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Wonderful: this view of a brightly-coloured, lush garden, in its center a captivating pink tea rose tree. The rosa indica fragrans arrived in Sweden from China as early as 1752, then made its way to England in 1759 and from there to central Europe. In Europe the new rose proved to be insufficiently hardy, therefore the first imports were soon forgotten. Only at the beginning of the 19th century did new tea roses arrive in England and gardeners learnt how to treat the delicate exotic plants without which, nowadays, we can hardly imagine our domestic gardens. There are several explanations of how the tea rose got its name: It is said to have been planted predominantly in tea gardens in China, its flowers are said to smell of tea, or even, that the rose trees were transported and imported[1] from Canton in China to Europe in tea crates by tea merchants.

The photographs from the series ‘Wonderful World’ by Ruediger Glatz have as much narrative as these stories. The English title has a mysterious, ambiguous ring to it, the recipient is not quite sure what to expect. The images are extremely idyllic, their colourfulness resplendent, and they provide us with a unique insight into the details of an almost enchanted, untouched world. Where has the photographer found it? In which fairytale has he been wandering around with his camera? Be it the iron garden gate which is given a key role by the rich green, prolific background of leaves, the central structure of the picture and the image section – one only notices the barbed wire woven around the gate on closer inspection, but they are not really important.

Hang on: could this actually be “[…] the final bastion of the German petty bourgeois, the allotment colony […]”1?

The point of departure for the evolutionary history of the entire garden/allotment garden movement is the so-called industrial revolution, which took place from the late 18th century onwards and, increasingly, in the 19th century, initially in England and then in all of Europe, and the fundamental and lasting reshaping of the economic and social circumstances it engendered. Against this background the different kinds of gardens in the respective European countries are interesting and of historico-cultural importance. Researchers agree that, fundamentally, the allotment gardener movement is motivated by two things: The first is the quest to improve one’s diet and the longing for the lost rural life, for work and recreation in the open air. The second results from the consequences of urbanization, the new living conditions in the city, the housing conditions and intra-urban architecture with its frequently devastating impact on people’s health as well as on the upbringing of children and adolescents.

In the German-speaking world it is Landgrave Charles of Hesse who, as royal governor of the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein, gave permission to create building plots and land to be used for gardening for poor citizens of the town of Kappeln as early as 1797/98. The Landgrave is therefore rightly considered the father of the “gardens of the poor''. Thus the first German association of allotment gardeners was created in 1814 in Kappeln an der Schlei/Schleswig-Holstein, where 24 allotments were leased and the terms of lease were laid down in so-called “conditions”'. A law issued by the English government in 1819 which allowed the authorities to take out a lease on some land and to install unemployed persons as subletters, must have surely strengthened Charles of Hesse’s views, intentions and activities.2 In the 19th century gardens of the poor were not just found in the towns of Schleswig Holstein, but also, among others, in Berlin, Dresden, Szczecin, Worms and Königsberg.

Half a century after the foundation of the first German association of allotment gardeners in Kappeln an der Schlei the “Schreber Movement” was born in Leipzig, which by many allotment gardeners and garden enthusiasts is considered the true origin of allotment gardening. This fallacy can be explained, amongst other things, by the fact that the expression “Schrebergarten” (Schreber garden) has become synonymous with allotment in Germany and beyond. It owes its name to Dr Daniel Gottlob Moritz Schreber (1808-1861) who, in the erection of playgrounds “where children can move about in the open air under supervision”3, saw the potential for a varied and healthy education of young people.

In Germany allotments are very popular and this popularity is irrespective of social strata and age; people grow things and the garden is used as a place for the entire family to relax. The allotment is a form of community with set rules, with rights and obligations.

In the records of the Swiss Federal Statistical Office the description of a Schreber garden reads as follows: “Plots of individually, not commercially, used areas under cultivation, grouped to form larger units, with a recreational function and featuring immovable installations like garden and tool sheds, a barbeque area or outside furniture. This also includes driveways, foot paths, squares and vegetation (trees, hedges, shrubs) within the area.”

Even though the characteristics of allotment sites resemble one another: their appearance is an ideal way of illustrating the idiosyncrasies of the individual nations: whereas the gardens of the Germans are more likely to be characterized by order and neatness and are clearly meant to be representative, the use of the Swiss allotments is clearly a multicultural affair and they are intended more as fruit and vegetable gardens by the individual segments of society where especially the choice of garden furniture is by no means as important as it is in Germany. In England the situation is similar: The British King  is a passionate gardening enthusiast who, for as long as anyone can remember, has been advising people to become self-sufficient – an important subject for the allotment gardeners faced with the rising cost of living. There are also some interesting alternative garden concepts in Britain, namely “landshare”: People owning land but without any gardening aspirations let other people cultivate their green areas.

Text by Dr. Adelheid Komenda, June 2010

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