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Application of permaculture practices 

In view of the critical state of abandonment, deforestation and the harmful effects of a fire in the adjoining courtyard building, the primary need for soil regeneration had been established: due to the chemicals released by the fire, many of the plants already installed had suffered severe burns. At the same time it had also been necessary to rescue many of those that had survived in the neighboring garden, for example clematis and virgin vine, pieces of meadow with yellow echinacea among other flowers, as well as some furniture. Many months passed before the burning smell dissipated, largely through the first plantings that absorbed some of the hazardous agents. We waited about a year before planting edible flora due to the possibility that the soil may have still contained toxicity. The aftermath of the fire had been followed by the new owner’s intervention, in the sequence of the storm when two of the six trees had fallen, but four were gone. The acacia had fallen on the elderberry in the centre of the courtyard, mortally wounding it, exposing all its roots vertically and precluding any possibility of rescue for both. The birch and another of the remaining elderberries were, promptly, felled, according to the argument of having reached the age of their end and of constituting a risk to the security of structures and inhabitants, remaining only the apple tree and the third elderberry, in a corner near the wall. Its rescue from the same intention resulted only from our fortuitous intervention at the time, counter-arguing, both with the gardening team on site and, by telephone, with the owner, that the specimen did not offer any of the aforementioned risks, in accordance with the legislation in force, but we had arrived too late to avoid the felling of the other two trees.


To replace the four trees that disappeared, in the absence of any plans to treat the remaining roots and repair the burst tiles, a single chestnut tree [Castanea sativa] had been planted by the new owner in a weakened state, showing deep wounds on the trunk, which are still in the process of healing. It was immediately in the days following the plantation of the chestnut-tree that we proceeded to the difficult and lengthy process of removing the roots of the acacia that had fallen in the storm, not only as an inevitable effect of the storm, but also and above all as a consequence of the conditions of its location, harmful bacteria, climatic changes, lack of care and other factors. This robust tree was in a fragile position: it was in close proximity to another tree of the same species and a wall had been built over its roots, directly interfering with the circulation of air and blocking the wind as a natural repelling agent of pests initially lodged in the trunk. The lowering of the subsoil water level and the appearance of new pathogens had also contributed significantly to what happened, and the total lack of maintenance had undoubtedly accelerated the process of devitalisation and determined early mortality. As acacia is an invasive plant in this region, the tree reveals its resistance to aggression by causing several new sprouts to appear along its roots, which quickly became visible, piercing the stone everywhere, not only threatening the development of many future species, but also foreshadowing the high costs of repairing the damage caused. Their extraction, with the weakening of the roots as a priority, became an absolutely essential procedure for the development of a green space, following which, over several weeks, the roots of about 3m in depth to less than a metre were almost totally removed and the stone floor was re-laid. It was the noise caused by this work already in progress that led to a complaint by the two dissident neighbors of the occupation project, ensuring a surprise visit to the courtyard by the current landlord. Following this confrontation, and after verifying the success of the operation, he ended up legitimizing the occupation, accepting our proposal of autonomous management of the future garden, although informally and on the condition that the legislation of green spaces in an urban context continues to be complied with. We took on this responsibility, guaranteeing, at the same time, the lifting of the annual payment of the maintenance costs of the patio, which at the time ranged between 80 and 120 euros per lease. Otherwise, the management by the entrepreneur himself, paid by all the tenants, would continue to have serious ecological and financial limitations: besides the existing trees, only a few shrubs would be planted, the tiled area, now in a state of siege, would be cleaned of cigarette butts and leaves, chemicals would be used again to eliminate weeds and the acacia’s sprouts, the rain would be the only food for the future plants, all the organic matter produced there would be taken to landfills and, once a year, a control cut would be made. The bare soil, even more contaminated and deforested, would never have the possibility to regenerate, let alone to achieve the effects of Nature clearly visible today.

The indiscriminate felling of trees has thus given way to the creation of a garden based on permaculture principles and techniques, opening up the possibility for the emergence of an ecosystem through the combination of different cultures in collaborative growth: trees, berry bushes, flowers, climbers, cactus, bamboo, vegetables and herbs; a system based on the sharing of different bacteria, the care of the cut, the creation of nutritious compost, the retention of water and the collaboration of plants for subsistence, as opposed to their competition. The logical path for the implementation of this island, considering the area in its proportion, the amount of suitable plants and the human use of the space, resulted in the creation of a documented project, based on the definition of green mass production sectors with characteristics of soil recovery capacity and the creation of various insect niches. Areas were established for consistent planting, with the design of the various sectors arranged in a circle, according to the solar exposure, between horticulture, compost, forest, pasture, pollen producers, the cactus desert, aromatic herbs, the mixture of all these and the raised vegetable beds. The planting of high species in the surrounding beds, concentrating the grass and certain flowers in the centre, namely by using the central area of lozenge tiles and the installation of a first raised bed, would allow the regularization of the temperature, the creation of shade and the aerial defense against exposure to the elements, as well as the free passage, throughout the garden, of insects and bacteria, helping to maintain the health of all the flora. In addition, natural structures would also be created for insects and birds to settle. The proximity to the houses as well as other factors taken into account, such as the proximity to rubbish containers or the already recognized areas of social interaction, would also be determinant in the composition of the final design. 

To meet the planting goal, it was initially necessary to continue improving the quality of the soil with organic matter and natural elements in an attempt to imitate Nature, albeit managed and accelerated. The covering of the surface to create humidity and avoid greater loss of nutrients was then followed by the selection of the necessary plants according to their characteristics: for two years we sowed, rescued and transplanted mainly native plants of North Atlantic origin, as well as some species more resistant to climate change, capable, as a whole, of guaranteeing the sharing of the existing resources. The vital step was to introduce certain bacteria which, in collaboration with the plant roots, retain heavy metals and play an ongoing role in the transformation of the soil.

In the summer of 2019, we made available the map resulting from the development of the permaculture design project to all courtyard users, in which we included the identification of all species existing at the time.

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