Setting up a Permaculture Garden in Portugal

Alice Griffin
Thursday, 14th May 2015

Alice Griffin and her family are setting up in Portugal. They will be retrofitting an abandoned cottage and two acres of land into a self-sustaining home and edible garden.

I would describe myself as a traveller: a wanderer, nomad, gypsy; someone frequently tempted by the lure of new horizons. Over the years this way of life has seen me spend time in many different places and spaces: Campervans, caravans, a woodland cabin, bijou houses by the sea and in the mountains, narrowboats on the canals of England. But despite all this change and movement, the goal has always been the same: to live simply, think creatively and be peaceful amidst nature.

Finding a place of my own to nurture this way of life undisturbed has been in my mind for a number of years, but never have I found a location that has compelled me to want to stand still for more than a few weeks and truly breathe.

But now it seems I have.

Next week, along with my husband, our young daughter and two faithful dogs, I will be packing up our little caravan and heading to a new life in the Sao Mamede Natural Park, Portugal. Almost seven years to the day since we sold our house in the UK, gave up the 9-5 and went in search of somewhere to eventually grow a garden, we are now finally on our way.

Those seven years of travelling, learning and exploring eventually led us to a beautiful and relatively undiscovered part of Northern Alentejo and it was whilst renting there this last winter that we stumbled upon a tiny white-washed cottage sat on almost 2 acres of land. This small slice of earth now belongs to us and given that our only real gardening experience is in the growing of some vegetables on the roof of our narrowboat, this thought fills me alternately with both excitement and slight apprehension.

Our plan? to turn this abandoned-for-eight-years piece of land into a haven for all nature, as well as for us. We want to create a garden amidst the already established fruit trees and olive grove that requires minimal input. A garden we can both enjoy being in and eat from. A garden that will enable us to take to the road if we feel the urge without worrying that the weeding and watering won’t get done: a garden most definitely for the future.

Inspired over the years by the small-scale farmers and smallholders we have met and stayed with whilst volunteering our way through Europe, as well as by a number of documentaries and books we have watched and read – most notably those that involve Robert Hart and Masanobu Fukuoka – we have an ideal in our mind of the space we would like to create and nurture, that in turn we hope will nourish us as a family, both physically and spiritually.

Will we be able to achieve this dream? How will it feel to start the journey? I truly have no idea, but I am excited to be able to share our first tentative steps with Permaculture readers on a regular basis, and I very much hope you will be here to read, share your own experiences and hopefully offer advice to help us on our journey.

Alice Griffin is a writer who has spent the past seven years wandering both Europe and England by campervan and narrowboat. With an apparent aversion to standing still, she is both excited and a little apprehensive to have finally found a piece of the earth to call her own: a tiny white-washed cottage set in almost 2 acres of olive grove, nestled in the Sao Mamede Natural Park, Portugal. Here – along with her husband, their daughter and two dogs – she plans to create a natural garden for the future.



Further resources

What is permaculture? Part 3: Design

Inhabit: Regenerating City & Farm Landscapes

Watch: Rosemary Morrow retrofits her urban home and garden

Permaculture Design: Step By Step. Special price of £11.20 (e-book format also available)


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