Monday, July 5, 2010

Horta Popular in Lisbon

Monica took seriously her task of showing me gardens and introducing me to sympathetic activists and colleagues. The second day of my visit we walked up, up, up through Lisbon,s winding, narrow and laundry festooned streets, to a Horta Popular (community garden) on a hill with a breathtaking view of the ocean, harbor and river. It is situated between a South Asian immigrant community (Bangladesh mostly), a neighborhood with retired folks and a trendy area with lots of young people. The young people started the garden, but were viewed with suspicion and hostility by the retirement community who resented any intrusion into their neighborhood, especially by dredlock sporting, anarchist hippy-types. The garden was thus the site of much controversy, and took a great deal of negotiating to get the existing community to accept the presence of the garden and its gardeners. Patience prevailed, however, and the garden is now a site of cooperation between multiple communities. Residents walking their dogs in the garden (AKA leaving piles of dog poop in the garden), produce theft and an ambiguously legal and thus tenuous water supply are still problems that plague the project.

Like the gardens in Brussels, no one has individual plots, although this is in theory only. The retired residents of the neighborhood resisted efforts to make it communal and if they participate, they do so in their own fashion. A sign saying “participa” encourages anyone to get involved. Across the street above a wall of graffiti, there is a provocative mural behind the garden which suggests that gardens as much as streets belong in the city because food has to come from somewhere, no? The gardeners are involved in an environmental organization called GAIA and every Thursday, they host a vegan popular dinner for the gardeners and the community. Like many of these efforts, which are plagued by the friction of social distance, the long-term residents belong to different food cultures and stopped coming after a few times. The dinner costs 3 Euros and consists of greens, beans, rice and fruit. Simple, hearty, healthy fare.

Another garden in the city is tended by Yve Le Grand, a student at ICS and a member of GAIA. An energetic, dynamic and really funny lady, she characterized her experience of this garden as a story of failure. I call it a Sleeping Giant. It’s an incredible swath of land in the center of Lisbon which has never been cultivated. It is home to a number of pines and palms (love that combination), open grassy areas, a well, fruit trees and multiple terraces. The soil is in terrible shape, and could really benefit from a lot of TLC. Yve and Monica are excited to try out some “sheet mulching” using restaurant green waste. I wish I could be a part of this project. I felt an immediate affinity for the space and have asked Monica and Yve to plant a fig tree overlooking the ocean for me.

And to put a bench beneath it and save a spot for me. Lisbon, I’ll come back to be with you, I promise.

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