Allotment garden

An allotment garden (British English),[1] often called simply an allotment, or a community garden (North America) is a plot of land made available for individual, non-commercial gardening or growing food plants. Such plots are formed by subdividing a piece of land into a few or up to several hundreds of land parcels that are assigned to individuals or families. Such parcels are cultivated individually, contrary to other community garden types where the entire area is tended collectively by a group of people.[2] In countries that do not use the term allotment (garden), a community garden can refer to individual small garden plots as well as to a single, large piece of land gardened collectively by a group of people. The term victory garden is also still sometimes used, especially when a community garden dates back to World War II or I.

The individual size of a parcel generally ranges between 50 and 400 square metres, and often the plots include a shed for tools and shelter. The individual gardeners are usually organised in an allotment association, which leases or is granted the land from an owner who may be a public, private or ecclesiastical entity, and who usually stipulates that it be only used for gardening (i.e. growing vegetables, fruits and flowers), but not for residential purposes (this is usually also required by zoning laws). The gardeners have to pay a small membership fee to the association, and have to abide by the corresponding constitution and by-laws. However, the membership entitles them to certain democratic rights.[3][4]

Socio-cultural and economic functions of allotment gardens

The , a Luxembourg-based organization representing three million European allotment gardeners since 1926, describes the socio-cultural and economic functions of allotment gardens as follows:

  • for the community: a better quality of urban life through reducing noise, binding dust, making open green spaces in densely populated areas;
  • for the environment: conservating biotopes and creating linked biotopes;
  • for families: a meaningful leisure activity and the personal experience of sowing, growing, cultivating and harvesting healthy vegetables among high-rise buildings and the concrete jungle;
  • for children and adolescents: a place to play, communicate and to discover nature and its wonders;
  • for working people: relaxing from the stress of work;
  • for the unemployed: the feeling of being useful and not excluded, and a supply of fresh vegetables at minimum cost;
  • for immigrant families: a possibility of communicating and better integration in their host country;
  • for disabled persons: a place enabling them to participate in social life, to establish contacts and overcome loneliness;
  • for senior citizens: a place to communicate with people having the same interests and an opportunity of self-fulfillment during retirement.

Allotment gardens in different countries


Allotment gardening used to be widely popular in the former Czechoslovakia under the communist regime. It gave people from suburban prefab apartment blocks - called "paneláky" in Czech - a chance to escape from city chaos, pollution, and concrete architecture.


In 1778 land was laid out outside the fortifications of Fredericia for allotment gardens and according to a 1828 circular from the royal chancellery allotment gardens were established in several towns.

Private initiative formed the first Danish allotment association in Aalborg in 1884 and in Copenhagen an association named "Arbejdernes Værn" (lit. "The Worker's Protection") founded the first allotment gardens of the Danish Capital in 1891. Since then allotment gardens have spread to most Danish towns.

In 1904 there were about 20,000 allotment gardens in Denmark. 6,000 of them were in Copenhagen. During the interwar years the number of allotment gardens grew rapidly. In 2001 the number of allotment gardens was estimated to be about 62,120.

In 1908 twenty allotment associations in Copenhagen formed the Allotment Garden Union which in 1914 was expanded to cover all of Denmark. The Allotment Garden Federation was founded to negotiate more favourable deals with the state and the municipalities from which the allotments associations rented the land. Today the federation represents roughly 400 allotment associations in 75 municipalities.

The Danish tradition for allotment gardens later spread to the other Scandinavian countries; first Sweden, then Norway and Finland.[5]

Today most allotment gardens are on land owned by the municipality which rents the land to an allotment association. The association in turn gives each member a plot of land. To preserve allotment gardens as something that is available for all kinds of people the membership charge is set significantly below what a market price would be. Since allotments are often placed on attractive plots of land, this has led to huge waiting lists for membership in many allotment associations.

Although the main purpose of the allotment is gardening, most allotment gardens have a pavilion built in them. These pavilions can range in size from an old rebuilt railway car to a small summer house. Many people grow so fond of their allotment gardens that they live there the entire summer. In most cases, however, members are not allowed to live there the entire year.


The first allotment garden was established 1916 in Tampere. Nowadays there are about 50 allotment gardens all around Finland. Those gardens have 5000 allotmenteers. Allotment gardens are very desired and prices are quite high.


In many localities, when they exist, they are relegated in marginal zones (edges of motorways, railways, industrial parks…) unsuitable with any other use. These establishments pose problems of access, safety and are often deprived of water supply networks. Those which profit from better establishments are not safe from real estate transactions coveting their grounds. In this case, neither the anteriority of the gardens, neither their social and environmental interest, nor the work completed on the site resist the speculation.


The history of the allotment gardens in Germany is closely connected with the period of industrialization and urbanization in Europe during the 19th century when a large number of people migrated from the rural areas to the cities to find employment and a better life. Very often, these families were living under extremely poor conditions suffering from inappropriate housing, malnutrition and other forms of social neglect. To improve their overall situation and to allow them to grow their own food, the city administrations, the churches or their employers provided open spaces for garden purposes. These were initially called the "gardens of the poor".

The idea of organised allotment gardening reached a first peak after 1864, when the so-called "Schreber Movement" started in the city of Leipzig in Saxony. A public initiative decided to lease areas within the city, with the purpose to make it possible for children to play in a healthy environment, and in harmony with nature. Later on, these areas included actual gardens for children, but soon adults tended towards taking over and cultivating these gardens. This kind of gardening type rapidly gained popularity not only in Germany, but also in other European countries, such as Austria and Switzerland.[6][7][8][9][10] In German-speaking countries, allotment gardens are accordingly generally known as Schrebergärten (singular: Schrebergarten), sometimes literally translated as "Schreber gardens".

The aspect of


Malta introduced its first allotment gardens in April 2011.[13] The scheme, which is called “Midd Idejk fil-Biedja” (Try Your Hand at Farming), aims to encourage people, especially the young and those living in urban areas, to take up organic farming.[14] There are currently over 50 allotment plots located in Għammieri, Malta. All plots are fully irrigated and those who have entered the scheme receive continual support and training to ensure that their efforts bear fruit. The scheme is run by The Ministry for Resources and Rural Affairs.[15]


The first allotment gardens in the Netherlands were founded in 1838. In the 19th century, cities started allotment gardens for working-class families. Around the first world war, the users of the gardens started demanding that the gardens would be governed by the members. In 1928 the allotment garden societies founded the national level "het Algemeen Verbond van Volkstuindersverenigingen in Nederland (AVVN)." Until the 1950s, the gardens were primarily used for vegetable production, since then there has been a shift to recreational use. Depending on the city and society, small sheds, greenhouses or small garden houses are allowed. In some cases, permanent habitation is allowed during summertime. The Netherlands has 240,000 allotments.


There are 13 allotment gardens in Norway, with around 2000 allotments. The oldest, Etterstad Kolonihager, dates to 1908. The largest, Solvang Kolonihager, has around 600 allotments and is in Oslo, close to the woods and Sognsvann lake. The allotment gardens are quite popular, and there can be a waiting list of 10 and in some cases even 20 years.


In 2003, the first allotment garden of the


Many times, allotment gardens assume a precarious character, representing a spontaneous process of subdivision and agricultural strip of land exploitation, the majority of the times in urbanization ways.


The first allotments ("dachas") in Russia began to appear during the reign of Peter the Great. Initially they were small estates in the country, which were given to loyal vassals by the Tsar. In archaic Russian, the word dacha means something given.

During the Age of Enlightenment, Russian aristocracy used their allotments for social and cultural gatherings, which were usually accompanied by masquerade balls and fireworks displays. The Industrial Revolution brought about a rapid growth in the urban population, and urban residents increasingly desired to escape the heavily polluted cities, at least temporarily. By the end of the 19th century, the allotment became a favorite summer retreat for the upper and middle classes of Russian society.

After the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, most dachas were nationalized. Some were converted into vacation homes for the working class, while others, usually of better quality, were distributed among the prominent functionaries of the Communist Party and the newly emerged cultural and scientific elite. All but a few allotments remained the property of the state and the right to use them was usually revoked when a dacha occupant was dismissed or fell out of favor with the rulers of the state. Joseph Stalin's favourite Dacha was in Gagra, Abkhazia.[19] The construction of new dachas was restricted until the late 1940s and required the special approval of the Communist Party leadership.

The period after World War II saw a moderate growth in dacha development. Since there was no actual law banning the construction of dachas, squatters began occupying unused plots of land near cities and towns, some building sheds, huts, and more prominent dwellings that served as dachas. This practice of squatting was spurred by the desire of urban dwellers, all living in multi-story apartment buildings, to spend some time close to nature, and also to grow their own fruits and vegetables. The latter was caused by the failure of the centrally planned Soviet agricultural program to supply enough fresh produce. As time passed, the number of squatters grew geometrically and the government had no choice but to officially recognize their right to amateur farming. The 1955 legislation introduced a new type of legal entity into the Soviet juridical system, a so-called "gardeners' partnership" (садоводческое товарищество; not to be confused with community garden). The gardeners' partnerships received the right to permanent use of land exclusively for agricultural purposes and permission to connect to public electrical and water supply networks. In 1958, yet another form of organization was introduced, a "cooperative for dacha construction (DSK)" (дачно-строительный кооператив), which recognized the right of an individual to build a small house on the land leased from the government.

The 1980s saw the peak of the dacha boom, with virtually every affluent family in the country having a dacha of their own or spending weekends and holidays at friends' dachas. Often ill-equipped and without indoor plumbing, dachas were nevertheless the ultimate solution for millions of Russian working-class families to having an inexpensive summer retreat. Having a piece of land also offered an opportunity for city dwellers to indulge themselves in growing their own fruits and vegetables. To this day, May Day holidays remain a feature of Russian life allowing urban residents a long weekend to plant seeds and tend fruit trees as the ground defrosts from the long Russian winter. Since there are no other national holidays that are long enough for planting, many employers give their staff an extra day off specifically for that purpose.

The collapse of communism in the Soviet Union saw the return to private land ownership. Most dachas have since been privatized, and Russia is now the nation with the largest number of owners of second homes. The growth of living standards in recent years allowed many dacha owners to spend their discretionary income on improvements. Thus, many recently built dachas are fully equipped houses suitable for use as permanent residences. The market-oriented economy transformed the dacha into an asset, which generally reflects the prosperity of its owner and can be freely traded in the real estate market.

Due to the rapid increase in urbanization in Russia, many village houses are currently being sold to be used as allotments. Many Russian villages now have dachniki as temporary residents. Some villages have been fully transformed into dacha settlements, while some older dacha settlements often look like more permanent lodgings. The advantages of purchasing a dacha in a village usually are: lower costs, greater land area, and larger distances between houses. The disadvantages may include: lower-quality utilities, less security, and typically a farther distance to travel.


In 1895, the first allotment garden of Sweden was established in Malmö, followed by Stockholm in 1904. The local authorities were inspired by Anna Lindhagen, a social-democratic leader and a woman in the upper ranks of society, who visited allotment gardens in Copenhagen and was delighted by them. In her first book on the topic devoted to the usefulness of allotment gardens she wrote:
For the family, the plot of land is a uniting bond, where all family members can meet in shared work and leisure. The family father, tired with the cramped space at home, may rejoice in taking care of his family in the open air, and feel responsible if the little plot of earth bestows a very special interest upon life.[20]
Anna Lindhagen is said to have met Lenin when he passed through Stockholm from the exile in Switzerland on their return trip to Russia after the February Revolution in 1917.[21] She invited him to the allotment gardens of "Barnangen" to show all its benefits. However, she did not win his approval. Lenin was totally unresponsive to this kind of activity. To poke in the soil was to prepare the ground for political laziness in the class struggle. The workers should not be occupied with gardening, they should rather devote themselves to the proletarian revolution.[22]

The Swedish Federation of Leisure Gardening was founded in 1921 and represents today more than 26,000 allotment and leisure gardeners. The members are organised in about 275 local societies all over Sweden. The land is usually rented from the local authorities.

United Kingdom

A 1732 engraving of Birmingham, England shows the town encircled by allotments, some of which still exist to this day. Whilst St Ann's Allotments[23] in Nottingham, created in the 1830s, is regarded as one of the oldest allotments sites in England, as well as the largest site of Victorian gardens in the world, the accolade is actually reserved by Great Somerford Free Gardens in the Wiltshire village of Great Somerford. These were created in 1809 following a letter from Rev Stephen Demainbray to King George III in which he asked the king to spare, in perpetuity, 6 acres from the Inclosure Acts for the benefit of the poor of the parish.[24][25]

Following these Inclosure Acts and the Commons Act 1876 the land available for personal cultivation by the poor was greatly diminished. To fulfil the need for land allotment legislation was included. The law was first fully codified in the Small Holdings and Allotments Act 1908, it was modified by the Allotments Act 1922 and subsequent Allotments Acts up until 1950.

Under the acts a local authority is required to maintain an "adequate provision" of land, usually a large allotment field which can then be subdivided into allotment gardens for individual residents at a low rent. Allotment sizes are often quoted in square rods, although the use of the rod has been illegal for trade purposes since 1965. The rent is set at what a person "may reasonably be expected to pay" (1950), in 1997 the average rent for a 10 square rods (approx. 250 m2) plot was £22 a year. In February 2012 the UK's first Green-controlled council (Brighton and Hove) caused controversy when they stated their intention to raise the rent for a standard 250 m2 plot to £110 per year with many people suggesting that this was contrary to the environmental agenda on which they were elected. Each plot cannot exceed 40 square rods (1000 m2) and must be used for the production of fruit or vegetables for consumption by the plot-holder and their family (1922), or of flowers for use by the plot-holder and their family. The exact size and quality of the plots is not defined. The council has a duty to provide sufficient allotments to meet demand. The total income from allotments was £2.61 million and total expenditure was £8.44 million in 1997.

The total number of plots has varied greatly over time. In the 19th and early 20th century, the allotment system supplied much of the fresh vegetables eaten by the poor. In 1873 there were 244,268 plots and by 1918 there were around 1,500,000 plots. While numbers fell in the 1920s and 1930s, following an increase to 1,400,000 during World War II there were still around 1,117,000 plots in 1948. This number has been in decline since then, falling to 600,000 by the late 1960s. The Thorpe Inquiry of 1969 investigated the decline and put the causes as the decline in available land, increasing prosperity and the growth of other leisure activities.

Increased interest in "green" issues from the 1970s revived interest in allotment gardening, whilst the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners (NSALG), and the Scottish Allotments and Gardens Society (SAGS) in Scotland, continued to campaign on the behalf of allotment users. However, the rate of decline was only slowed, falling from 530,000 plots in 1970 to 497,000 in 1977, although there was a substantial waiting list. By 1980 the surge in interest was over, and by 1997 the number of plots had fallen to around 265,000, with waiting lists of 13,000 and 44,000 vacant plots. In 2008 The Guardian reported that 330,000 people held an allotment, whilst 100,000 were on waiting lists.[26] The keeping of an allotment is colloquially referred to as allotmenteering . This term has not yet been officially recognised, but is widely used among tenants of allotments, including Gardeners World presenter, Joe Swift.

In 2006, a report commissioned by the London Assembly[27] identified that whilst demand was at an all-time high across the capital, the pressures caused by high density building was further decreasing the amount of allotment land. The issue was given further publicity when The Guardian newspaper reported on the community campaign against the potential impact of the development for the 2012 Summer Olympics on the future of the century-old Manor Garden Allotments.[28] In March 2008, Geoff Stokes, secretary of the NSALG, claimed that Councils are failing in their duty to provide allotments. "[T]hey sold off land when demand was not so high. This will go on because developers are now building houses with much smaller gardens."[26] The Local Government Association has issued guidance asking councils to consider requiring developers to set land aside to make up for the shortfalls in allotment plots.[29]

Against the falling trend of land set aside for allotments is an increasing awareness of the need for cities to counter issues of food security and climate change through greater self-sufficiency. This drive to expand allotmenteering is also a response to food price inflation, a need to reduce food miles and surplus provision of land in post-industrial towns and cities in the developed world. It finds some inspiration in the urban agriculture response of Cuba to the United States embargo against Cuba in 1962. Some of these themes were taken up in a recent urban agriculture project in Middlesbrough in the Tees Valley.[30]

United States

Main article: Community gardening in the United States

Several so-called "community gardens" have been founded in the United States. Many of these began as "victory gardens" in World War II, and evolved into community gardens. Plots in these gardens are often rented out by the city, starting at plots of just 5 ft × 5 ft (1.52 m × 1.52 m). Due to the green movement many new gardens are being set up.

See also


Further reading

  • The Allotment: Its Landscape and Culture, David Crouch and Colin Ward Paperback 314 pages (June 1, 1997), Publisher: Five Leaves Publications ISBN 0-907123-91-0
  • The Allotment Handbook, Sophie Andrews, "A guide to promoting and protecting your allotment site." Publisher Ecologic Books, [4]
  • The Art of Allotments, David Crouch, Publisher: Five Leaves Publications [5]
  • The Allotment Chronicles: A Social History of Allotment Gardening, Steve Poole, Publisher: Silver Link Publishing, ISBN 1-85794-268-X
  • Building Food Secure Neighbourhoods: the Role of Allotment Gardens, Robert J. Holmer, Axel W. Drescher: Urban Agriculture Magazine (2005), No. 15, p. 19-20 [6]

External links

  • A Brief History of Allotments in England and Wales
  • permaculture perspective
  • London Allotments
  • National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners
  • Allotment television programme
  • A guide to grow your own from a UK alloment
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