Urban Gardening

Tomatoes for everyone

Hobby gardeners are growing flowers and vegetables in neighborhood and community gardens

Releaxing above Berlin on top of Neuköllner Arkaden.

A colorful biotope grows with the sounds of traffic all around. Tomato vines climb their lattices, lemon balm overflows the beds, and pumpkins the size of basketballs lie stacked on the ground. In the middle of the city it smells of mint and snapdragon. Hobby gardeners are growing flowers and vegetables in neighborhood and community gardens. Not only that – guerrilla gardening actions are also taking place on public spaces such as roadsides.

For more than sixty years there was essentially nothing in this part of the border between Kreuzberg and Mitte. A department store stood here in the 1920s, but after the Second World War it was just a bombed-out expanse. Then in 2009, life emerged on Moritzplatz. A few people decided to start a mobile garden on this deserted piece of urban land. When founders Robert Shaw and Marco Clausen started planting what would become a thriving garden in the middle of Berlin, they had little experience with plants. A documentary filmmaker and a historian, Shaw and Clausen did, however, have an image of urban gardening from Havana and New York. They bought a set of construction bricks and hoped that others would join them. That is exactly what happened. Shared offices and design shops were moving in nearby, and a concrete wasteland became the best-known urban gardening project in the country – the Prinzessinnengärten (“Princess Gardens”).

A new side of urban life

The 6,000 square meters of Moritzplatz have witnessed “the appearance of paradise on an ugly vacant lot,” wrote the Die Zeit weekly. The garden and restaurant now have twelve full-time employees, along with hundreds of volunteers. Anyone who wishes can join in and sow, water, and harvest. All kinds of exotic plants are growing out of more than 800 crates and 300 sacks. Physical labor is needed, but above all an exchange of knowledge. The people behind the Prinzessinnengärten view it as an educational facility. Joint projects with schools and childcare centers help children learn that carrots don’t grow in supermarkets and enable adults to learn something about organic farming, biodiversity, and sustainable urban development. In recent years forty more small vegetable gardens have been started for childcare centers, schools, and other institutions. These projects also tend to be accompanied by workshops.

A little roof garden - a beautiful place to relax

Oases in big cities

Germany now has more than twenty projects like the Prinzessinnengärten. In Leipzig, Nuremberg, Hamburg, Cologne, Munich, Ludwigshafen, and Wuppertal, people are gardening between high-rise buildings where there is hardly any sunlight. Together with hundreds of neighbors and other interested parties, they are creating colorful gardens with a wide range of crops on abandoned lots. Gardening in the city means working with soil that is largely contaminated. That in turn means the rise of mobile vegetable beds. The amateur gardeners are therefore learning how to grow plants in all kinds of containers. In Berlin, garden activists and their raised beds abound. Residents of the Schiller neighborhood have been taking over space on the former Tempelhof airfield. In Mauerpark and on Mehringdamm, students, seniors, and other garden activists are working side by side. There are no private beds in these communal gardens. Everyone helps to grow and care for the garden as a whole. The focus is not only on the parsley and the peas, but also on the community.

Gärtnern macht Stadtmenschen glücklich

Farewell to garden gnomes, beer bellies, and oppressive regulations

Garden plot? How narrow-minded. Until recently urban planners were still looking down on these mini-urban farming projects. Growing lettuce and cabbage on the smallest of surfaces while your grandkids build sand castles a few meters away? Gone are the days when discussions about the correct length of grass were considered an expression of uptight conventionality. Sowing and harvesting in the middle of the city is not just in fashion; it’s far more a cultural phenomenon and a boost to the quality of life amidst the streets and tall buildings. Moritzplatz welcomes 60,000 people a year who wish to see this “model biotope and sociotope,” as the Tagesspiegel daily newspaper described it.

Ever heard of tree spinach?

A typical weekend in Berlin includes a visit to a flea market. The city offers a wide range of choices here too of course: Mauerpark? Boxhagener Platz? But we were just there last weekend. A good alternative is to have a coffee at one of the urban gardens, which are always worth a visit. You’ll learn a lot there, also about the different parts of plants. You can put the green leaves of red beet plants on pizza, for example. Or the tips of fennel plants in a salad. And if you have time, you can also pick a few radishes and tomatoes.
Wherever there are gardens, beekeepers will not be far away. Anyone wishing to become an urban beekeeper will be pleased with this “garden generation.”


More projects in Berlin
- the Prinzessinnengärten on Moritzplatz
- planting fruit trees in  Görlitzer Park
- intercultural organic gardens in  Kreuzberg and Neukölln
- amateur farmers’ garden in Spandau
- children’s garden in Neukölln
- wildflower meadow in Kreuzberg
- the “Himmelbeet” garden in Wedding

Fotos: Pablo Castagnola, Shutterstock, F1 online

Read more In their book entitled Prinzessinnengärten: Anders gärtnern in der Stadt, the founders of the Prinzessinnengärten describe their mobile vegetable beds, local production, crop diversity, recycled materials, and construction work, but also a sense of community. They present individual projects such as the potato field, urban bees, and theater gardens, and offer tips on plants and planting as well as recipes from their garden kitchen.



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