The urban and community gardening traditions in Europe go by many names… In the UK and Ireland they’re allotment gardens, the Czechs call them zahrádkářské kolonie, it’s schrebergärten in the German speaking world, in France they’re known as jardins-familiaux while the Italians call them orti urbani, while in Spanish it’s hort comunitari. The traditions of these gardens are just as varied as their names.
Though practices vary from country-to-country, city-to-city, and even garden-to-garden, there are similarities. For example, these gardens are often found in the margins of cities, where a group of people have come together and pooled resources to cultivate the land. The land is normally not owned by the gardeners themselves, but leased at a discounted rate by municipalities or utility companies (such as those in the margins next to railroad tracks), which make these spaces affordable to social classes. In other instances, the gardeners are squatters on unused or undevelopable parcels of land.
The gardens are popular among retirees, where many grow heirloom varieties of produce that they remember from childhood, but which are difficult to find in chain grocery stores. Local flower and fruit tree varieties mix with seeds from more widely cultivated and homogenized plants. In other gardens the idea of recreation is more important than production; gardeners have built small cottages, some simple and others with elaborate architecture flourish, to visit on the weekends, spending more time sipping coffee, tea, wine, or beer as they spend gardening.
Often, the popularity of these gardening cultures have been punctuated by geopolitical trends. For example, gardens became quite popular in many regions during the communist era. During this period the gardens offered urban residents an opportunity to escape from the vast concrete housing projects. The little garden plots offered relatively free reign over a small piece of land and often also provided a substantial supplement of fresh produce, a scarce commodity during communism. Today, the gardens are also becoming more popular amongst environmentalists and the younger generations of Europeans and movements such as “Slow Food” which is a response to mass-produced farming and fast food.
These gardens are places to experiment with balancing traditional and produce with environmental concerns relating to overpopulation and consumption. Where urban and rural come together in unusual but beautiful ways.