“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need” Marcus Tullius Cicero was sure.
A simple wisdom thousands of Viennese window sill gardeners and balcony growers already seem to have realized.
Everybody does it
Nearly every grocery store in Vienna has herbs, organic seeds and fertilizers right next to the conventional vegetables aisle. Where do these myriads of tomato, rosemary or basil plants go to? There must be a micro garden in every other flat, a plantation in every neighbourhood.
And even among managers and top executives, the it-gadget of the year for a fancy rooftop terrace is not a manly gas outdoor grill, but, you guessed it, raised beds for one`s own produce.
And what is it indeed that makes growing edibles so satisfying? What makes urban gardening aficionados carry home plants, herbs, soils, pots and what not?
Getting one`s hands dirty, seeing directly the effects of one`s own work may be dominant motives for most gardeners. For some it is also being outdoors and having a community to share common interests with.
Throughout Europe the number of community gardens grows and with it publicly funded spaces and programmes to plant and harvest collectively. This means, there are more and more people in urban settings who make their own flower and herb beds, their own produce, find joy by plowing through dirt with their bare hands.
Community gardens transform cities, give back life and green to stone and concrete deserts. They build stronger communities and reward their members not only with fresh produce but also with psychological benefits: gardeners are more balanced and content, they learn patience and the value of their own work.
Roots in London
One of the first urban community gardens was the Spitalfields City Farm that provides space and guidance to inhabitants of a socially disadvantaged corner of London since 1978. But it is not only immigrant women who find community and acknowledgement of their knowhow there, everybody is invited by the City Farm to “Grow with us” in cooking courses and planting programmes.
Lately there are more and more collective urban gardens. The British are not the only ones who have a green thumb. In Amsterdam, for example, concept artist Natascha Hagenbeck has started the initiative “I can change the world with my two hands” where residents contribute and harvest next to a community playground.
In another part of the city, gardeners have even announced the Free State of Swomp, a place where carrots and political claims for communal grounds grow.
In Berlin, it is the Prinzessinnengärten, where people get their hands dirty and their city green. It started 2009 as a mobile garden in big packs and bakery crates and is now a cultural and culinary meeting point for everybody in the middle of Kreuzberg.
Now what has Vienna to offer in terms of community and urban gardening?
First of all there is the occupied gardening space that Viennese guerilla gardeners cultivate for about 4 years now around the Längenfeldgarten as part of the group`s work for urban green spaces and community involvement.
Publicly supported community gardens are City Farm Schönbrunn that mainly aims to educate about environmental issues, community, health and sustainability and the mother of communal gardens in Vienna, the Citizens´Garden at Augarten. It was started around 2010 in cooperation with the Filmarchiv Austria and still is a gardening platform, but also cultural hotspot (open air cinema) and a plant swapping network.
Also, food coops (covered last month on the blog here) have started their own community gardens around Vienna, such as Grünstern LoBauerInnen, an initiative that has formed around the need for sustainable and organic produce.
Make the city green
If you feel now the urge to make your corner of the city a better place but don`t have space or a place to get green, you should check out the support the Gebietsbetreuung Wien offers to aspiring gardeners. There are programmes to support gardening on the pavement in tree pits (perfect if you want to start small and on your own), but also to establish neighbourhood gardens and gardens in patios of normal apartment buildings.
So, if you`re digging it, better get your spade out!