I do not know if you’ve ever wondered about allotment gardens, but I always had mixed feelings about them. First of all, they evoke wonderful memories from my childhood. This is an image of my family, well-tended beds, juicy tomatoes and beautiful flowers. But when we think about allotment now, I get the picture of closed, usually older people who are not very open for strangers to visit the garden. At least this is the stereotype about plots in Poland where I grew up and Germany where I live now. The closure of the gardens for community and attractive location has been one of the reason of their progressive liquidation. For the cities and for the increasingly popular movement of urban gardening this is a great loss.
I would like the allotment gardens to be a place of social life, not closed enclaves of greens, at which we can just peek from behind a fence. They should be places of multigenerational exchange of knowledge where young urban gardeners can learn how to grow food from older and experience gardeners. Two years ago I began spending more time in one of the allotment garden in Warsaw. I got to know a few wonderful older gardeners and it turned out that they are very open to sharing their memories and knowledge.
Then I came up with the idea that it would be great to make this allotment garden more open for local community and create opportunities for meetings. I started to invite more friends to the allotment and meet with the gardeners. We talked about gardening, further ideas and the situation with developers who want to buy this land. So in autumn I got a small funding support from a local NGO and we initiated the “Warsaw Gardeners” project in Family Allotment Gardens “Peace Defenders” (“Obrońców Pokoju”) in the Mokotów district of Warsaw.
We started from small activities inside the allotment garden such as interviews, pictures and recordings. On this basis, we have created a kind of garden guidebook. Apart from practical information about gardening, huts architecture, bird feed or composting, gardeners were sharing the history of the gardens with us and personal stories such as how they became gardeners and how they built their garden. We were guests of many plots. In a few months of our “being in the garden" we exchanged knowledge and skills with them and finally we could feel a little bit at home there.
Often we caught amazing stories from the gardeners! For example, one landowner brought his hut in the 1960s from the Tuchola Forest (north of Poland) where it was a simply summer house but during the war it was a German military barrack. This hut is still standing on the "Defenders of Peace" and it's still great. Someone was hiding in the garden during the war as child. On each plot we found another story.
In the meantime, we started organizing open meetings and workshops in the garden for the local community and gardeners. For several months of the project we organized among others a few open walks with sound recordings, a conference about urban gardening, plant exchanges as well as talks and workshops led by gardeners. The project has created the opportunity to enter the closed world of allotment with their residents, brought the idea of urban gardening and sustainability as well as the history of the oldest garden in Warsaw, the phenomenon of allotment architecture and metalwork.
First of all we have created a multigenerational chance that young gardeners and people interested in allotment gardens could meet and talk with experienced gardeners. It is important nowadays to create the opportunity to meet people of many generations, because we live further and further apart, sometimes without knowing the names of our neighbours.
I would like the allotment gardens to be a place of social life. In order of plots to survive they have to change a bit and open up for new inhabitants. On the other hand, local community should also see the potential of those green areas and use them for social actions in a sense of responsibility for their place. Family Allotment Gardens in Mokotów are pretty attractive area in the city center and unfortunately there is some risk of liquidation.