Casa Luum lies at the end of an old dirt road in a nature reserve in Faro, Portugal, the milky whites of its walls blending smoothly into the progressive blue of the sky. The large plot that the villa sits on once housed a ruin that was left to nature. Hundreds of olive trees and wildflowers grew there, and when owner Kristoff Van der Vekens built his striking architectural home on the land, he made a conscious choice to cultivate native, sustainable gardens around them.
To that end, he reached out to Lisbon-based botanical architects Sigmetum, who specialize in raising native seeds from the area and nurturing them into full-grown plants.
“I really wanted a garden that blended with the natural environment of Algarve,” Kristoff tells us. “We only used local plants and herbs. Each season, Sigmetum collect grains in the Algarve and cultivate them in their nursery. In this way we use only plants with a low impact on the climate and environment. They hardly need any irrigation, and we don’t have to import exotic plants which have a bad impact on climate and local biodiversity. All the herbs we have in our garden are usable in the kitchen or for infusions.”
It’s this connection with the land around it that makes Casa Luum so special. In addition to its striking architecture, this is a home that invites guests to really get to know the sights, smells and tastes of the region.
“We just use native vegetation,” says Felipe from Sigmetum, “a kind of a ecological approach to the typical landscape and flora of the calcareous Barrocal, where native trees and shrub species can develop and recover naturally.”
These include the visually appealing evergreen mastic trees, holm oaks and fan palms, plus multiple varieties of lavender and flowering species like cistus, purple phlomis and halimium, all of which add a subtle burst of color to the landscape.
And then there are the edible plants. These include the olive trees, of course. But there are also local fruit varieties like carob, almonds and the lesser-known arbutus unedo, or “strawberry tree”. Its round spiky fruit aren’t the red berries we’re familiar with, but they are still edible. Among the garden’s many herbs are conehead thyme, rosemary, mastic thyme and myrtle, all of which are perfect for use in cooking.
And that’s what you are asked to do. Wander the grounds, eat the fruit from the trees, pick the herbs and add them to your meals, or brew a special tea infusion. It’s an invitation to be a part of the land and a culture that’s centuries old.
Guests at Casa Luum spend a lot of time in the garden, and says Kristoff, “Sometimes they plan some trips to the beach and nearby towns but they end up staying in the house and garden for their whole stay since it’s so peaceful and quiet.”