"The garden has become a place in which knowledge is shared. During a tour of the garden it is possible to taste and smell. People find out that they are unaware about the existence of all kinds of tasty and edible plants they usually do not recognize in their own garden."
Hidden behind Neukölln’s busy streets, a 1000 m2 peaceful Permaculture garden can be found. Martin Höfft, owner of Cafe de Botanico & certificated Urban Gardener has a story to tell.
Finding a space in Berlin that could be used as a garden was quite a challenge. Owner Martin explains that being a husband, father and manager did not leave much time available to travel back and forth to a garden outside of the city. With the introduction of cheap supermarkets among Berlin in the past years, a lot of allotments are no longer used by its owners for gardening. The necessity of being self-sufficient disappeared. In 2012 Martin found an allotment but the garden within suffered a lack of proper care and looked abandoned.
Although the property is owned by the landlord of the surrounding buildings, Martin was able to rent it out and transformed the former piece of waste land into a piece of Permaculture art. Edible wildflowers, herbs, vegetables and other plants are grown in a organic and vegan way. The garden has become a place in which knowledge is shared. During a tour of the garden it is possible to taste and smell. People find out that they are unaware about the existence of all kinds of tasty and edible plants they usually do not recognize in their own garden.
The moment you start to learn more about the world you live in, you are able to do something with it
Together with his Italian father in law, the idea arose to open an Italian restaurant next to the garden to cover the costs of renting the 1000m2 garden. Specialties are wild herb, flower and leaf salads. The idea is to show guests how a natural system evolves, even in a busy urban environment. “Many wonder how I am able to keep up the garden while I am working a ‘normal’ job beside it”, Martin says. “I spend approximately an hour a day in the garden and in the weekends a full day. Mostly, nature itself does the work. But if I could, I would love to spend more time in the garden”.
We need to understand how nature is working and have knowledge of its species. It is a living, edible dynamic system. The goal of Permaculture is to let it be largely self-regulated with minimal intervention. Just fifty percent of the plants in the garden are edible, but the remaining plants are still of big use in the ecological system to keep the garden running. These plants are used as a nutrient to the soil, cover the soil and provide support for all the micro-organisms living in the system. Everybody is welcome to see the garden. The tours are for free so that Martin can keep an eye on all people who enter the garden. In the end, the plants are still used in dishes for his restaurant, and he needs to sustain the foods quality.
Guests eat tomatoes and find out that it has only been harvested two hours ago, 20 meters away. That definitely tastes better than a tomato from the supermarket.
Most of the plants in the garden are extinct in supermarkets. The reason for their supermarket-extinction is the inability to transport or long-term store them. Some plants are not suitable for industrial gardening, in the Café Botanico garden the only mechanism used are hands. Martin says; “ I like to explain to people that there is so much more food in the world than the things we see in supermarkets. The moment you start to learn more about the world you live in, you are able to do something with it”.
The initiative does not receive public funding. A donation was provided and used to print name tags for around 200 different plant species. Martin is funding the initiative himself by working in a different job.