Helena and Stefan von Bothmer run Kosters Trädgårdar (Koster's Gardens) with a focus on sustainable development. Through permaculture they create mutually beneficial integration between man and nature.
“It’s all about seeing flows,” says Helena von Bothmer. “It’s about making business effective, and realizing that people can use things in different ways, which creates better alternatives and makes for a more interesting working environment.”
The sky is blue and I’m enjoying the beautiful Koster Islands, Sweden's most westerly populated islands. There’s a hive of activity here, with volunteers weeding the garden and café personnel picking salad greens for lunch. Helena von Bothmer and I meet in a greenhouse, where there are cucumbers hanging from the ceiling and fresh tomatoes in baskets.
“Permaculture,” she explains, “is a planning tool. One example is to have the flowerbeds crooked, following the sun. That’s a small detail, but it makes things easier. Or employ frogs in a nearby pond; they do a lot of good by eating vermin.”
Helena and Stefan started creating their vision on the Koster Islands in 1993. Their dream then was a market garden that would also be a meeting place and a restaurant – and today, Kosters Trädgårdar is the obvious choice for summer tourists. In the meantime, Helena and Stefan have also influenced their surroundings with their ways of incorporating permaculture. It seems everyone has become a bit more environmentally conscious out on the islands.
Though far from a new concept, permaculture remains somewhat unusual in Sweden. What it means is ecological growing and a general sustainable outlook, where nature and all its resources are being used.
“One good example is pots. I can buy several small plastic pots for almost nothing. But they can be used only once. That just feels wrong. So instead I buy some more expensive pots that I can use for years,” says Helena. “We try to make two plus two equal five. Everybody’s part of our vision, and we want everybody to feel that, because it creates a sense of purpose.”
But Kosters Trädgårdar is much more than a market garden. Here you can take a class in feng shui, wine tasting, or dance, and see an art show. It’s become an important place for people to meet.
“Our goal is a harmonious relationship between man and nature,” continues Helena. “But we want more out of life, too. There are so many possibilities, and we oftentimes arrange projects that boost one another. We want to make use of our geographical position, nature’s resources, and the local tourism, and create interaction. We want to use as little as possible to gain as much as possible.”

Creative Chaos
Helena says that if you think about what things need and can give at the same time, then you get a place where people and trees can really create an effective network.
“While we collect rainwater to use later for watering plants and things like that, we also hope people will come and just stroll around our garden a bit to take it in, to experience it….”
Why is this not the norm for how a market garden works today?
“Yes, why isn’t it! I think the reason not everything today is ecological has to do with society’s development in general. Energy was cheap after WW2, and the nitrogen that had been used to make bombs was turned into fertilizers. Unfortunately we still suffer from the consequences of that time. But on a positive note, I also think many people use the same methods as we do, they just don’t have a theory behind it.”
Helena and Stefan carry their vision further by making their visitors look less as trends, and instead see the cycles of nature. “Creative chaos” they call it.


Kosters Trädgårdar
Helena and Stefan von Bothmer founded Kosters Trädgårdar, an ecological market garden and restaurant on Sydkoster, in 1998. Von Bothmers are also organizing art exhibitions, wine tasting events, conferences, and more. Summertime at Kosters Trädgårdar hosts volunteers from all over the world through World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF).

Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren coined the word permaculture during the 1970’s. A blend of permanent agriculture and permanent culture, permaculture is a practical way of minimizing negative interferences with Mother Earth, by taking advantage of resources and work sustainably. Permaculture is based on collaboration between different local resources that together create sustainable progress.