La Plume – the project

Holzer Permaculture Solutions conceived and realized a retention system project developed for the La Plume estate in La Penne, a small village in the French region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. 

The aim of the project can be defined as follows: to revitalize and recultivate an old cultural landscape. 

A comprehensive water retention system is a prerequisite for the cultivation of field vegetables and herbs, fruit-growing, agroforestry, and tourist use. 

In practice, the conceptual design of Josef Holzer and Oliver Krische covers four ponds that are supplied with water from different catchment areas. The water landscape will represent an important substructure for the local food supply in the future. At the same time, it constitutes an ecological landscape element that is highly beneficial for the fauna and flora around the estate at both local and regional level. This concept enables a sustainable and comprehensive upgrading – both functionally and aesthetically – of the whole landscape with comparatively low effort. 


Particularly in southern countries, climate change already entails dramatic consequences. Extreme drought is more and more often followed by flooding. In Mediterranean and subtropical climate areas, rainfall is very unevenly distributed throughout the year. Heavy rains occur in short bursts in fall or spring, whereas the summers are extremely dry and hot. As much rainfall as possible needs to be retained during these brief periods of heavy rains in order to reduce the adverse impact of dry periods.

The most important factor is water retention within the soil. Soils rich in humus have the capacity to store water in quantities up to fivefold their own weight. Humus formation, structural soil improvements, root penetration, and water-retaining contour farming are all measures that serve to improve the rate of infiltration and minimize surface water drainage, which can lead to erosion.

Ideally, the differently designed water retention facilities are interlinked in such a way that the water can be distributed across the landscape in a cascade-like way through gravity. On its journey from one pond to the next, the water is led over stones and gravel in order to raise the oxygen content and clean the water before reaching the following station.

In In permaculture, these complex and communicating water retention systems are used in gentle and quite diverse ways. They enhance biodiversity, have a positive effect on the microclimate, serve as a water storage facility for irrigation and can potentially function as water gardens or be used for aquaculture (fish, crayfish, ducks, etc.).

The project area in La Penne, France. The aim is to revitalize and recultivate the La Plume estate.

The substrate is examined and evaluated through trial pits and soil samples.

Analysis and depiction of the water catchment area as well as secondary catchment areas. The arrows indicate the direction of flow of surface water. Sealed surfaces (public streets, roofs, parking sites, etc.) are taken into consideration too.

In cooperation with the client, HPS developed a master plan for the entire project area. This plan comprises the definition of pathway networks, water retention/ponds and the different land uses.

Construction and compaction of a dam crest constructed from material at the site.
Josef Holzer tests the compressive strength and load bearing capacity of the dam crest (dynamic plate loading test).

Josef Holzer uses a light drop-weight device to test the compressive strength and load-bearing capacity of the dam crest (dynamic plate load test).

An excavator installs pipes that conduct the water from one pond to the next. The ponds begin to fill up during the construction work.

The ponds shortly before completion. The humus layer, which had been separated at the beginning of the earthworks, is being reapplied (visible in the background).

Project area in December 2020 after a seven-week construction period.
All the ponds and pathways fit organically into the landscape. The topsoil is respread and the area resown.

This detailed land use concept is based on the practical needs of the future training and seminar hotel





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