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Between food growing and leisure: contemporary allotment gardeners in Western Germany and Poland

Barbara Maćkiewicz(1), Magdalena Szczepańska1, Ewa Kacprzak(1), Runrid Fox-Kämper (2)

(1)Faculty of Human Geography and Planning, Adam Mickiewicz University, Bogumiła Krygowskiego Street 10, 61-680 Poznań, Poland,,,

(2)Research Institute for Regional and Urban Development (ILS), Brüderweg 22-24, 44135 Dortmund, Germany, Manuscript submitted: 06 March 2020 / Accepted for publication: 15 February 2021 / Published online: 30 March 2021


Allotment gardens have existed in Europe for 170 years and have changed their functions over time. While the scholarly literature emphasizes the economic, social and ecological benefits of allotment gardens, little is known about today’s allotment gardeners, especially in different geopolitical environments. This paper describes allotment gardeners’ profiles based on empirical data obtained from surveys conducted in two countries with, on the one hand, a long tradition of allotment gardens and, on the other hand, a recent history of belonging to two different geopolitical regions: Poland and West Germany. Inspired by the cultural-geographical approach that acknowledges that the gardening practice is influenced by culture and based on the method of non-hierarchical “k-means” clustering, this paper identifies characteristics of today’s allotment gardeners from the region of Westphalia-Lippe in Germany and of Wielkopolska in Poland. Significant differences in profiles were factored together in the statistical analysis based on garden practices and the meanings attributed to these practices as reported by the gardeners in the survey. As a result, German gardeners can be described first and foremost as urban farmers and ecologists, while Polish allotmenteers seem to prefer using their gardens for leisure (as well as a holiday retreat) and for ornamental purposes. Results can inform municipalities, stakeholders and garden organisations who are interested in adjusting existing allotment garden areas to meet future needs. However, in both countries the community of gardeners cannot be conclusively defined, as it is subject to further development, triggered by a generational change in many allotment gardens. For instance, in the context of the recent COVID-19 crisis, a significant increase in demand for allotment plots has been reported in both countries, which again confirms their role in times of crisis.

Article published in the Journal of the Geographical Society of Berlin Vol 152 no1 research article

Allotments more than ever on the rise!

“A role for more food security….A place to connect and disconnect…….”
Allotments more than ever on the rise!

The pandemic showed an increasing Europe wide demand for allotments: Not only healthy fruit and vegetables and food secure but also physical and mental health benefits flowing from allotments were in people’s mind.

The article published in the Sunday Times on 28th March 2021 gives us some insight.

Let use this regained awareness, let us make our voice now even heard more and transform this visibility with innovative actions into more secured new plots for the benefit of the society, fauna and flora as well as a sustainable future.

Read the article: “Diaries unearth benefits of allotments” below and make politicians and authorities know these findings.

Of weeds and popular plants

Petty spurge (Euphorbia peplus)

Family: Spurge family (Euphorbiaceae)

Other names: Round-leaved spurge, milkweed

Habitat: Gardens, ruderal sites, more rarely in fields and vineyards.

Occurrence: From the plains to medium mountainous areas; in the Alps up to about 800 metres above sea level.

Height of growth: 5 to 30 centimetres

Stem: Branched from the base, leafless, light green, sometimes with a reddish tinge

Cotyledons: egg-shaped-oval, about eight millimetres long

Stem leaves: Roundish to obovate, stalked, with entire margins, bare, 10 to 20 millimetres long and 5 to 10 millimetres wide, the lower ones much smaller.

Flowering time: June to October

Bloom: Yellow-green. The terminal umbel is usually three-rayed. The bracts are triangular to ovate, usually tapering to a point. The nectar glands have long, hair-like horns.

Fruits/seeds: The fruit capsule has six-winged longitudinal ridges. It is smooth and about 2.5 millimetres in size. The seed is almost hexagonal, ovoid, 1.5 x 1 millimetre.

Life span: annual

in agriculture: very low competition; rather rare in fields.
in horticulture: occurs in vineyards, but rather rarely
in home and allotment gardens: more important as a weed in gardens

Indicator value for
temperature: moderate warmth to warmth showing
humidity: on dry to moderately moist soils
Nitrogen: more common on nitrogen-rich soils

Dr. G. Bedlan

Bedlan, G.: Wild Vegetables. Publishing house Jugend & Volk Vienna, 1997.
Bedlan, G.: Unkräuter - Bedeutung in Gartenbau und Landwirtschaft. Öst. Agrarverlag, 9th edition, 2010.
Ellenberg, H.; Weber, H. E.; Düll, R.; Wirth, V.; Werner, W.; Paulißen, D.: Zeigerwerte von Pflanzen in Mitteleuropa.
Erich Goltze KG Göttingen, 2nd A., 1992.
Hanf, M.: Ackerunkräuter Europas mit ihren Keimlingen und Samen. Verlags Union Agrar, 4th A., 1999.


Usambara violet (Sainpaulia)

For many years now, the usambara violet has been one of the most popular plants decorating our living rooms. They are available all year round in numerous varieties with single, double, wavy or curled blossoms in white, pink, red, purple, blue, bicoloured and also as minis.

Their story is very romantic: late in the afternoon of a summer day in 1892, the German governor in German East Africa went for a walk with his bride in his rubber tree and vanilla plantation. They sought shelter from the heat of the day in the shady woods along a river. When the two suddenly came across a flower hitherto completely unknown to them, the groom was so excited that he plucked a bouquet of these "African violets" for his fiancée. This man's name was Baron Adalbert Emil Walter Redcliffe Le Tanneux of Saint Paul. He was born on 12 January 1860.
On 12 December 1940, the discoverer of the Usambara violet died in Berlin. And yet the baron of Saint Paul was by no means as great a flower lover as his father Ulrich, who had his estate in Fischbach, a Silesian village. But his castle park was also adorned with the rarest outdoor plants that he had brought back from his many travels. So, Adalbert did not hesitate for a moment when he discovered the plants in Africa, which were completely new to him, to send his father Ulrich some seeds, possibly also plants. When the gardener in Germany had grown up the first plants and brought them to blossom, he was thrilled by this treasure he had received from Africa. He did not hesitate for long either and sent some of the specimen to his friend Hermann Wendland, then director of the botanical garden in Hanover-Herrenhausen. This man gave the plants the new generic name Saintpaulia in honour of the family from which he had received them. The species name ionantha, on the other hand, is Greek and means "violet-like". It was described by Wendland in an issue of the journal "Gartenflora" in 1893.

Family: Saintpaulia belong to the Gesneriaceae, as do Streptocarpus (twisted fruit), Columnea (columnee), Sinninga (gloxinie) or Achimenes (slate).

Its habitat is the Usambara Mountains of East Africa/Tanzania.

The blossoming time depends on the age of the plants, but they usually flower all year round only interrupted by a resting period of several weeks. Their location should be chosen light to semi-shady, but without direct sun.

The temperature requirements are 20°C and above in summer and not below 18°C in winter. Caution is then called for when airing, as temperatures of just 2 to 3°C can cause severe damage to these very cold-sensitive plants. The watering water should always be well tempered and soft, as too cold or very chalky water will cause light ring-shaped spots on the leaves. Furthermore, the leaves should not be wetted when watering. Stagnant moisture suffocates the roots and they start to rot, the leaves become limp, discolour and become soft rotten, so excess water should always be poured off. From spring to the beginning of autumn the plants should be lightly fertilised, but higher salt concentrations in the substrate should be avoided. Withered leaves should be removed regularly. Propagation is very simple by leaf cuttings and is easy even for beginners if the soil is warm enough (approx. 20°C).

Diseases and pests occur mainly in dry air (aphids, mealy bugs) or when humidity is too high and soil temperatures are low (thrips, grey mould, Phytophthora, Pythium, Rhizoctonia). Sometimes powdery mildew can cause damage to the blossoms.

• Relatively easy to care for
• Decorative
• Protect from full sun
• Do not use cold water
• Easy to propagate via leaf cuttings

Did you know: The European “Rendez-vous aux Jardins”

This year takes place for the third time the event: Rendezvous at the Gardens.

Date: 4th-6th June 2021
Subject: the transmission of knowledge

Participating countries: Andorra, Belgium, Croatia, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Georgia, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, the Czech Republic, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland.


This European event offers an opportunity to visit a multitude of gardens, private and public, of all styles, of all eras, of all sizes, and to appreciate the common characteristics of these gardens throughout Europe. (The pandemic might bring about changes in the planned celebrations)

Why should we not also open our allotments at this occasion and show and explain our values and know-how?

I am counting on you!

An example of a successful cross-border cooperation

The largest gardening fare in the Nordics, “Nordiska Trädgårdar “, took place from 25th until 28th March 2021. Due to the current circumstances the fair was a virtual one.

Ulrica OTTERLING, director of the Swedish allotment federation kindly contacted Tina WESSMAN, her homologue at the Finnish office asking if they would like to join with an own digital showcase. And of course they did!

Tina straight away prepared two lectures and also received a lovely video presenting the only Swedish-speaking association (and the oldest one on its original spot) in Helsinki. An additional video from the association, was based on a documentary the Finnish public broadcaster YLE had ordered and that was aired when the association celebrated 100 years in 2018 was received.

The lecture ‘Allotment gardens in Finland' shortly covered the history of allotment gardening and the Finnish federation, and somewhat emphasized the special features of allotments in the country. The lecture 'What are the allotment gardeners in Finland like' presented the federation’s environmental project and the types of allotment gardeners that were found based on an analysis from an extensive survey (presented in Hyphen 69).

The event was very successful

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