Urban development Community Gardens in Berlin and Dublin

Garden Workshop
Garden Workshop | Photo: Robert Moss

Community gardens are a recent form of urban growing project. They are made by and for members of their local community. They are sustainable because they manage their own resources and maintenance, and they are also very inclusive because they can involve anyone who wants to join in. In Dublin we have seen an increase from three community gardens back in 2005 to at least 46 by October 2013. In Berlin gardeners have a choice of about 80 community gardens. Here are some examples from Dublin and Berlin.

Good use of unused space

The Serenity Community Garden in North Dublin was initiated because this previously unused green space was neglected. “The land needed to be gardened and cared for. This combined with the fact that few of the local residents had their own garden made the creation of Serenity Community Garden an obvious project for many residents”, explains Chairperson Marion Kelly. The garden has been supported by Dublin City Council, the Community Foundation for Ireland and An Taisce Green Communities Programme.

From derelict site to community garden

Within South Central Dublin, one of the city’s first community gardens was set up in April 2005 on squatted land along the banks of the Grand Canal in Dolphins Barn. The industrial estate that owns this site evicted the gardeners after a year of hard work. That land remains undeveloped to this day. The Dolphins Barn Community Garden finally received the support that it deserved in 2007 when an agreement was reached to convert another derelict site into a new community garden for both recreational and educational gardening activities: South Circular Road Community Garden. There is financial assistance through membership of support programmes and networks. The Green Communities Programme provides ongoing horticultural and environmental management training. This programme also extends third party public liability insurance to member gardens.

Gardening on School Land

Elsewhere in Dublin there are also community gardens sited within the grounds of schools such as Saint Audoens Community Garden. The aims of the garden are to give the children, and their parents, as well as the local community, an opportunity to experience planting and harvesting from raised bed gardens and recycled containers. Garden volunteer Tony Lowth points out that” a large part of the garden's funding is acquired by the collection and sale of aluminium cans, as well as the resale of homemade compost”.

Multicultural organic gardening

The first garden that I visit in Berlin is the Bunte Beete Community Garden in Kreuzberg, Central Berlin. Oliver Ginsberg, one of the founders explains: “Kreuzberg had been a very poor part of the city from 1945 until only about 5 years ago. Over 50 per cent of its population are immigrants. A primary objective of this garden is to allow a positive exchange between people from different national and cultural backgrounds, focussing on the common interest which is organic gardening.” Bunte Beete Community Garden is fortunate to have access to a 1200 metre squared site within the grounds of a local school. The free use of this site also comes with the use of a pre-existing ground water well. However, there are costs incurred. These include the €150 annual insurance for the garden, and Berlin also has rates for water extraction, currently at €2 per cubic metre. In order to acquire both insurance and the contract from the school for using the site, this community gardening group had to become a registered voluntary association, Eingetragener Verein (e. V.) in German, back in 2008.

Berlin’s first intercultural garden

My next destination is the Wuhlegarten, a large and sprawling community garden with many installations and amenities including a much appreciated toilet. “In 2003, this was the first Interkultureller Garten in Berlin”, explains Brigitte Kanacher-Ataya who welcomes me with an open fire and a hot soup. Created on an area of 5000 square metres, 40 people from different cultures now grow fruit and vegetables together. The municipal authority owns the land and the Wuhlegarten leases it for about €100 per year. Insurance is €800 annually, and the lease requires to have the trees inspected annually. Membership fee is €5 per month and charge per plot is €10 per month.

Working together and building a community

The third garden that I visit in Berlin is the Interkultureller Garten in Lichtenberg. It covers 13.000 square meters with myriad of woodland copses, garden plots, bee hives, and communal composting sites. It is the largest of his kind in Berlin. This garden is hidden among huge grey concrete apartment complexes that were built in 1985, and now house a large and often non-integrated immigrant population. Anne, the manager of the SozDia Foundation Project, tells the story how the garden was initiated back in 2006 by getting some of the residents to form a registered voluntary association. There are now 51 plots, 35 occupied by residents and the rest used as common ground. No formal training is provided for the gardeners and instead the garden is run as an experimental field within the community. This serves to get people of different nationalities working together and building a community. This garden is leased for 10 years from the city at €900 per annum. On top of this there are bills for water, electricity, waste collection, and street cleaning. Each member pays €15 per per month in order to meet these costs. “Being a member of the network Interkultureller Garten helps with the purpose of visibility and attracting new members through the website listing”, Anne points out.

Income from Prinzessinnengärten

Finally the Prinzessinnengärten is a football field sized garden, located on one corner of a busy intersection at Moritzplatz in Kreuzberg. It is a garden that I was particularly interested in visiting because of the way that it was organised from it's creation in 2009 by Robert Shaw and Marco Clausen. As Marco had stated in his 2012 document Cultivating a Different City: “We were not thinking of self-sufficiency in terms of food, but in terms of a steady income.” So how does a community garden sustain not only itself but also its gardeners? The gardener that kindly let me in to take photographs explains how Prinzessinnengärten pays its bills, taxes, and provides a livelihood for a number of garden employees through multiple activities. These include on site workshops, and the installation of gardens for schools. It will be interesting to see how Prinzessinnengärten and other community gardens develop as both business and cultural assets as time passes.