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Hugelkultur Garden


Land & Flora

Permaculture in Practice

broken down wood into soil

One of the founding principles of permaculture design is that it calls for our mindful presence on the landscape to take time to observe and listen to it. When Jack first acquired the land in Kabui bay, he sat and watched it in the first six months to learn how the interacting forces of trees and soil could evolve over time and space.


In the tropical heat and humidity, decomposition is extreme. He saw how rainforest wood naturally broke down into soil, the process of which inspired the methodologies of cultivating “our garden in a rainforest”.


The projects below are successful examples that mimic the flourishing rainforest ecosystem in which we live.

Wastewater Garden

Excess nutrients from toilet use and laundry are responsible for much of the pollution in Raja Ampat. They flow from low standard septic tanks in homestays and resorts through sandy soils directly onto adjacent reefs, turning them into algae beds.

Norman Van't Hoff, founder of Bali’s Saribuana Eco Lodge, and also a friend of Jack’s developed a practical filtration system known as the wastewater garden for filtering nutrient pollution, which we’ve implemented at our lodge.


Wastewater gets broken down in a septic tank where the runoff enters an underground network of pipes in a large manmade 6 x 3 metre trough filled with small rocks.


Banana trees are planted inside where their roots infiltrate the spaces between the rocks and pipes to absorb the nutrients. Vetiver grass and bamboo are grown outside along the trough’s perimeter to stem any sewage overflow.


Initially, we built 5m tall swales behind the beach to stop runoff entering the sea. This precipitated the idea of using Hügelkultur not only to develop a garden but also to create a dam against soil erosion. It is a German word meaning mound or hill culture that refers to a horticultural technique that benefits plants grown on or near such mounds.


The land that sits at the base of the sloping rainforest close to the beach had been slashed and burnt about 20 years ago and become sandy, shallow and infertile. In response, we constructed a mound there as a raised plant bed from burying decaying wood debris from 12 skinny 70-year-old mango trees that never bore fruit, along with other unproductive trees we cut down to clear that land.

Our four Hügelkultur gardens span an area of 600 square metres. To kickstart them into action, we grew hundreds of leguminous Turi (Sesbania grandiflora) trees for their nitrogen fixing properties. Once their trunks grew 2 inches in diameter, we cut them down at their base so that the nitrogen-filled nodules in their roots could release as they decompose.


What has followed is a durable regenerative soil process that accelerates tropical decomposition that sees the wood hold moisture as it turns spongy, gradually releasing their stored nutrients by microorganisms feeding off nitrogen, to improve and sustain soil fertility, moisture and cooling. This slow release also hinders the flow and destructive impact of nitrogen and other nutrient pollution to the neighbouring reef in front of the lodge.


The mounds are replenished by our compost of organic plant material from the garden and kitchen, the biochar we produce from burning wood waste, mulch from banana tree leaves and trunk as well as the nutrients from rotting leaves and branches from the surrounding rainforest.


 Wild nutmeg trees border the garden which attract birds of paradise when fruiting. There are a variety of other local trees that existed before our arrival, which includes the melinjo, the leaves of which we eat, along with many wild orchids, vines and myrmecophytes. We prune them to encourage healthy growth and practice glading in the forest.


We estimate for every tree we've cut to build the lodge and develop the garden, we've planted three times more in their place. We're experimenting with various fruit trees and grafting techniques popular in other parts of Indonesia for future local agroforestry projects. 


Grafting is the act of joining two trees together, with the upper part of the graft becoming the top of the tree, and the lower portion becoming the root system or part of the trunk. It’s much quicker to produce fruit from grafted trees than to plant those directly from seeds, because the process of grafting tricks the lower portion of the tree into thinking it is older than it really is.


We have grafted most of our fruit trees including the fruitless mango trees we cut down to open up the land and construct the mounds with. In our garden, you will be able to spot the cut on the stem or branch where branches from older trees have been grafted onto newer seedlings.

Can you spot them all?

This list grows every month but during your stay, see if you can identify the following trees in the garden.

Fruit Trees

3 Kelengkeng merah (Ruby longan)

Kelengkeng (Longan) 

Star fruit

9 Mango 

8 Green guava 

4 Red guava 

10 Citrus trees of pomelo, orange and lime 

Delima (Pomegranate)

3 Jambu air (Rose apple)

Nangka (Jackfruit)

4 Sukun (Breadfruit) 

10 Alpukat (Avocado)


2 Rambutan

2 Sawo (Sapodilla)

Sirsak (Soursop)

3 Cacao

12 Pohon Kelapa (Coconut trees)

14 Salak (Snake fruit)

5 Buah merah (Red fruit)

Daun Salam (Bay leaf)


10 Moringa 

Singapore berry 

River tamarind 

Dragon fruit

Golden dwarf papaya 

Green papaya

Kefir Lime

Other Trees & Plants

5  Ylang ylang 

4 varieties Aubergine  

Colville's glory

4 varieties Spinach 

2 varieties Zucchini

3 varieties Tomato

Kangkung (Water spinach)


2 varieties Okra 

30 varieties Big leaf and Asian ornamentals sourced in Papua and Indonesia 

4 Ornamental palms 

10 varieties Coleus 

Kenikir (Cosmos)

Papuan lavender 

4 varieties Hibiscus 

20 varieties Orchids (over 100 in total)

12 Frangipani 

Vetiver grass


Citronella grass 

4 varieties Bamboo 

5 Date palms 

Butterfly pea




Ground cherry 

Various chillies

2 varieties Heliconia 



5 varieties Ginger 


Sweet potato 

Daun afrika (African bitter leaf)


Japanese turnip 

Chinese potatoes 

Pinto peanut 


Saucer plant

Red bird of paradise plant


2 varieties Basil 

Various varieties of banana 

3 varieties Pineapple

Kedongdong (June plum)

We hope to inspire those with keen ecological interest to support stewardship of this archipelago so it may sustain into the future for generations to come.
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