What is an allotment garden, what is the function and how do they look like? Here is a brief introduction to this phenomenon. Four videos from allotment gardens in Stavanger, Norway are included in this article.
An allotment garden is a piece of land made available for individual gardening by a private landlord or local authority. The garden is divided into a number of plots, often called parcels, and distributed (sold) to members of the garden. These members contribute to the garden as a whole but manage their plots individually.
Some would date allotment gardening back to the Roman Age, but the modern system developed late in the 19th century and spread rapidly throughout Central and Northern Europe in the first decades of the 20th century.
According to the Norwegian Association of Allotment Gardens (NKHF) there are around three million organised allotment gardens in Europe. The largest numbers are found in Germany and Poland, but also Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden have substantial numbers. There are around 2,000 allotments in 44 gardens in Norway with the majority in Oslo (1,600). By comparison Denmark has 61,000.
In times of trouble (e.g. wars) the primary focus has been to use allotment gardens as a means to secure food supply. Nowadays allotment gardens are more being viewed upon as areas of recreation and social gathering.
Allotment garden plot and cabin, Våland, Stavanger
This is how the local municipality of Stavanger, Norway views it (my translation, original is found here): “The allotment gardens were built almost a century ago to give people in the rapidly growing industrial city a break in life and the opportunity to grow their own food. Some cabins from that time are still standing, and many allotments are beautifully developed by generations fond of gardening. (..) The four historic allotment gardens we have are well worth taking care of both as a cultural heritage and as vibrant gardens.”
The city of Stavanger appreciates its allotment gardens. In the most recent municipal plan for the future of sports, physical activity and recreation they offer this view (my translation): “The allotment gardens serve as excellent recreational facilities for those who have access to them, and the practice in recent years of open gardens has contributed to making them valuable open spaces for the neighbourhood.”
According to Wikipedia (Norwegian version) the first Norwegian allotment garden opened in 1907 in Oslo. (As far as I know a garden in Halden opened nine years earlier.) The ones in Stavanger were set up in 1916-17. In the beginning the users were only allowed to use the plot to grow food. Later they were permitted to put up sheds for their tools and as the years went by cabins were allowed. Norway has allotment gardens in the cities of Oslo, Stavanger, Trondheim, Drammen, Skien, Sandefjord, Tønsberg and Haugesund.
At least in Stavanger there have been reported cases of plot owners living in their cabins throughout the year, in violation of the rules to only stay there in the summer season. Some have also installed toilets and secured a water supply inside their cabins. On the other hand we find several plots in Stavanger with only a tool shed, or simply nothing at all. (We sometimes make a distinction between a “parcel plot” with a shed on as opposed to the “allotment garden” with a cabin on.)
Eiganes allotment garden, Stavanger
Allotment gardens organised in the Norwegian association have some common rules. One of them is a maximum price for a plot and the use of the garden board as a mediator in the transaction. There are often long waiting lists. Oslo reports of 10-20 years. The typical size of a parcel is 250 square metres and a cabin may not exceed 28 square metres.
Allotment gardening as a sociological case study
I am not at allotment gardener myself, but I do enjoy visiting the gardens in Stavanger where I live. They form some very peculiar miniatures of society at large. Miniature houses and miniature gardens is the background for everyday conflicts arising from a number of causes. Some conflicts stem from ideological points of view (e.g if the garden is for relaxation or production) and some not.
A master thesis by Grete Storholm (“Allotment Gardens – A Different Society”; in Norwegian only) discusses several aspects of allotment gardening, including social relations in the gardens.
The future of allotment gardening
The Russian type of allotment gardens, the Dachas, has undergone many changes over the centuries, under differing political systems. They make up a significant part of life in Russia. I witnessed a lot of them from the train window on my Trans-Siberian journey in 2011. Read about it here and watch my video as well.
In the UK, The National Allotment Society estimates that there are around 330,000 allotments. That is a substantial reduction from the 1.5 million during WW2.
This shows that national and global changes have influenced the system of and size of allotment gardening as a phenomenon.
It may well be that the ever growing urbanisation process we are witnessing, combined with an effort to grow slow food, ecological food and to take climate considerations will result in a strengthened position for the allotment garden movement in many countries.
In Norway we have also seen tendency in recent years that sites near the seashore or in other areas protected by national laws prohibiting constructions are sought labelled allotment gardens to push forward a development that might not otherwise have been possible. It may be that there is a migration from caravan camps as the prices of regular cottages are too high. This possible development may not be consistent with the great tradition we know from allotment gardening: the tending of gardens in terms of growing food and flowers. Allotment gardens in or near the coastal zone can therefore be a threat to the basic idea of the allotment system, and not just an erosion of the right of the citizens to have access to the seashore.
Videos from Stavanger
The four allotment gardens in Stavanger are Rosendal and Ramsvik (110 plots), Strømvik (44), Våland (117) and Eiganes (174).
You may watch these videos individually, or open this playlist in YouTube to see them in sequence. Please recline in your armchair and relax for 30 minutes!
This article you have just read has been referred to by the City Farmer. For my part I would like to refer to an article in Norwegian about Stavanger’s allotment gardens.