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Gardens of Love update January 2019

Rafael farm in Romenia

I have been silent for a while.

Not because nothing interesting has happened, but in fact because a lot has happened, but I don’t know where to go from here: what is the conclusion, the outcome?

I guess this new phase of my quest for the Gardens of Love started about a year ago, shortly before Christmas 2017. I had finished writing my book, sold a few copies and met some people who where interested in joining me, once things progressed a bit further. I was speaking with a dear friend, talking about the Gardens of Love, and how difficult it is to go on without a place to get started. She then mentioned how much land in France (where she originally comes from) is just sitting there, with no-one to care for it, and how, with some help from a French native, it would be quite affordable to buy some land in France.

I have always been focussed on staying in the UK, even in the South East where I live, because I know many people, my children and I are settled here etc. But now I had a fresh look. It is true that the Gardens of Love could also start in France, or anywhere really, for that matter. And I must say the climate in France is more favourable for both the plants I would like to grow and for inviting people to come spend their time on courses or holidays etc.

And with Brexit looming over us, who would want to come to the UK anyway (thinking of visitors here)? Whatever good the chaos may bring, it seems likely it will take years for some new kind of balance to form.

This summer I travelled to France for a seminar. I had the feeing that meeting these people from a group called ‘the friends of Europe’ might help me make some progress with this question of where to go, what to do next.

I met a wonderful group of people, from France, the UK, the Netherlands, Hungary, Germany and Romania. And heard about a farm I need of help in Romania, learned of an initiative to set up new schools involving gardens or farm settings in Hungary, possibilities in Croatia and Slovenia.

I have to say that, although the estate where we were staying in the East of France was nice, the land around it was bare, the soil looked tired and the air smelled stale. There were huge fields and few trees. This image of France didn’t really call me.

Three things really stayed with me from this week (quite apart from the very interesting lectures and workshops there):

-on the first day, as I was in my dorm room putting my thing away, I heard a new voice and a woman came in. And the moment she entered I thought ‘I want to get to know her’.  And I have to admit, I had to really force myself not to walk after her like a puppy, I just loved her from the start and something in her called out to me. Fortunately, she did like me too, so it wasn’t a problem… This wonderful lady from Hungary has been working very hard on setting up the garden schools I mentioned above.

- Talking to different people I heard tell something that I had learned and half-forgotten years ago. It was about how different peoples and regions of the world will lead the development of mankind for an era. Like the ancient Egyptians, then the Greeks and Roman cultures, then the Anglo-American culture, and after us will come the ‘Slavic era’. But this new development will be prepared in the centre of Europe.

-And this farm in Romania in need of help. The Rafael farm had largely been funded by the people who organised the seminar, but it needed and needs some real help. A change of farmer, as the main farmer is ill unfortunately; an influx of money, as the place is not making any money; and likely a change of use or approach, to solve the above problems in the long run.

These three things formed into a whole in my mind, leading to my decision to go on a trip along to Hungary and Romania to see these places for myself. When I came home from the seminar in France, there were only 3 weeks of my children’s summer holidays left, so I had to decide quickly. I took two of my children, a car of which I wasn’t sure how long it would still last, and off we went.

Our first few stops were with my family, and I had a strict travel plan, allowing one day travel and one day to look around in each location then move on to the next. I have neve before done so much driving in one go. And I have seen so much of Europe, and then realised that all that I saw was just a tiny piece of the Earth.

It was an interesting journey. We first went to the Netherlands, where everything was quite green, despite the dry summer. Then on to Berlin. We drove through the north of Germany and the first part of the day everything was still quite green and it was pouring with rain. Then the sun broke through and the land changed; the farm land I could see and the trees there suggested a more sandy soil, looking very dry, with suffering crops.

After Berlin our journey led us to the Czech Republic. We were driving through a beautiful mountain range and then came to lower lying hills. The soil was a deep dark black, but the crops were shrivelled on the land. My brother confirmed that they hadn’t had any rain since spring.

I asked my children what they thought so far. We agreed we wouldn’t want to live in a city (like Berlin or London) we all loved the look of the mountains, but hills would work better, and both my children reckoned it would be good to live quite near a city, so you would still have all the good things they offer without the lack of nature and the ugly buildings.

Another day of travel brought us to Hungary, a beautiful country of green, after all the drought-stricken land we had seen. We saw wind turbines, hills and trees, vineyards. And we loved it. We visited my new friend in Gödölö, who showed us one of the new little schools. I met some wonderful people and felt so deeply connected that thinking about it again brings tears to my eyes. In the afternoon we had a lovely swim in a lake nearby, and the children, well you can imagine, it was 36 C outside and the water was cool, so it was pretty perfect.

I agreed with our host that I would come again to visit in autumn, to see were this may lead.

So far, all the driving was quite smooth, with petrol stations everywhere and good road surfaces etc. Although the Czech Republic was a little more bumpy, as we where away from the city, it was still reasonably comfortable, and not so different from British country lanes.

Now we went to Romania. The first thing I noticed (looking at my quickly draining petrol tank) was that there were no petrol stations near the border, on either the Hungarian or the Romanian side. We had left later than planned, because I couldn’t reach anyone for ages, until my ‘friend of Europe contact’ stepped in, and we had a very long drive ahead, so I was driving faster than on other trips. We made it to a petrol station, but it left me feeling a little nervous. At first the road was normal, but then we came to the mountains and the smooth motorway changed to a one lane winding, potholed road with lorries slowly struggling up hill. And here and there a broken down lorry. There were no places for a toilet brake, or some lunch, we again barely made it to a petrol station, and so I have to admit I felt I had found what, somewhere in the back of my mind, I had expected ‘Eastern Europe’ to be like.

The landscape was lovely, the soil a dark black, the mountains impressive, but it looked like a poor country judging by the houses- and the road obviously.  This was what stayed with us when we visited the Rafael farm in a village called Laslea. The house so well cared for and lovingly restored, the land beautiful and the soil rich black -anything will grow on it we were told. But I couldn’t see myself settling so far from everything I know, to become the ‘rich foreigner’ even though I don’t have much myself… The children didn’t really feel at home or comfortable here either, so we only stayed for a morning tour of the farmlands.

The next journey took us back through Hungary on our way to Slovenia. There was a huge 3-hour que to get through the border, by which time we were so tired that we ended up sleeping in some holiday apartment just past the border into Hungary. We left early and took the country roads towards Slovenia. And again, I was struck by how green the landscape was, and there were butterflies and birds and to my tired eyes it looked like paradise.

Slovenia brought rain. Although I could see the land was beautiful perhaps the rain, no matter how welcome it must have been, still influenced my perception of Slovenia. We met with a lovely host and had a great time, looking around in her large garden and going swimming and we talked a lot. Which was again so amazing, to meet with someone for the first time and yet feel that you understand each other, that you are the same in some way. I was invited, asked, to come help her set up a permaculture garden, a bit of Garden of Love, later in the year.

And then we started our journey home, with no more visits, just a hotel and a lot of driving. I lost my car in Belgium, but we managed to get a coach to London, and that was the grand finale of our adventure.

My initial thoughts were:

-not to settle in the farm in Romania, but I really want to find a way to help them…Perhaps something could be set up with local people?

-not in Slovenia, although I would love to help set up this Garden. The family connection between many people in the village we visited didn’t feel like the kind of place that would suit my style of Gardens of Love. I would like to help and to see how it could be made to work for the people there.

- Hungary seemed wonderful.

-But how could I help all these people and set something up for myself as well. It seemed a good idea to form a network, were gardens and groups in the larger region could connect, experienced gardeners could travel to help others and support them etc.

A second trip to Hungary may lead me to more clarity I thought.

But I’m not sure that it did. I went to join my Hungarian friend at a seminar in Budapest in October. There I met some more lovely people and was warmly welcomed. But this time I felt the language barrier more, and I felt overwhelmed by the idea that I would ‘drag’ my children to this country, where politics are as messed up and more as in the UK, where we don’t know the language, where schools are different. I felt at a loss, and still kind of do.

I have decided to stay in the UK for now, but at the same time I intend to start building something up, a community, Gardens and hopefully this network. How and where are still unclear, so all I can do is to have faith that I will be guided to an answer of sorts. Even France could still be a possibility…


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