[This is part II of a travelogue of a journey that connected everything: human and nature, culture and agriculture, individual and community, arts and science, reality and utopia.] see part I
We all were in the small village of Castiglione in the south of Italy. A group of farmers, artists, scientists, writers and me, all asking ourselves one question: how do we want to live? This question wouldn’t be easy to answer, especially because of the other questions that it triggered. It became clear that to some of them there were no answers (e.g. why we were (here)), and that it was all the more important to engage in a dialogue.
The park we worked in saw a lot happen that week. Among other things, two gardens were set out. They both led us to one question, which could be considered from two angles.
Orto sinergico (synergetic garden)
The synergetic garden, a horseshoe-shaped parapet covered in straw, is half a meter in height and about one meter in diameter. The concept: soil and plants create one whole organism. The target: organizing the garden in a way that allows the ground to function naturally, like in nature. The ‘going back to nature’ idea behind it is practical, not esoteric. The less one disrupts the soil, the more diversity and interaction there is in its mass. Or in other words: the healthier the plants, the less problems there are.
Synergies are created between the ground and the plants, as well as among the plants themselves. For example, onions or garlic protect the heads of lettuce from pests, which is why they are planted next to each other. In return, the roots of the lettuce (which remain below the earth after harvesting) help the onions after the next seeds are sown. Tomatoes work well next to coriander and basil, as the herbs already aromatize the tomatoes while in the bed. Orange calendula flowers lure bees to the spot. The parapet itself – or a whole field of parapets, if we think bigger – protects the garden from erosion while the straw on the parapets will do the same on a smaller scale. Parapets like these are full of natural organisms, which will make chemical fertilizers totally obsolete and not even survive them.
The wild garden is neither wild, nor cultivated. We removed some of the more dominant thorny tendrils from the strip next to the road, collected pieces of wood from the grass, cleared away some bigger rocks and pulled cling-wrap out of the soil. Both the old and newly dug pits were filled up with fertile soil. There we planted some herbs and flowers we found next to the abandoned fields. Even a ‘sculpture’ arose from a heap of stones that seemed to come floating out of a broken wall. We put some soil and lupine seeds between its stones. At the end of summer, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between what was planted and what was growing wildly yet still it was all arranged. The wild garden showcases a pure expression of beauty. It doesn’t need to do to anything else, yet it does more, questioning the boundary between nature and culture. This question doesn’t even need to be articulated. You can feel it and smell it when you walk through the garden and let your nose guide you from planted herbs to wild herbs, weeds, and fruits. And when you taste all of it.
Where is the line between nature and culture? This is the question both gardens address. The synergetic garden was developed on the initiative of the farmers of the group. It asks the question from a productivity-focused perspective. How can we best fulfill the needs of nature, imitating it in order to have a similarly rich harvest in the end? The wild garden that emerged from the group of artists asked aimlessly. And yet it possessed a productivity of its own, an artistic one. Art always produces, creating moments that are impossible to measure, buy, or put into words – just like the wild garden.
Regardless from which point of view you consider the relationship between nature and culture, however, it raises other questions with it: Is there really a border between the two? Does nature actually still exist, and what is our part in all of this? It was because of these questions that it was important to start a dialogue and to create synergies. Synergies between us and earth, and between art and agriculture. And that is how we would find out in the end: That’s how we want to live.
Only few know that there exists a third garden in Castiglione. At night, one can sometimes see dark figures there. Ancient walls. Regional Grappa. An expression of advanced civilization. Intoxication. No questions.Text (DE) and images: Theresa Patzschke