Glad to be a nomad


[email protected]

Stuart Merelie, landscaper, ecological researcher and permaculture fanatic, shares his passion for correct and sustainable landscaping in the Algarve and is our permanent garden and landscaping correspondent. This week is the ninth part in a series of 24 exploring Permaculture and its importance and uses in today’s world.

PARKED UNDER a gentle giant of an Oak tree, feet in an ice cold stream, it’s a nice return for having survived the simmering cauldron of a Portuguese July. Having read one or two papers in the last week, I could be excused for believing the modern world was folding in. Environmentalism, post consumerism, rising energy prices, water shortages, a bad housing market, fear of bird flu or terrorism, oh heck, light the BBQ with it all!

If you practice being a pessimist, you will become one. If, like me, you question these financial and social talons of gloom, then the future is exciting. Co-operation, conservation and sharing have to be our future. On my tours, I am meeting people who are happy to give me food and somewhere to park my van just to share ideas, talents and perspective.

One of the best subjects we talk about is how to live without having to bother the local councils or electricity boards. Consider this. Land in the Algarve is expensive, double it if it has a building licence, add the cost of building a fairly inefficient villa and figure out the total cost – then add the water, electric and rate bills. And then complain that it is all too expensive.

A spell under the stars at Nadine and Calvin’ss retreat near Monchique ( was a good way to undo this worry. Sleeping in a 5.5 metre tipi with the roof stretching into the galaxy is a perfect way to understand that simple equals good. Yoga, Reiki, Reflexology and Chakra balancing were a little new for me, but it showed me that the human is the real talent, not the PCs and toys we use.

Cheap land

What I was starting to understand was that the site was so much more important than the house. All these places I am visiting have lots of land, a year round flowing stream or reservoir or well, trees for heating and cooking, areas available for growing vegetables and putting up a poly tunnel for winter vegetables, space for animals to graze – and therefore supply the enrichment for the vegetables.

But the best bit is this. All these pieces of land were valued as useless, worthless and nice and cheap. Given that you build a yurt, a tipi, a geodome, a bender or loosely place a caravan on the land, there’s your home. Add a compost loo, a little solar power, a solar hot water panel, a lap top, a 3G mobile internet access and a few friends and you aren’t missing much, certainly not the utility bills!

My tour of Portugal has introduced me to a varied collection of landowners. Occasionally I have come across someone who has managed to live quietly and contentedly, but unfortunately they are the exception rather than the rule. I have been to places I will never go again, to compost loos I would burn down. But they all have a moral, ambition, and in their own way have already succeeded. You should not hold out for that perfect piece of countryside, as it may never arrive. Instead aim to find something that will allow you to get most of what you want.

Live light

Heading up to Vida Verde, the biggest Portuguese Ecology Fair at Fiais da Beira, I have learnt one big lesson so far. By cutting our consumption levels and growing a bit of food or fixing our own car or house, we may be better off working a 30hour week rather than the 60 hour week many of us endure that leaves us no time to do any of these things. One thing about my temporary nomad status is great. There is much to learn about climates, elevations, locations, learning from the neighbours, living comfortably and living light. If I can pass anything of use along as I learn it, then it has all been worth it. I might even stay on the road.

With 23 years experience in garden design and construction, Stuart is available for design, consultation and construction of all types of landscaping. He lives near Estoi and is developing a low energy farm which will soon be open as a hostel for like minded souls with residential courses in low carbon construction and lifestyle. For inquiries, please contact Stuart on 917 814 261 or visit our website at