The first ever Transition City Lancaster meeting I went to was stormy: people were unpleasant. As I left a woman caught my eye, “I try to stay on the edges,” she said. “ That’s where things get done.”
And that was Jenni Lauruol, applying permaculture to life and giving a gentle word of wisdom in the right place – something she is adept at doing. I went back and became involved in Transition – gradually learning the truth of her comment and meeting Jenni in many places, but very seldom at meetings. Jenni has run her own garden design business for some years and was also on the board of the Permaculture Association for four years. Just the person to interview for a Permaculture week, I thought but that will have to be for another time because Jenni, true to form, is spending this month on the” edges” at a fascinating permaculture project in Granada, Spain.
She is working at La Loma Viva (literally‘The Living Hill’) which is 10 hectares of Mediterranean farm land, located near the coast. and being transformed using permaculture principles. The creators of La Loma Viva, Karen and Ryan explain they aim to observe and then mimic healthy natural systems. They are creating a flourishing growing project which supports them and provides a surplus to be traded – it requires little to be brought in from outside and produces minimal waste.
“By creating a beautiful, abundant and resilient habitat, we can live in an enjoyable and meaningful way - rediscovering our inherent and participatory relationship with the living earth”.
" wanted to see permaculture applied to a subtropical setting, having grown up in the sprawl of Los Angeles -- decidedly NOT planned with permaculture principles or following sustainable patterns from nature."
Through Facebook, those of us left behind have followed Jenni from shivering on Lancaster station, through her long journey 2000 miles and 18 degrees latitude south. Where she is now, afternoon temperatures are about 16 - 18, though as soon as the sun goes behind the hill it goes down to about 6 or 7 degrees. Distinctly different growing conditions from north west England at the moment. As Jenni puts it,
Volunteers from all over the world have stayed at La Loma and currently they are developing new visitor accommodation so people can stay as volunteers and also attend short courses on the farm. This will mean that people staying have their own rooms and fire. Each suite will be in what was was formerly part of the house, attached barn, or the byre where the animals lived. The rooms are all whitewashed inside, with red terracotta floor tiles.
The area is quite high up and there is a strange mix of sub tropical plants and distant views of snow covered peaks. The tracks can be pretty rough and Jenny, as a keen cyclist notes that you would need to be a pretty hardy mountain biker to be riding up the track to the farmhouse. There are fantastic views and walks around the area too.
The work of the farm continues all year round, winter isn’t quite the same downtime experience that we have here. There are oranges on the trees to pick for a midmorning snack and almonds in blossom. In addition there is the geodesic dome, which provides 120sq metres of space which is being developed to grow their food all year but also as a place to propogate plants and trees, including sub tropical ones. It contains a pond and tank used to both heat and cool the dome. One of Jenni's tasks whilst there is to be involved in creating the beds using Hugel Kultur because quality topsoil is not available like in GB. Some of Jenni’s time has been spent inside the dome and some in the garden
"Spent a peaceful day weeding the greenhouse (geodesic dome). Next will be giving a final coat of render to the raised borders before filling them with wood and greenwaste and covering them with soil (Zepp Holzer's Hugel Kultur qv)."
The main place they grow food at La Loma is in the Mandala Garden an experimental zone where as well as growing for sustaining themselves, they research aspects of sustainable, organic farming - such as soil fertility, companion planting, making nutrient rich compost, plant uses etc. Here’s how Karen and Ryan describe its construction:
"We made our main vegetable garden in the shape of a mandala, combining raised, keyhole shaped beds, outer windbreaks and designated pathways. The circular mandala contrasts the linear monotony common to monoculture and is a symbol of harmony and unity. When applied to a garden, the circle distributes the flow of air (wind), water and energy very efficiently."
If you want one of your own – go to the website and read their guide. Jenni’s comment as a gardener,
"Grapevine cuttings in cosy mulch. This garden is amazing. Karen and Ryan have built beautiful soil after just 3 years of sheet mulching with cardboard, straw, chicken manure and chopped up greenwaste, when all around the soil is stony and devoid of humus."
"The garden this morning, will be weeding and after, pruning the grape vines -- a local green variety that was found on the land from earlier times. Karen says they had a great harvest this year. Ryan will take cuttings from the prunings while I carry on pruning this afternoon. In the background is one of many fig trees. Last summer's figs, dried, are gorgeous!"
The combination of wonderful views, a fascinating permaculture growing project, friendly people and many things to learn and do whilst in the sun, seems almost too good to be true but there's much more of the same to see on the website and Facebook page. So I’ll take my hat off to the energy and expertise of Karen and Ryan and their volunteers and leave the last word to Jenni,
"I think it's important to emphasise that the project is informed through and through by permaculture design principles. Also they are having a go, not waiting for everything to be perfect or in place before starting."
Photographs: La Loma Viva courtyard, Lancaster Station, cosy fire in Jenni's room, sub tropical foliage and distant high peaks, Mandala Garden, grapevine cuttings, pruned vines - all Jenni Lauruol's
NB Karen and Ryan will be actively seeking volunteers in the spring when the building works are finished. If people wish to volunteer they should contact Karen via the La Loma Viva website and explain the skills they can offer.