We bought 2 farmlands to launch an experimental forest garden in Burgundy, France

This letter is the 7th episode of my 🔭 Laboratory Logbook, a monthly newsletter where I share my explorations.

Hsiao and I are honored to announce to you the arrival of Clémentine and Coussolline into the family!

Watercolor depicting two farmlands with human faces.

These little beings are neither newborn twins, nor dogs, but two farmlands! Two plots of grassland that we just acquired last month.

We feel very grateful to be able to adopt and take care of these two portions of our planet.

Or, wouldn’t be these two ladies who have kindly accepted to adopt us, little awkward students, on an apprenticeship to relearn how to live in harmony within the biosphere? For, when we walk on them, surrounded by so many living beings, we feel so small that we realize that, in fact, contrary to the notary’s belief, we actually belong to Coussolline and Clémentine, not the other way around.

Unless Coussolline and Clémentine are simply two new friends we have just met? Each one with her personality, and with whom we have the chance to start a peer-to-peer relationship, taking care of each other and having lots of laughs…

Interestingly, almost when we were signing the deed of sale, I randomly rediscovered a Facebook publication that I shared 7 years ago:

Screenshot of a Facebook publication.

“Poof! This is it, I know what I’m going to do after my thesis! I’m going to set up somewhere and grow vegetables, fruit and bees. It’ll be full of colors, scents and flavors. A tiny house will be enough for me, and some trees and flowers. So I’ve got 6 months to find a place to land. If you hear of any available land, let me know! Thanks :-)”

It is surprising how this message is, at the same time, very far from what I have lived since that day, and very close to what I am starting to live these days, exactly 7 years later.

Puzzling how a life trajectory can look so chaotic in the short term, yet in the long term can unveil clear directions…

We bought 2 farmlands

So, 7 years after this Facebook post, in the bureaucratic world of humans, Hsiao and I have bought Coussolline (0.2 ha, 2 000 m2, or 0.5 acres) and Clémentine (1.5 ha, 15 000 m2, or 3.7 acres) in Burgundy, France.

Watercolor of two farmlands represented on a map.

We bought them 11 000 euros (~11 900 USD), including notary costs. Some people think it is too expensive, others say it is fair enough. For us, it mainly felt at the same time affordable and a lucky opportunity in a context where finding farmlands is a long and tough process.

On these two portions of the Earth, we are now able to develop the experimental forest garden project that I described a year and a half ago. Although the climate is eventually continental instead of Mediterranean, it is essentially the same project.

Planning my 2024 activities on these lands took me quite some time, which is one of the reasons why I haven’t written any laboratory logbook over the past 4 months.

And now, so we don’t miss out on spring, we have started planting!

Coussolline: 0.2 ha (0.5 acres) of flat grassland, loamy-sand soil

This circle that you see on Coussolline is a 250 m2 tiny version of our future experimental farm, in the sense that most of the crops and uses we want to explore with are already present there.

Photo of the establishment of a forest garden plantation in a round circle, in Burgundy, France.

The main strategy is to plant a few plots like this one each year, listen to Coussolline’s reply, readjust the plan accordingly, and plant new plots the following year.

I often ask Coussolline if she likes this first plot. So far, my feeling is that she likes it. But sometimes, when I am aware enough, she seems to gently but convincingly suggest adjustments, appearing in the form of unexpected observations or new ideas…

This little version of the farm is a diversified forest garden. We are planting fruit trees (apple, pear, persimmon, kiwi, hardy lemon…); fast-growing trees for biomass, woodfire, timber, and living architecture (willow, poplar, paulownia…); mini pollard trees for their edible leaves (lime tree, mulberry tree…). Between the trees are berry bushes (elderberry, blackcurrant, redcurrant, goji), aromatic and medicinal plants, and perennial and annual vegetables. We have started to plant everything, and if it goes well, we should be able to harvest vegetables in the first years, then berries and aromatics, then fruits and wood. When the shadow is too dense for vegetables, we will plant them under a newer plot.

Photo of the planting of a forest garden on a grassland, in Burgundy, France.

In the middle of this forest garden is a round patch of grassland. A multifunctional space where one already feels cocooned. The headquarters from which to monitor this tiny forest garden? The green bed for the nap after work? The place for a feast under the shadow? The theatre for a storytelling afternoon? No one really knows…

This tiny forest garden is ~250 m2, including 150 m2 of plantations and 100 m2 of grassland in the middle. We could fit more than 50 such tiny forest gardens on the 17000 m2 of Coussolline and Clémentine!

For a single person, it took 1 h of work per square meter (+ sore muscles) to prepare such a plot with only manual tools and no stress: collecting and buying seeds, cuttings, plants, shredded wood, compost; taking measurements; preparing the soil; planting all plants (not including annual vegetables).

If I work full time on preparing 50 more tiny forest gardens using this same technique, limited by my physical condition which is not yet at its full, I estimate that I will have finished in about 7 years (+ big biceps). Not too bad!

In other words, I would have finished by now, if only I had started when I wrote that Facebook message!

Clémentine: 1.5 ha (3.7 acres) of slightly sloping grassland, clayey-limestone soil

For this year, as we are already quite busy with planting on Coussolline, we are proposing to Clémentine another activity: rewilding.

Photo of a grassland and wood in winter, in Burgundy, France.

Digging a little swale, along a contour line, to bring runoff water to the heart of Clémentine instead of away from her.

Letting start growing a natural 4-meter thick forest belt, a hedge surrounding the land, as a protective membrane against pollution and climate fluctuations, but also as an attractor for birds.

Letting the grass grow as tall as possible in some areas, in order to let roots uncompact soil deeper and deeper and let biomass accumulate.

Observing where wild animals like to pass, which insects hang around, which bioindicator plant grows here and there…

I think Clémentine also likes this plan.

While walking through her, I feel a strong potential vitality to her, but at the same time, a deep calm. A person who enjoys making powerful but slow moves. Instead of starting to “grow things” fast, she seems more interested in going step by step, from one ecological succession to the next, until soil vitality is so high, the microclimate is so resilient, biodiversity is so complex, that growing things becomes easy.

I can’t wait to see it all grow! How about you?

Cheers ;)


Photo of a trail and a grassland under snow in winter in Burgundy, France.

Did you like this article?

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Lénaïc Pardon
Lénaïc Pardon

I am a kind of researcher-explorer. I am French, introverted, and hypersensitive. I value a lot freedom, creativity, and altruism. I am curious about almost anything, but I do have a preference for topics around simple living: permaculture, nature, craftsmanship, autonomy, philosophy, the mysteries of life… More about me and my work >