Everything is connected

Everything is connected

I was very intrigued to see what Paco and Ines, the “Land Doctors” from “El Arrecife Viejo” of Carmona would be doing a weekend in the glamorous city of Marbella on the Costa del Sol. I joined them on their trip to give their fourth session of their course on “Natural Vegetable Garden” at Arboretum Marbella. This time the topic was: “How to reach an environmental balance and how the connection among all vegetable present maintains a healthy garden”. (See my post: http://livingincarmonaseville.com/blog/2015/07/16/land-doctors-in-carmona-seville/)

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During the three hour drive Paco and Ines responded to my question:“How did you meet Alejandro, the founder of our destination in Marbella?”(http://arboretummarbella.org/ )

“In 2013 we met Alejandro in Chipiona on a course titled “Participation en agro-ecology” given By Maria and Alberto from Ecoherencia. http://ecoherencia.es/

What was your role with Arboretum Marbella?

Paco told me: “Alejandro informed us during the course that he was looking for trainers able to give courses in organic farming that would mix theory with practice. Alejandro was also looking for someone able to take care of the ‘phytosanitary’ balance of their forest park.”

“The park has been planted with lots of indigenous trees including precious cork oaks, given their rarity in this urban area. For the past two years we have succeeded to save them from a disease causing them to suddenly dry out. We also gave advisory services in the creation of the social natural vegetable gardens and balance of their ecosystem as well as giving courses”.


Marbella is usually associated with the Jet Set. Walking along its long seafront, one often hopes to recognise famous people being sure, at least, to admire fabulous cars, yachts and luxurious estates.

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However, only a few visitors are aware they could stroll up towards the mountain, cross the famous central alley studded with an impressive collection of statues of Salvador Dali to make a “green” finding. The actual route is straight through the old town, across the El Trapiche Bridge and turning at the third round-about just prior to the drive to Hotel Don Miguel. There they could find the two areas of Arboretum Marbella.

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We first pass the forest park (the ‘edible forest’) planted with indigenous trees to reach our destination,  the second area  dedicated to Arboretum’s Natural Vegetable Garden with its open air lecture space under the shade of a mimosa tree. That’s where Ines and Paco would give their fourth lecture to people interested in improving the maintenance of the ecosystem of their natural vegetable garden.

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This surprising initiative aroused from the vision of the founder of Arboretum Marbella, Alejandro Cesar Orioli (left on the photo). While the “forest for people made by people” is gently growing, he is promoting what he calls “environmental literacy” in the area dedicated to community organic vegetable and experiential gardens.

Prior to the beginning of the course, I briefly interviewed Monique , a Belgian volunteer about what was Arboretum  Marbella in general and this community natural vegetable garden in particular (below is Monique taking care of tomatoes of one of the members of the gardens).

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She explained that Arboretum Marbella was a non-profit making association launched in 2011 but officially created in 2014. This place allocated 30 plots each of 40m2 by a draw from a waiting list of retired or unemployed people, or even residents of Marbella. Three plots were also allocated to three different schools of Marbella. It worked thanks to various donations made by multinational companies and the corporate world as well as by interested individuals. Some even involved themselves either as volunteers or by following courses or events to contribute to the reforestation of Area 1 or to the improvement of Area 2. But as it already was 10 am it was time for the lecture to begin.

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I sat with the participants. There was Jorge, a retired pilot; Carmen, a geologist, Yoga teacher and owner of mountainous land between Marbella and Gibraltar; Paco, an engineer in medical instruments at Malaga and Julio, a real estate developer who voluntarily worked as an overseer of the gardens. I highly appreciated the participants’ interactivity during the review of previous courses. (Below, Monique asking questions).

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For the first time I heard strange words like “autotrophic organs” that were producing their cell mass and organic matter out of carbon dioxide – an inorganic matter – using the light as source of energy, better known as photosynthesis.

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Or how the use and abuse of chemical fertilizers create an unbalance in the natural nutrients of soils or in the “trophobiosis”, (tropho meaning food and biosis meaning the existence of life), because any living being survives only if adequate food is available to then. While Paco spoke, Ines drew. She solicited the memory of those attending. Paco and Ines formed a perfect binomial couple with two different personalities and this informal, natural and shady environment in Marbella was amazing relaxing and enjoyable. I was also amazed to realise that herbivorous animals like cows while grazing were also eating insects and snails meaning they also were carnivorous.

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The weekend course “The balance among biodiversity” began by a pyramid drawing with soil, plus water and microorganism on its base followed by plants growing with sunlight, the insects nurturing from plants and topped by herbivorous and carnivorous animals.I was caught by the bug as soon as Ines started interpreting a table she had designed regarding the organs of plants, their functions, characteristics and relationship with the biosphere.


I particularly enjoyed her illustration of “neuro-phytology” (plant science) saying that any root is like a brain, the neurones of which are receiving and broadcasting information. At this very moment I could not refrain raising my hand to comment: “Thus, everything is connected!” thinking that we, humanity were doing same things as plants and that our life was possible thanks to the recourses we found from the soil. Same for animals .

The morning break gave me the opportunity to discover “dry toilets” for the first time guided by Ines. (Photo of the back of these very special toilets).




If you search among the videos offered in “inicio” of http://arboretummarbella.org/ you’ll see construction phases of these donated dry toilets: a five star architectural achievement.

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Doors are replaced by nature “only” where we feel safe and peaceful. The first photo above shows the access path where Ines asked me not to step onto the calabash leaves to prevent hurting the plant! Luckily enough the instructions of how to use the toilets were in two languages.

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This is the photo of the operating toilets. There is another “resting” one, given the many visitors or garden users.

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Getting out quite flabbergasted, I pass by the arrangements made at the bottom of the garden for a future open air conference area about permaculture (permanent agriculture).

The course started again by grouping plants families characterised by their similar types of flowers. For example:

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Labiatae: regrouping the lavender, thyme, mint, etc. If you look at the above photo of its flower in mornings before they open themselves, they look like lips (labia labium in Latin).

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Liliaceae: due to the lilac colour of their flowers: regrouping the onions, garlic and leeks (shown in the photo with Monique where you understand you eat the root of the leek while its flower is at the upper end). Julio demonstrated to me how one single grain of this beautiful leak’s flower contained dozens of fine seeds for future leeks.

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Umbellipherous: all their flowers having the shape of an umbrella and regrouping the carrot, fennel, celery, etc.

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Solanaceae: regrouping tomatoes, peppers, egg plants (above photos) as well as potatoes. I was surprised to know that there were thousands of varieties of potatoes. Now for the potatoes or “solanum tuberculum” only, I was reminded that if its colour was green, you should note it meant that solanine was present: a poison for humans.

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Cucurbitaceous: regrouping the calabash, zucchini and cucumbers (above photo), watermelons and melons, among others.

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At the lunchtime break a picnic was improvised and shared among all those present. It was a delicious meal full of tasty surprises. To see the table of the lecture venue changed into a picnic table was a stupendous experience!

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During the morning, I escaped from the course to briefly interview Pepe, member of the community garden. In addition to being a retired worker taking care of his plot, he had been entrusted to by Arboretum Marbella to bring the sprouts for the nursery from a mountainous town called Coin.

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After lunch, Julio and Ines accompanied me to complete my visit with the garden’s communal nursery cared for by all their members (I was delighted by this “community spirit”!). I loved the walls and the decoration above its roof made with blue recycled bottles of my favourite mineral water.

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On the above photo Ines is given a“boldo” (pemus boldus), a medicinal plant from South America forthe Arrecife Viejo, Carmona. The three schools as well as the other users of this urban organic garden are benefiting from the sprouts, plants or future indigenous trees from this nursery. Julio had left to feed the hens.

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Behind the poultry house, Julioshowed me his creation helped by Dionisio: a small basin behind the nursery. To see water lilies in this part of the world was another surprise. Julio also commented that the basin accommodated lentils, water lettuce, frogs and fishes: a mini Paradise!

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On the other side of the nursery there was a carob tree.

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Julio led us under it while saying: “We call this place the sanctuary”. He picked up its dried beans from the soil and made me eat them. It was as sweet as a cake. Julio commented: “Before, people used to eat it. Today, carob powder is now only used in the food industry business as with cocoa powder.”

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I sat down and looking at Ines outside taking some photos of me, I felt incredibly peaceful, fresh and naturally protected.

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Walking back, Ines made me smell the curry plant: the first time I had ever seen or smelt one! (photo below).

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The class resumed at another shaded location.

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A really interesting topic for me was the seeding calendars.The Gregorian calendar was of 12 months. Ines drew an excellent explanation of the lunar calendar divided in 27 days, 7 hours 43 minutes and 11 seconds, thirteen times a year.

This morning I felt my brain was plugged into the roots. This afternoon I made a cosmic trip, from the full moon (when you graft plants) passing by the new moon (when you seed) or the crescent moon (when you put in natural fertilizers) ending by the descendent moon. Of course the effects of ebb and flow were commented on at length. Matter-of-factly, I learnt that a few millimetres high “land tide” had clearly been measured!

The day ended talking about the importance of the long summer and the short winter cycles, the importance of the size of plants (height and width); the role played by environmental temperatures and the reserve ability of plants’ organs (aerial for leaves, underground for roots) etc.




Sunday morning was exclusively dedicated to practice, starting with the garden lab (experiential garden) mentioned by Paco (just behind the group photo) at the beginning of the garden plots.


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It was basically used to experience Paco and Ines’ advice as well as practicing what had been taught during their courses. It covered soil composition and variation and the growth, behaviour and organic treatments applied to the plants planted by them. I took this opportunity to walk perpendicular through Marbella from sea to the mountain to be able to give an idea and illustrate the location of this surprising place.


The group also examined the garden plots.


It was decided that the last course would take place within two months at the Arrecife Viejo Carmona. I was happy to know I would get another opportunity to meet these very sympathetic participants from the Costa del Sol.

Once again I would like to congratulate both Paco and Ines for my unexpected adventure experienced in Marbella.  My gratitude also goes to Alejandro and all those who are involved – on a voluntary basis or through their donations –with these model urban community gardens in the luxury city of Marbella.


On our way back to Carmona, I asked: Are bothArboretum Marbella” and the “Arrecife Viejo Carmona” environmental literacy centres?

“Indeed they are. Actually we share many things in common. People and schools are visiting us. We also train people. We organise ‘divulgation’ days to broadcast how important it is to respect and to take care of our environment as much as we respect and take care of ourselves.

We are giving clues and tools for us to understand that small changes in one’s daily life can help to integrate ourselves in our personal ecosystem and therefore get happier and to feel a more achieved person. Both centres learn from each other because any project can either be duplicated or be used as a positive input for someone else. Arboretum Marbella and the way they spur on their possibilities is a typical example on how – through harmonious and balanced processes- a better society and hence a better world can be created.
We always say that we not only want to bequeath to future generations a better world, but also better people. I am proud to acknowledge that there is a growing number of “crazy-clairvoyants” whoare consistently proving that such a positive change is made possible.”