THE MODERN MINT BLOG
Modern Mint recently spent a week at Suryalila, in the south of Spain.
They are a yoga retreat centre who own a piece of the Andalusian countryside, where they are trying to create a garden that can provide 70% of the food they will use in the centres kitchen.
A difficult task when they are battling the difficulties of rocky soil, steep slopes, winter downpours and 44 degree celsius heat during the summer months. Oh, and there is no protection from the wind either.
In 6 years they already have thriving fig trees, they make their own olive oil, the garden produces basil (the most amazing pesto comes out of the kitchen) and tomatoes, grapes, raisins, amaranth crops up in places nothing else grows – just like a weed – and enough squashes to make delicious soups and vegetarian paellas. (Yep, that’s right. A vegetarian paella. Paella, after all, is just a dish that grew out of needing to ‘make delicious’ what the landscape provided. So it may be far from a traditional paella in one sense, but it grows from the conditions of the landscape, making it exactly what a paella should be….
… but we can’t imagine a single Spaniard would agree!)
The way they are trying to make themselves 70% food proficient is interesting – they have terraced the slopes, to stop water running straight off and down the hill, away from the crops. The terraces are on curves, so the water runs along rather than down.
They mulch like mad – one of our favourite techniques here at Modern Mint – to trap in moisture and also improve the soil, to grow better crops. Mulching material is made by the donkeys, horses and alpacas that live on-site.
You can see them here, in this video…
Our favourite idea that has been implemented is the building of compost toilets and eco-showers on the Suryalila site.
The compost toilets are normal toilets, but use no water. After you have done what you need to do, you just throw some sawdust on top. The sawdust, being mostly carbon, offsets the nitrogen in the urine and faeces and prevents any smell. This waste, this ‘humanure’ is then used around the trees that are being planted as windbreaks.
The eco-showers are outdoor showers, that drain off into flower beds on the site. This means the persimmon trees are thriving and growing at quite a pace, as are the cannas that sit below and between the trees. The canna flowers are harvested and used in the food served up from the kitchen.
What they are doing at Suryalila is not rocket science – like the origins of paella, they are really just using what they have got to provide themselves with the means to live. The farmers around the site have EU subsidies but we know they may end at some point, as may the water from the aquifer, or the rights to the water from the aquifer, so by thinking about what your land has and contouring it and working on it in a way that it will cope, you are building resilience.
Resilience, and a better soil that will provide better food.
Many people have donated to make this project happen quicker and improve the landscape and food security of one of the driest places in Europe. If you would like to help, check out their crowdfunder here – Suryalila Food Forest.
Remember too, you can improve your garden with some thought. Mulching is the first way to go. The second – disconnect your downpipes and collect your water, especially here in Essex!
Transforming Topiary – a video made for the European Boxwood And Topiary Society by Charlotte Molesworth and I, in her garden. We take a dog topiary and work out how to update it, turning it into a bird. Worth a watch I think, and hopefully useful to you! You can see more of my clipping on the topiary page. Or read my Spring 2021 Topiary Provocation here.
Phillyrea is one of my favourite plants for topiary. I have been using it for quite a few years as a specimen shrub, mostly due to the fact it clips well and has a tough habit – all good characteristics for a topiary plant. It also has a reputation for being an excellent nectar source for bees… Read more about Phillyrea here. Mentioning this to Malcolm Thicke, a market garden historian and writer, he sent me a some photos of topiary and phillyrea mentioned by John Worlidge in Systema Horticulturae from 1682…. incredible! He also mentioned to me that in …
Kites and Strings is a podcast about creativity, hosted by US-based Stephen Ploum and Catherine Chinnock. Back in March they asked me to come onto their podcast and talk about topiary, my past writing plays, the stand-up I did and how creativity can fit into your life. The Kites and Strings podcast was great fun and Stephen and Catherine are fantastic hosts. Listening back today I am surprised by some of the ideas I talked about (somehow I even started to describe a future where I run a ‘School of Creativity’ by the sea…. where did that come from?!) but it …