the above, as well as many of our other beliefs. People who have lived here all their lives have a special relationship with the land, its produce and the landscape, which goes deeper than the surface beauty. The Mediterranean offers an environment which provides all human needs, so long as it is treated well in return. Were newcomers here, but we try to value its harshness, its dryness and its occasional extremes of heat and cold – to live with the land rather than work against it.

olive