Le Phare de Morillon – the Gayatri Mandala herb garden

Some days Le Giffre valley can give you  the inspiration to create something unique. At the same time it challenges you strongly to make those ideas happen in a positive way. It really challenges you to tap into the wisdom of the valley with more than a little humility.

Cluny Abbey herb garden

I found a monastic herb garden at the Abbey of Cluny in France which inspired me to create a new herb garden in Le Phare de Morillon. My first attempts were beautiful to begin with but they soon became overrun by weeds and the more delicate herbs suffered from heavy clay earth and the cold. I soon realised that I did not have enough sunlight because the herb garden was on the west side of the chalet.

I made a plan and then went to Bali. In Bali I changed the plan again.

I was introduced to the Gayatri mandala, an ancient piece of sacred geometry, by a friendly Balinese guru. I wondered what to do with this knowledge and to test out why it was important to me.

Bali permaculture farm

I was also inspired by a very practical and self-irrigating organic permaculture farm. I had some new ideas. However, my vision and the reality of the rubbish heap that was my front garden were somewhat different.

The starting point for garden renovation

My colleagues were getting a little irritated by my changes of mind and the cost and efforts of my latest/greatest ideas. They asked me to clarify what it was that I wanted. I did with 2 cans of spray paint:

Illustrating a new idea

There was some skepticism as it was getting late in the year and winter was fast approaching. I now knew why version 1.0 of the herb garden had not worked. Version 2.0 had some differences; more sun, warmer, access to pure fresh spring water, richer earth and next to the sounds and vibrations of a music academy. The great thing was that the existing herbs could be transplanted into the new herb garden.

6 tonnes of concrete and gravel later

The base of the Gayatri mandala herb garden started to take shape. It was cold and hard physical work. The angles and measurements had to be very precise and the weather was often unforgiving. The location meant that most of the work had to be done using manual labour.

The base of the Gayatri Mandala herb garden

After much effort, the base of the herb garden emerged. Gabions or small stone walls full of surplus rocks from the house provided a perimeter next to a new meditation area that is shaded by a 130 year old 100 foot tree. The gabions were designed to house many pots to allow vegetables and herbs to grow in the abundant summer sunshine and natural mountain irrigation using spring waters.

The Gayatri mandala herb garden

The master carpenter added the rest of the Gayatri mandala using hard woods from Siberia. The herbs were transplanted from the failing herb garden on the west side of Le Phare. The gravel was used to protect the herbs from slugs or (in French) limace. The earth was enriched with local compost and allowed to breath.

The local people in the Haute Savoie will warn you not to plant out the delicate herbs and  vegetables before the week of ‘Saints de Glace’ or the ‘Ice Saints’ in mid-May each year. It was a while before I tapped into this knowledge and wisdom but probably because I hadn’t been smart enough to watch what they did, to ask or to listen. There are always plenty of  lessons in life on offer from wise people when you are open to listening.

I learned in Bali and Cluny that the real trick to the gardens, spacious decks and meditation areas of Le Phare de Morillon was to create smaller and discrete areas in the right places. A morning yoga deck facing the rising sun. An evening yoga deck facing the western sunset. Organic food gardens facing into the sun of the south. Utility areas facing north where the sun was never going to create abundance but the mountain panoramas are easy on the eye and very inspiring.

The renovated Le Phare and gardens

I learned that people need different spaces at different times and in different weather conditions. The reality is that it is better to offer choice; indoors v outside, reflection v communications, quiet space v dynamic space, connection to nature v connection to human wisdom. In effect, a modular structure to personal learning and expansion that allows anyone to pursue their own path.




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