plants in the city

B(l)ooming cities

Rooted in New York, the green trend is Urban Gardening. Today, millions of people worldwide plant flowers, fruit and vegetables in public spaces.

Green fingered city dwellers planting fruit and vegetables in community gardens – once a marginal phenomenon, now a global mega trend: “Urban gardening”. How did it come about and where is it going?

The first city gardens were in New York. In the 1970s the Lower Eastside to the South of Manhattan was an area with many run down houses. This inspired artist Liz Christy and her friends: They rolled up their sleeves, cleared a green area and replanted it. Initially the trees, flowers and beds were illegal. In 1974 the city sanctioned this utilisation as “Bouwery Houston Community 
Farm and Garden” for a symbolic rent of one dollar a month. It is still possible to visit the garden today. Liz Christy took her idea further – with small plant bombs, clumps of soil filled with flower seeds, which she threw over fences and onto public green spaces as a so-called Guerilla gardener. Meanwhile there are more than 500 “Community Gardens”, commonly used spaces, in New York – thanks to the City’s Green Thumb programme. This is the largest sponsored project for voluntary city gardeners in the USA.

In workshops the gardeners pass on their knowledge: The offer ranges from keeping chicken to pickling. The programme is bearing fruit: The green spaces create recreation areas, clean the city air, ensure plant variety and promote the exchange between and well-being of those involved.

Urban Gardening

In the past, green areas in cities were mainly found in parks and on lawns, in private gardens or in allotments. Today, there are flowers at the roadside, plant-covered house fronts and raised beds on industrial brownfield sites. More and more private initiatives and neighbourhood projects plant together; often hundreds of gardeners come together.
Certified engineer and city planner Ella von der Haide researches topics, such as urban gardens, community gardens and city nutrition, at Kassel university. “Many people view urban gardens as an opportunity to engage more with public spaces and contribute to shaping them.” In recent years von der Haide has shot many films ( about people and projects related to city gardening – in Buenos Aires, Cape Town or Berlin.

One of the best known urban gardening areas in Germany are the Princess Gardens in Berlin/Kreuzberg. Garden patches continue one after the other at Moritzplatz. They are exclusively cultivated crops, local and ecological, some 500 varieties in total. In 2009 the film maker Robert Shaw and historian Marco Claus started to create a flowering oasis for everyone. Potatoes, garlic, carrots and pumpkins grow in plastic baskets, bags and old bath tubs. More than a hundred volunteers work in the mobile neighbourhood garden with associated café, in the restaurant and in the neighbourhood academy. Yet, the Princess Gardens are not a social project but a business idea intended for everybody’s benefit. The charitable organisation “Nomadisch Gruen” pays more than 2000 euros in rent to the City of Berlin, a sum which must first be earned. “Country living was never our concern,” says Shaw in the documentary film “Eine andere Welt is pflanzbar“ (We can plant a different world), “we are driven by city aspirations.”

And what will public green spaces look like in 50 years? “This depends largely on how society, the economy and the climate develop,” thinks expert Ella von der Haide. “Given the already known parameters, different scenarios are possible. If ecological ideas prevail, city green spaces will be utilised even more intensively and versatile. Already in ten years, I think there will definitely be more cultivated crops such as fruit, nut trees or berry bushes and urban gardening projects than today. This is demonstrated by trendsetters, such as Paris, Toronto and New York.”

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The Gruenanteil network brings people together who want to experience and shape nature in the city:

How do carrots, tomatoes and co. actually grow?

With the school gardening project “Planting vegetables. Harvesting health”, the BayWa Foundation supports the nutritional education of primary school children in Germany. Pupils and their teachers together with team members of the BayWa Foundation prepare beds with various vegetable types, cultivate the plants throughout the year and make healthy lunch break snacks and meals from the fresh harvest. The BayWa Foundation along with garden and nutrition educators supports the schools and generates enthusiasm in the children for carrots and co. Since 2013, primary schools can apply for participation in this project. So far pupils at around 120 schools have designed their own school gardens. The project is accompanied by the book “the nutrition compass“. It supports teaching nutritional knowledge primary school kids.