In 2015 we started our garden label in Belgium, after being inspired by our northern neighbours AVVN in the Netherlands. The city Torhout and the town Bornem were our 3rd and 4th projects that signed in. After 3 evaluations and a 2 year journey these two projects received in September their final judgement. Our external jury awarded both projects with 3 out of 4 stars. A good score for these two young projects.
Torhout 'de smallen entrée'
There is a good vibe on this park, sociable and cosy. Three gardeners guide the less experienced gardeners, the neighbourhood is involved and invited to activities. There is a good mixture in activities e.g.: BBQs, barter trade, workshops, small competitions,… The neighbours are encouraged to develop their own garden. There were still underdeveloped projects concerning the design of the park e.g.: a composting toilet was still absent, the green roofs on the large sheds and the demo-garden had to be further developed. For this reason the jury awarded the project with 3 stars.
In the two years a tremendous amount of work has been done. And the participants grew more and more interested in the project along the way. They attracted people with the right mindset to lead this project with the necessary dynamism. All start advices from the jury were addressed. It is still a 'work in progress' a continuation of the group meetings and schooling is necessary. The demo-garden is still getting shape, but they're heading in the right direction and the delivered efforts were rewarded with 3 stars.
After 2 years of hard work, we officially inaugurated the first Ecologic Garden Label on the allotment site "De Roshaag" in Peer on 30th September 2017.
What is the Ecological Garden Label?
It is a label awarded to an exemplary allotment garden site for ecological gardening and behaviour.
It is first a way to reward active boards for the work and effort they put in an allotment garden. A second goal is to innovate and modernize older sites.
The sites can earn 4 stars, each star representing a certain topic:
1. Park design
3. Equipment/ facility
4. Awareness/ sensitization
"De Roshaag" allotment site received 4 stars
1) Two years ago the site existed for little more than a year. However, a lot of work had still to be done as far as its design was concerned. After a first evaluation the jury listed a couple of advices. So a demo-garden, extra storage room, layers in vegetation inside and around the park were realised. In this process the allotment gardeners gave extra attention to the participation of gardeners, neighbours and partners.
2) For park management, the site scored with the following elements: The paths are permeable for water; the use of green manures that hold the moisture and nutrients in the ground is stimulated. The weeding happens manually and is kept to a minimum by using green manures and anti-rooting membranes. To control diseases and plagues the demo-garden is used to experiment with biological controls, new vegetables and old species to find stronger plants. To prevent over fertilisation a soil sample is taken in every garden every 3 years. Solar energy is used for the compost toilet and the lights inside the cabin. The garden cabin has a planted green-roof.
3) From the start of this project the local board and the local government chose to use durable equipment and materials. They introduced indigenous plants and removed invasive species. To attract and sustain natural enemies and other useful animals in the garden a hedgehog and bee hotel were built. Piles of branches and leaves were spread throughout the park.
4) The park is open for everyone. The local board actively engages other civilians to participate and cooperates with other partners. Schools visit the project to learn about gardening and composting. The gardeners learn from each other during informal happenings and the demo-garden.
Vzw Tuinhier thanks all partners in this project for their support and guidance during these two years. Special thanks go to our local board and the local government of Peer for their unconditional input and effort in this project.
In the future we are planning to review this project and probably add social and innovative components. The aim is to reward and encourage more projects to join our garden label.
Daan Van de Vijver
Tuinhier, the largest allotment garden federation in Flanders, is launching an environmental quality mark for allotment gardens. As a gardening federation, founded in 1896, we know very well that gardening is not an easy task. The trend towards environmentally-friendly work does not make gardening any easier, as the project associate, Daan Van de Vijver, said. This is why the Tuinhier NFPO wants to reward gardeners who look after their gardens together in a healthy and environmentally friendly way. The environmental quality mark is not just a reward, but also a way to increase diversity and respect for nature in allotment gardens, to modernise older allotment gardens and to reduce the use of pesticides by amateur gardeners.
Protecting nature and life in nature are very current topics at the moment. Consumers' growing awareness of the environment is the main reason for this. Starting from this trend, Tuinhier had the idea to launch an environmental quality mark for allotment gardens and all of the social variances such as "communal gardening". This quality mark is new for our country and serves primarily to reward our gardeners, who spend day after day looking after the garden together so that it is healthy and environmentally friendly. It is a pleasure to give an award to these gardeners, as Daan Van de Vijver said. This quality mark must be considered a vote of appreciation. For Tuinhier there are no winners or losers, as every effort counts. The largest allotment garden federation is particularly targeting awareness and clarity over the use of pesticides. Environmentally friendly gardening is certainly not easy, but it is a challenge to use nature in such a way that chemistry and physic operations become redundant. The use of pesticides in allotment gardens does not fall within the field of application of the general rules (stipulating 0% of pesticides for communal grounds and roadsides for example), but the prescribed "minimal usage" (for example for grounds accessible to the public in general) must be observed. This is a grey area that in future will probably become "no pesticides". Tuinhier especially wants to contribute to reducing the use of pesticides. In our strategic plan we stipulate that the organisation wants to promote sustainable and natural gardening. We don't limit our activities to environmentally friendly gardening but we see it in a wider context, said Van de Vijver. Given that our federation has 25,000 member gardeners, Tuinhier's awareness drive can certainly make a difference.
To give more impact to this quality mark, Tuinhier has formed a panel of people who work in the environment and gardening sector. Together with Tuinhier, they will give advice and professional support to allotment gardens who want to receive a quality mark. The allotment gardens will be inspected across four criteria: plans, management, preparation and education. For each of these four evaluation criteria you can achieve one star, explains Van de Vijver. Gardeners still using pesticides will not receive a star for management, but can still receive the other three stars over the two years of the project. The panel will visit each allotment garden site to make a list of the opportunities to contribute towards biodiversity and a more natural way of managing the site.
Members of the allotment garden associations who aspire to obtain the quality mark will be fully trained on environmentally friendly gardening via evening seminars. Daan Van de Vijver promises professional support. It will not be done alone, but with help of the members of the panel. At the end of the two year transformation period, the panel will visit the site again. Depending on the progress made, the members will receive between one and four stars. Or no stars. But this is unlikely, given the intensive support from Tuinhier. Thanks to the knowledge they have acquired, the gardeners will have many ways to keep their quality mark through biyearly evaluations.
The first inspection took place on the 2nd of July 2016 in the Slotenkouter allotment garden site in Sint-Amandsberg (West Flanders). The Flemish Minister for the Environment, Joke Schauvliege, marked the start of the project. Meanwhile, there is already a second site in Peer (Limburg) that wants to take up the challenge.