Hidden away in Berlin’s historical bohemian district of Rixdorf in Neukölln is a special garden and restaurant called Café Botanico. When Architectural Photographer Liz Eve stumbled upon the café, she was immediately hooked. She used her camera to document the people, plants, philosophy and permaculture methods throughout the seasons. Then she crowdfunded to turn her work into a beautiful book. “Botanico: A Year in the Food Forest” features Café Botanico Founder Martin Höfft and his expertise on food, permaculture and gardening techniques. Liz Eve took the time to tell Inhabitat about her Café Botanico experience.
Inhabitat: How did you learn about Café Botanico?
Liz Eve: After attending a permaculture design course in Berlin, I was searching for ongoing projects that applied the permaculture principles and techniques. I saw that Café Botanico invited volunteers into the garden, and went along to find out more and learn from the team there.
Inhabitat: Briefly describe Café Botanico and tell us what makes this place special.
Liz Eve: The café Botanico sits in a very interesting historical district of Berlin. When I first came to Berlin, I associated it with high-rise concrete blocks of the former German democratic republic and huge derelict factories. Rixdorf is a village that was assimilated into the city. Here, Bohemian refugees were given shelter and support to garden, so it is wonderful to see gardening projects still giving something back to the community.
Inhabitat: What drew you to photographing the garden?
Liz Eve: The garden itself is rather hidden behind residential buildings. There is so much going on in this relatively small space. Aesthetically, it is not a beautiful or manicured space — it is one where nature has been given permission to thrive. I also found the community involved very welcoming, open to being photographed and more than happy to pass on their knowledge and plant expertise.
Inhabitat: Tell us about your new book. What’s in it?
Liz Eve: The Botanico Year Book is an artist’s portrait of the plants, garden elements, landscape, food and people that make up the Café Botanico. The garden is a model project that spreads the joy of growing, understanding and eating a diversity of plants. The book contains over 250 pages, including the history of the Botanico garden, the philosophy behind the project, permaculture introduction and principles and food forest gardening. It includes seasonal recipes for dishes, drinks and other delicacies.
You’ll learn how to grow microgreens, creating your own tiny food forest, as well as how to compost and tips for keeping your soil healthy. You can also create a sit spot meditation practice to connect to nature near you. I’ve included plant portraits of selected species including edible “weeds” and over 200 images capturing life at Botanico over one year. I recommend enjoying the book with a homemade herbal lemonade as you find inspiration for your own projects.
Inhabitat: What was your experience like documenting Café Botanico?
Liz Eve: This project was what kept me going during the isolation of lockdown. To visit and see the changes week on week was inspiring. As things opened up again in the summer, I enjoyed sitting and eating in the garden and inviting friends to enjoy the buzzing green atmosphere. I also learnt so much, going from almost “plant blind” to constantly talking about and pointing out plants on walks around the city and surrounding forests.
Inhabitat: What did you learn that changed your life?
Liz Eve: What stands out to me is the Founder Martin Höfft’s application of permaculture philosophy. I am starting a master of science in sustainability this year, and I would hope to carry forward some of the ways things are done here. Instead of persuading or forcing a sustainable lifestyle, the Café Botanico project quietly informs and enchants its guests, thanks to the dedication of those involved in looking after the garden and preparing excellent food from the produce. This stands out to me and I hope I will be involved in initiating such a successful and regenerative project in the future.
Inhabitat: What are you hoping readers will take away from your book?
Liz Eve: I hope that readers will feel excited about and empowered to try new things or even change how they are living to take care of our dwindling biodiversity and disrupted climate. I would like to pass on my enthusiasm for the forest garden way of growing food and to encourage people to think deeply about our urban food systems and how to redesign them for a more sustainable and fairer future.
Inhabitat: What else should readers know about Café Botanico, you and your work?
Liz Eve: My main subject and area of work is architecture. I have been photographing and writing about sustainable architecture for the last ten years. You can see more of my work at website. I’m involved with a community setting up a public food forest on Tempelhofer field in Berlin Feld Food Forest.
Images via Liz Eve