Gardening links people around the globe. We all care for our little part of Earth with the same sincerity, we all wait impatiently for the first strawberry of the year, we all curse the slugs with the same exasperation.
But connecting with gardeners from around the world on Twitter showed me, we can also learn a lot from gardeners in other regions. So I hope I can give you a glimpse into my approach to nature and some of the ways gardening, especially allotment gardening, might differ from what you are used to.
Despite growing up in the Ruhr region, Germany’s largest urban agglomeration, I have always been drawn to nature and was lucky to have friends and family members that kept that enthusiasm alive. What got me to start gardening myself were the books by John Seymour, which gave me a taste of the (probably quite romanticized) life on a homestead.
I took every opportunity to learn and forage. I seed-bombed some neglected public land with pollinator-friendly plants. I used some of my holidays to help on organic farms in Ireland via WWOOF and started a container garden on my balcony. Soon I outgrew the space with my pots, mini-pond, worm composting bin, and quail cage, so when I finally found an organic allotment association, I immediately applied for a plot.
The German “Schrebergarten” allotment system is a lot more regulated and organized than other countries. It was implemented during the industrialization to combat malnutrition for the growing population in the cities but also to provide public recreation areas.
The official patronage means German allotment gardeners have to comply with a host of rules about how much of your plot has to be used for what purpose, how big your shed can be, and even how high your hedge is allowed to be. But it also protects the allotment associations from urban development, real estate speculation and exorbitant tenure fees.
The jump from a balcony to a plot of about 300 m², even if only a third is meant for vegetable gardening, was a challenge. In the first year I tried to do everything and accomplished little, but then I stumbled upon permaculture. Stumbled upon and dove in head first.
I buried myself in textbooks, took a permaculture design course and became a certified permaculture designer in 2015. The course taught me a lot and helped me to plan ahead. It also reaffirmed my beliefs that we have to work with nature and led me to utilize companion planting, no-dig gardening, and mulching on my plot.
I still never have enough time for the allotment but this past year it finally felt like I found my footing and had my first decent harvest – and without any kind of pesticide or chemical fertiliser. Is there anything healthier or more rewarding than enjoying a meal made with vegetables from your own plot, fruit from your own front yard, and eggs from your own poultry?
Now I am in the process of turning my enthusiasm for gardening, foraging, and a certain measure of self-sufficiency in urban and suburban settings into something that can infect others, inspire others, and empower them to do the same.
If you have questions about the German allotment system or any of my projects, feel free to contact me on Twitter.
Guest Author: Damaris Reinke is a permaculture designer and gardening consultant in her local allotment association. She is part of the team that runs the German board selbstvers.org for self-sufficiency, gardening, homesteading, and low-tech solutions. You can also follow her on Twitter.