Cultiver mon jardin — by Joris Vanbinnebeek

There once was a normal owl that lived a normal life in a normal town. Aside from, you know work and other stuff responsible owls in their twenty’s do, he spent his day watching the river of time flow by. He was neither happy nor sad. He was just… ‘there’ and ‘aware’ .

One day the flow of time bore a toad with a magic quote:

Are you living a life you would want to relive all over again in the exact same way for eternity?”

The fuck!! A speaking toad!”: said the owl but he quickly realised even that was normal in this world. The magic quote however wasn’t. It’s magic was so powerful it turned his life upside down: “I’m not living a life I would want to relive all over again for eternity!”, the owl answered, “ Where can I find such a life?”

The toad lifted his slimy finger towards a crooked road, snaking its way towards a misty mountain, and said: “ To find,you must seek. alk the road and you will find answers.” And so the owl left to quest the road of life, like a fool, completely unprepared for the adventures ahead, like an… IdaoT*.

( for more, follow my blog!


Adventure one: ‘Cultiver mon jardin’ in Park Istra, Slovenia.

As a guy from the Flemish flatlands, I have the tendency to say Park Istra is located in the ‘mountains’ of Slovenia. However, every time I said that, there was always at least one Slovenian who, cooing like they’d seen the cutest puppy ever, pinched me in the cheek… Me no likey. (Especially when it’s a five foot giant with hands like shovels). So you can find Park Istra in the ‘slightly hilly’ countryside about 30 minutes driving from their tiny stretch of coastline. Park Istra is an ecological community shouldered by 6 core members and a small army of volunteers who come and go during the year. They are specialists in permaculture.

Permaculture is a methodology for agricultural and social design based on observation of natural ecosystems. For some of you ‘dumbwits’, this definition seems overly abstract and intellectualised. These ‘dumbwits’ among you are absolutely right. The definition above is a paraphrase from Wikipedia. It is accurate but, like any mainstream academic writing, it’s also lifeless, uninspiring, neutered and (even worse) neutering. Even right now,as I’m browsing through Wikipedia’s permaculture page, life desaturates before my eyes and, vitality and virility dissipates, my own personal pair of ‘lifemakers’ start to dry up and shrink. It feels like it’s only a matter of minutes before they crumble out of existence, with a soul-shatteringly sad sound that can only onomatopoeically be described as ‘prff’. You don’t want that to happen to you, right? So let’s try a different approach. I will attempt to give an accurate yet inspired representation of my personal experience of permaculture, and you get to keep your balls. Deal?


Permaculture is definitely an object of scientific study. But it is also way more than that. In many ways it’s closer to a spirituality, or at least a philosophy, (without making the mistake of diluting itself to ‘fancy-pantsy mysticism’). I guess you can say permaculture is a subculture centered around a holistic lifeview and a hands-on, creative drive. And if that’s also too ‘dusty’, what I mean to say is: “Dude, like-minded bro’s and sisters try to actively live in harmony with each other and their environment.” (Then you say something like “wicked” and we bump fists.)

Permaculturists tackle the question ‘How can we lead fulfilling lives that are sustainable’, using the very eccentric method of actually trying to build fulfilling sustainable lives for themselves! A very novel idea for a philosopher, I know, but I’ll give it a shot anyway.

Which is exactly what my dear Parkistrians did. They got an old parsonage on a hill, renovated it themselves (as much as was possible), planted their own herbs, flowers, crops, and then somewhere, managed to squeeze in their regular jobs. Being a permaculturist is not for lazy people. It is a place for driven idealists, more specifically: practical idealist. No big utopian theories on bookshelves, but small concrete examples.

Concretely Parkistra works like this: Morning starts with a lavish breakfast which quickly attracts hoards of hungry volunteers and core members. During breakfast there’s ample time for social banter but at the end of the breakfast they kick it up a notch with what I would call an existential moment. With existential moment I do not mean existential crisis. I’m sorry, sixteen-year-old-tortured-poet-who-just-broke-up-with-his-girlfriend but Parkistra might not be the place for you. Nobody was throwing the cutlery or pouring hot coffee over him/herself yelling “what does it all mean!” And singing “ I just want to feel, real love”. No the existential moment I am talking about is a self-composed time of reflection and sharing of experiences based on simple questions like: “what was the moment of the day, yesterday?”

Not exactly rocket science philosophy, but that’s ok, there wasn’t any rocket science philosopher around anyway. Existential questions can be simple and effective. Better yet, something I’m learning the hard way is that simple existential questions usually work better. The point of existential questions in the morning is awareness. It’s not solving ‘the meaning of life’. To take the time to reflect on your days and appreciate the great moment in it, means you appreciate life, and bring that awareness with you to the next day. That, to me, is the real purpose of such existential moments. It’s a good way to start the day.


After breakfast it’s work time. Work can be very varied but boils down to Candide’s lofty adagium ‘cultiver ton jardin’. ‘Tend to your garden’, Never has Voltaire written words more inspiring and confusing at the same time. Over the centuries many interpretations have found their way to this adage. Tend to the garden that is your life. Hark it, weed it, sow seeds and nourish your plants. All your efforts will bear fruit. Notice that attending to a garden implies a more harmonious, organic relation to your environment. Cold calculating ratio won’t get you that nice of a garden.

In Park Istra sometimes you effectively garden. Other times you might be making stairs out of the stones dug up from the ground, or insulating a floor with a straw and cement mixture or doing one of the other gazillion different possible tasks. Helping out at Park Istra is never monotonous and always rewarded. Usually around 2 pm by a vegetarian lunch the likes of which I’ve never tasted before. I myself have the habit of eating vegetarian at least five days a week. I’m not a gifted cook but I make up for it with zeal. I spend hours flipping through cookbooks or browsing the internet for my my next vegetarian dinner. In vain it seems for I never got even close to what our vegetarian ‘chef de cuisine’/volunteer Jozica whipped up on a daily basis. Afternoons were free for the volunteers and were usually spent in a semi-comatose state, grappling with indigestion. On more active afternoons, we walked in nature or divulged in any creative endeavour desired. I myself enjoyed: mucking about with my photo-camera, trying my hand at playing the didgeridoo, excelling at it, getting laughed at for believing I excelled at it and carving my own wooden spoon. That particular spoon now is the envy of all other spoons in my kitchen.

So far we’ve mainly talked about taking care of the environment. Of living in harmony with nature instead of burying it under a slab of concrete. But there’s one aspect I feel I haven’t stipulated enough. Permaculture also considers the social environment to be important. Living in harmony with nature is nice and rewarding but nothing beats living in harmony with the people you actually live with. Six shoulders carry the brunt of this Istrian passion project. I can imagine it’s not easy deciding what to do and how to run your organisation when six different voices carry equal weight. Add an army of opinionated volunteers and I’m surprised no blood has spilled yet. That’s because there is method in the madness. A method called: dragon dreaming. To be honest I still don’t really know how dragon dreaming works. Most of the explanations of dragon dreaming I overheard where in Slovenian. A language I haven’t quite mastered yet. I can say this though: I’m not keen on the term ‘dragon dreaming’. The term doesn’t really scream ‘worldwide known methodology for the realisation of sustainable, creative and collaborative projects/enterprises/organizations’ but rather something like ‘hallucinogenic imbued rave in the middle of the desert’. Don’t get me wrong. Both are fine. But If I didn’t know what dragon dreaming was I wouldn’t put my precious project in the hand of someone who I assumed was licking toads. Despite the unfortunate name however I believe dragon dreaming has a lot of merit. Maybe we should try to pitch dragon dreaming to our politicians? Who knows, maybe a methodology for collaborative project realization might be something useful in a democratie… Food for thought (and mockery of the political system).

I set out on a quest to find out how I could lead a better more fulfilling life. Parkistra was the first stop off my journey and I do believe I immediately struck gold. Of course it is not an utopia. It’s not the garden of eden where the sun shines rays of eternal bliss on its fortunate subjects. It’s a place of honest hardworking idealists trying to do their part to create a better world for themselves and for others. How? By tending to their garden.