Southeastern Permaculture Gathering: MOUNTAIN GARDENS, with Joe Hollis

Before Charisse (Rebecca) and I drove to this gathering, gifted to us by Lee Barnes, our dowser friend and president of ARC (, he told us to make sure we got to experience Mountain Gardens. Okay!

For this fifth and final post on the 2019 Southeastern Permaculture Gathering, I will focus on this site, Mountain Gardens (see photo above), a Saturday workshop that was, unfortunately, scheduled at the same time as the Mushroom Hunting class. So Charisse went to the off-site workshop and I stayed on site.  

But it turns out that she didn’t get to experience Mountain Gardens either, because when the group arrived (a few miles away, at the foot of Black Mountain), it had already started that hard rain. So Joe Hollis, the proprietor and elder, spoke to them inside,  instead, and though he spoke so softly she could hardly hear him, Charisse did manage to get a few photos of what I presume is their apothecary.


Clearly, an enormous amount of very focused and detailed work goes into the continuous maintenance of Mountain Gardens and its various value-added food and medicinal products. Joe Hollis tells what he envisions for Mountain Gardens, four acres, with niches of various kinds for a “gardeners’ colony, here: 

Do go to the Mountain Gardens website and experience the wealth of wisdom offered by Joe Hollis (below, on the right), who has been communing with this same piece of steep terraced land since the early 1970s. For example, this:

The ‘School of Paradise Gardening’ – a utopian fantasy.

Once upon a time there was, or will be, a small community of persons who shared a goal: to create a Paradise Garden, develop it, maintain it, live in it, enjoy it.

It is an anarchist garden community; there are areas of responsibility: vegetable, herb and fruit gardens, structures, water system, nursery & seed collecting, kitchen & food preservation, bees, mushrooms and many more. The fellows know what they are responsible for. Whatever they need is provided, including help (apprentices) and guidance (elders), tools, materials, texts.

On a typical morning, everyone (apprentices, fellows, elders) will be working together in one part of the garden: planting, weeding, harvesting, pruning, propagating, fertilizing, grubbing, labeling, terracing, mulching, etc. On a typical afternoon, the fellows and elders are engaged with projects in their own domains; the apprentices assist where needed.

The apprentices rotate between helping in all the sectors, and in the course of a year come to understand how it all works, learn where everything is kept, how to anticipate and deal with the usual problems, how to distinguish the garden plants and the weeds, and what to do with each, etc. Apprentices are provided room & board (board means groceries – everyone shares in the food preparation); at the end of the year, apprentices may be invited to return as fellows.

Fellows receive room & board, a modest monthly subsidy, and the opportunity to earn income either by taking on a pre-existing ‘business’ or by starting a new (garden-related) one. Examples would include: selling seeds, seedlings, plants, produce or value-added products, marketing information, landscaping, promoting workshops & tours, etc. Fellows may also, if they wish, construct their own shelter (using primarily materials available on the land -clay, stone, wood – other materials are provided), or improve an existing one.

The garden has its own income stream, which provides whatever food we (thus far) can’t grow ourselves, tools, materials, books, utilities (phone & internet), truck, etc. as well as the subsidy to fellows. Everyone pitches in to help the garden earn money; that’s part of the morning shared work. But the garden also affords an almost infinite number of other opportunities to generate a modest income (and how much do you really need, if your shelter, food, medicine, lights, music, internet, phone, shower / hot tub, companionship, transportation, etc. are provided?), and it is these opportunities which fellows are encouraged to explore. An expected outcome of this program is that participants will leave with not only a thorough knowledge of how to develop and maintain a Paradise Garden, but with a specific ‘product’ and indeed an established ‘business’ (website) to generate the unavoidable amount of $ needed to survive (and hopefully a little extra to thrive).

A prerequisite for apprentices is ‘basic gardening knowledge / experience’. Meaning a full season gardening apprenticeship or the equivalent. Fellows are expected to have considerably more experience. The best and most natural way to become a fellow is to be an apprentice here for a year and then, by mutual agreement, move up to become a fellow the following year(s). As indicated above, fellows will choose (or be assigned) areas of responsibility (veg gdn, fruit gdn, herb gdn, kitchen, apothecary, structures, water system, etc.) Individuals with considerable garden experience plus the necessary specialized knowledge and experience may move directly to fellowship.

This is a small community, say six to twelve adults. There is much interaction and camaraderie. There is a shared interest in Paradise Gardening, i.e. the development of a way of living on earth that is sustainable, democratic and satisfying. Sustainable means beneficial, or at least not injurious to Gaia, the planetary ecosystem. Democratic means beneficial, or at least not stealing from, our fellow humans (which requires considerable restraint since, as Americans, we are born with a license and it sometimes seems even a mandate to steal). Satisfying means beneficial to our health and happiness, and herein lies the crux of the matter: it is above all essential that we consider our lifestyle, with its implied limitations on, say, gasoline (use as little as possible, ideally none), or purchased food (use as little as possible, ideally none), etc., not as ‘self-sacrifice’ but as liberation.

Beyond health and happiness, the personal goals of Paradise Gardening are ataraxy and enthusiasm. Ataraxy means calmness, or tranquility; more specifically, the peace and contentment which follows from having a certain knowledge of the world and one’s place and role in it. Ataraxy was the main goal of the School of Epicurus (a rival of Plato’s Academy in ancient Athens), and this utopian community is partly based on his ‘garden school.’. John Lennon’s lyric ‘Imagine’ hints at the pleasures of ataraxy, and at how quickly the world could change if we could change our worldview.

Enthusiasm (latin ‘inspiration’) refers to freeing the ‘God within’ to act. Not just at occasional periods of creativity, in the studio, or worship, in church – we seek to infuse our lives with enthusiasm: to wake in the morning, the God within eager to engage with the world, the God without.

To live in a Paradise garden, in the company of enthusiastic gardeners….


I am struck by how similar are our visions. Though Joe Hollis and Mountain Gardens live in a rural setting, and Green Acres Permaculture Village is carved out of our re-imagined urban/suburban setting, we share so much in terms of what we would like to see happen in our tiny communities that aim to create, within the larger dying, selfish and money-driven culture, a culture of what Joe calls “ataraxy and enthusiasm.” Ataraxy: calmness, or “the peace and contentment which follows from having a certain knowledge of the world and one’s place and role in it.”

Yes. ” . . how quickly the world would change if we could change our world view. 

I want to thank Lee, all the presenters and grounded activists, both young and old, who shared their wisdom and experience and heartfelt enthusiam during the Southeastern Permaculture Gathering, and who made both Charisse and I feel so very welcome. We come home filled with both memories of the warmth and camaraderie we shared as well as with a number of new ideas to nourish our own tiny, human and earth-centered, paradise.

Green Acres Permaculture Village


This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *