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My garden in the city: urban gardening is the latest trend!

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The urban gardening trend has been spreading through German cities for several years. There are roof gardens, plant beds for hire and also different intercultural projects. You can even join in with many urban city gardens. I’ve been out and about in Germany and taking a look at the latest ideas.

by Sinah Vonderweiden

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Urban gardening is about creating beds and gardens in the city. Urban areas are mainly houses and concrete paths. There have always been gardens in cities, such as public parks. Modern, urban gardens have many different names and take different forms. The most common are community gardens, roof gardens and intercultural gardens. The first urban community garden was probably in Göttingen in the mid-90s.
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One of the first German intercultural gardens established was the Verein Internationale Gärten e.V.. This means that this garden project is a meeting place for people with different cultural backgrounds. Because gardening together is a whole load of fun. As the subject of urban gardens is so fascinating, the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin has even established a Professorship for Urban Ecophysiology. This explores how plants and animals grow in the city.
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The start of the 21st century has seen urban gardening becoming a popular hobby in major Western cities. The aim is to live more ecologically and to make the city a better place. This means you can even grow your own vegetables in the city today, or simply beautiful flowers. The trend is about not losing the relationship to nature in the city and working together in the garden. The Urban Gardening-movement is a project particularly popular with young people from the city. The group aligns its projects to traditional values. Because being in a community, making something yourself and being in touch with nature are actually very basic human needs.

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People who live in the city and have no garden or balcony, simply create a small green area on a roof or as a raised bed in the rear courtyard. In every city, some areas are provided by different project groups. They hire out beds, have laid out a garden on a roof or are out and about in the city with “mobile gardens”. HELGA, the community garden in Cologne, for example, consists of several plant boxes that can be simply placed somewhere else, should there be no more space for the project.

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How to find the right urban gardening project in Germany: many university cities have urban gardening projects. Just look on the Internet for a group in your city. For example Berlin has created an agricultural meeting place in the district of Kreuzberg, called Prinzessinnengarten. A new project that has just started in Stuttgart is the Inselgrün am Zollamt near the Cannstatter Wasen. There are other projects in Hamburg , the “Gartendeck“ in St. Pauli and the "Keimzelle" in the Karoviertel district. The Keimzelle a small social garden. You can go here to garden, relax and unwind or meet friends.

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I met up with Manasa, a student from India, on the Gartendeck in Hamburg. Manasa is 23 years old and is studying environmental sciences with a focus on sustainability at the technical university of Hamburg. She’s very familiar with the topic of urban gardening and sees in this ecological trend the chance for a better future for all people living in large cities. She also helped with her parents’ roof garden in India at a very early age.

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Hello Manasa!

When did you come to Germany and why did you choose to study in Hamburg?
I’ve been living in Hamburg for a year and am studying in the Erasmus Mundus Master's programme. As part of my studies, I had the opportunity to choose between four different countries and Germany was one of them. I immediately liked the courses on offer here. So, I decided to come to Germany.

What was your first experience with nature in Germany?
Since being in Germany, I’ve constantly noticed that there is a booming development in terms of nature and gardening. I also like the approach of regarding plants as part of the community and not as individuals. Germany is a beautiful country, so I also like the natural countryside here, particularly the diverse and unique flora and fauna. The public parks and botanical gardens are my favourite places in the city.




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Have you noticed any special features when gardening in Germany?
Personally, I believe that German garden lovers are always trying to be more environmentally friendly. I’ve seen people collecting rainwater in barrels to water the plants and putting kitchen scraps into the compost. Garden rubbish is quite often separated and composted.

What strikes you most about the current urban gardening trend?
Previously, when we thought about gardening and agriculture, we visualised pretty pictures of the countryside or fields of flowers. The times have definitely changed as has our thinking. Ideas are being exchanged in many large cities in the US, India and Europe today and a lot of discussions are going on about green roofs and roof garden concepts. This is because plants and trees have the potential to absorb carbon gases in the atmosphere, setting up a roof garden helps to improve the overall quality of live in the city.

There are, of course, other types of urban gardening, such as green walls or vertical gardens that cover the grey walls of the city with beautiful plants. And there are also greenhouses on roofs that can be placed on industrial buildings. In any case, I think this trend is really important.



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What do you think: Why should cities be made greener today?
As the world population is growing every year, soon more than half the population will be living in large towns and cities. If you then consider that more and more people need water and electricity and the amount of waste, transport, air pollution will also increase... All this has a negative effect on the environment, the economy and human health.
Parks and gardens offer city residents the chance to relax, to breathe. Not only are they experiencing nature there, they are also improving their physical and mental health. So, we must try to make cities more livable and blossoming. I think it is high time that people turn towards nature more in their urban activities.

Have you ever joined in with an urban garden?
Yes, I worked with an urban garden project early on. This was a roof garden project that my parents started. Ever since I was little, my mother and father have been passionate about their urban roof garden. When my sister and I were small, my mother often used to take us with her. We watched how she created the different beds and bought huge terracotta pots to plant up. She also re-used old plastic bottles and bowls, decorating them and turning them into pretty pots for planting up. I’m glad that she taught me the importance of working in the garden during my childhood and I’m very happy that my family have already made a contribution to the urban gardening trend.


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Is there also a trend in India for urban gardening, to make the cities more attractive?
Yes, of course. The urban gardening trend is becoming more and more popular in India. Previously, it was more of a hobby and used for decorative purposes. Nowadays, people not only garden for fun but because they can also increasingly grow their own vegetables. Not just in my town but also in the big cities, people are often networked in roof gardens.

We met a network just like this on the top level of the former car park of Gartendeck St. Pauli. It’s become a really colourful mix of plants now and there’s more than just gardening going on – some of the members regularly meet up and together they plan what to do next.
And while Manasa and I make use of a short, sunny moment to take her portrait photo, the urban gardening fans next to us are already figuring out how to plant the beds in spring. By the way, the orange-coloured raised beds are named after cities from around the world, which makes it easier to find your way around. As well as apple trees, strawberries and beautiful flowers, a few types of vegetables and herbs also grow here. At the finish of the season, they like to make use of these to cook up something tasty for all the urban gardening experts. But first, we enjoy a spot of sunbathing on the home-made garden furniture.


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