Mobile Plant Kingdom is a collaborative project, that wants to learn, unite and bridge gardening ecology, technology and crafts of trans-local cultures. The project brings together a number of artists, teachers, craftsman, who will create a ever growing eco-social installation within the urban context. The installation of the MPK’s is organized around the number of participatory workshops, that focus on local, innovative and artisanal technologies for the gardening methodologies (to create urban eco-cultural systems). The projects is looking into how artistic practices can support the connection of nature’s gifts and old-new technologies, as well as enhance an understanding of the necessity of diversity and connectivity within urban cultures.
In April 2014 the MPK traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico to learn children and their families to support and (re)connect with local native gardening methods and innovative technologies in combination of creative perspectives. It was invited by Colorum – children’s art school.

Inspired by the rising culture of urban gardening in Belgium – from rooftop gardens to school and personal gardening activities, often instigated by artistic initiatives – we want to share our urban green ideas with other places in the world. Places like Oaxaca, Mexico are just at very beginning of this movement. In most of the urban areas there is still a low awareness of the natural surrounding in connection with local urban culture. As artists we want to connect with cultural communities to share and exchange knowledges. Our intension is to collaborate on very similar and at the same time very different issues about bridging the cultures and nature of Mexico and Belgium in a two week long research/ installation/ workshop project, where we will learn and exchange a number of methods and ways to improve our urban environments in playful and creative ways.

MPK grew out of several projects and number of activities that sprouted within Nadine’s artistic networks and international collaborations. It is a confluence of two projects: the installation Mobile Growing Units (MGU), that took roots at EU funded EITC project (Euroaxacan Initiative for Transformative Cultures 2010-2013) and Plant Kingdom (a systematically designed series of workshops for children about urban ecosystems, initiated by artist Lina Kusaite).


Project Process

Field Trips

On the second day after arrival to Oaxaca, we visited CAMPO organisation and had a meeting with Jose Luis Navarrete, who helped us to select the plants for the spiral garden, natural pigment workshop and edible hanging plants (for the list of plants, see in attachment). Campo.org, also supported us with Ollas – an ancient method of plant irrigation. Ollas is unglazed clay pots, filled with water and it is an ancient method of plant irrigation.

CAMPO works with indigenous populations, fostering community involvement, sustainable agriculture and an understanding of human rights. In particular, CAMPO’s projects strengthen women’s participation by teaching them leadership skills and enhancing their self-esteem. Coffee Kids has supported CAMPO’s work to extend economic resources to indigenous populations through community-based business activities since 1996. These include chicken-raising, organic honey production, worm-composting for organic fertilizer, and fruit and vegetable canning. CAMPO also helped participants construct wood-saving stoves, which reduce the respiratory illnesses caused by cooking over open fires indoors and require less wood.   http://campo.org.mx/

Plant sellection

Photo Gallery: https://www.flickr.com/photos/linakusaite/sets/72157644189881384/


VISITING TOETITLA DEL VALLE (weavers and carpet making village)
During the second trip, we visited a weavers village – Toetitla del Valle, that is very well known for their beautiful carpets and still very traditional and old ways of using natural dyes. The trip was organized by Daniela Porras, to learn and gather information about traditional natural dye methods which are obtained from plants like: marigold petals, añil, pomegranate zest, cochineal bug, seed pods, moss, caesalpinia echinata(Brazilian tree) and pecan. Our contact person, Pastora Gutierrez introduced and demonstrated several ways of plant color extractions and supported us with extensive information about it’s history. On the way back to Oaxaca, we stopped at the El Caracol, for more information and plant samples. All information that we learn about natural pigments, was directly implemented into second workshop, about “Natural Dyes”.
For more information click here

Photo Gallery: https://www.flickr.com/photos/linakusaite/sets/72157644189769384/


Building the spiral garden using local companion planting

One of the main Plant Kingdom aspects is learning about nature through introduction of ecosystems and different gardening methodologies. For the Colorum school, we decided to build a “spiral garden”, as a start of schools “kitchen garden”, that it is based on permaculture principals. The vegetation for the garden was composed including: edible, perfume/medicinal and natural pigment plants. The selection of the plants was done by Jose Luis Navarrete from Campo.org. We also decided to use the old watering system with Ollas that was supported by the same organization. This irrigation system is dated about 2000 years ago and was first used in China.
The workshop flow consisted of introduction about ecosystem and local plant groups, building the spiral garden and planting the plants. About 28 kids, teachers, parents and other people were participating in the process. Photo Gallery: https://www.flickr.com/photos/linakusaite/sets/72157644135319656/

Plant Pigments
The aim of the natural pigment workshop is to show different ways how to use our daily vegetables, flowers and fruits, that children can find at home or in their gardens. To encourage kids to see plants not only as the food, or decoration, but as well as the source of many things: paints, colors, forms, stories and many more. During 3 hours, children experimented with different methods of getting the colors out if plants: by boiling, using existing pigments and extracting juice out of plants with some kitchen tools. After we collected a range of colors, kids together with teachers and their parents created a series of wonderful paintings, that was exhibited on the last day of the project.
For more information click here

Photo Gallery: https://www.flickr.com/photos/linakusaite/sets/72157644135565576/


Making a plant pots from jicara/ jicalpextle, agave fiber extraction, plantin
The third day was dedicated to the preparation of the hanging garden. The idea of the hanging garden comes from the Mobile Growing Units project. We decided to reuse the system that consisted of a number of clay pots for the plants and a glass ball as the main water container.
While preparing for the workshop Lina Kusaite also looked at possibilities to use other types of containers then clay pots. We did some research on the Calabach tree and it’s fruits that are used to make jicara and jicalpextle from pumpkins. Jicara is a cup or bowl made from fruit of the calabash tree and (especially in rural Mexico) is used to serve hot food in order to preserve its temperature. It also has very distinct decoration styles. In the end all 3 different types of pots were used. We gave one clay pot, Jicaras or Jicalpextle per two children for them to decorate.
In a parallel with the pot decoration, Patrick de Koning and Felix Hernandez (gardener) were preparing the knotted structure from Agave rope for the hanging garden system. To make the kids aware about the connectivity with all parts that we were using in this workshop we had a short demonstration about the rope and how you can extract fibers from Agave leave. Felix Hernandez showed one of the methods of striping (or biting out) the flesh of Agave that soon reviled it’s fibers (Agave fibers are very common for rope and textile industry). Each child had a chance to try the method.
The last part of the workshop was to plant the selected plants in the decorated pots and make it ready for the next day activities.
For more information, click here

Photo Gallery: https://www.flickr.com/photos/linakusaite/sets/72157644190552314/


Hanging garden, mechanical and electronic irrigation control systems

The main focus on the last day was to make irrigation systems for both, spiral and hanging gardens. All groups of kids where divided in smaller groups that were appointed for different activities. The oldest kids (9-12) joined Patrick de Koning, who that day was leading the workshop.

For the spiral garden Patrick de Koning decided to build a mechanical irrigation system.The water was flowing out off the center of the spiral(Glass ball) into 4 biggest Ollas. Once the Ollas were full of water, the little styrofoam balls inside the clay pots that were attached to the silicon tube, floated up by folding the tube, in that way – stopping the water.

The same day the hanging structure was put up and connected with tubes to the main water glass ball container. Later that week Patrick de Koning was working on the electronic watering control system, an open source embedded electronic micro controller system which by use of precision moisture sensor technology is able to automatically irrigate the plants as needed out of the main glass bowl container. If the level of the main water supply gets too low a e-mail is send to the participants telling them the plants are running out of water and the main container needs to be filled or there is a malfunction in the watering system.

In this setup the kids were able to see both a mechanical water system as used in the spiral garden and an electronic water system as used in the hanging garden in action so they can use either system or a combination of these systems in their own future use.

One of the smallest kids had a mini workshop on Easter egg natural coloring method. Lina Kusaite learned this tradition when she was very little back in Lithuania. This method uses different plant leafs and flowers that are attached with the thread on the top of the raw egg then dropped into a pot with boiling water filed with onion skin. The onion dye covers the eggs in deep brown color leaving the places where the plant leafs and flowers are covering the egg uncolored.

At the same time while the irrigations systems were build the eggs where decorated and other kids where busy with food preparation for the visitors or hanging drawings for the exhibition. At the end of the project the parents of the kids where invited to see the results. The kids were divided in 3 groups and each of them got to present one part of the project. After the presentation everyone was invited to explore the garden and exhibition walls, try some fruits and discuss about the project.

Photo Gallery: https://www.flickr.com/photos/linakusaite/sets/72157644135668352/

Project supported by: nadine, Colorum, Campo and Vlaamse Gemeenschap