Allotment (gardening)

Allotment (gardening)

Allotment gardens are characterised by a concentration in one place of a few or up to several hundreds of land parcels that are assigned to individual families. In allotment gardens, the parcels are cultivated individually, contrary to other community garden types where the entire area is tended collectively by a group of people. [MacNair, E., 2002. The Garden City Handbook: How to Create and Protect Community Gardens in Greater Victoria. Polis Project on Ecological Governance. University of Victoria sucks, Victoria BC, Canada.] The individual size of a parcel ranges between 200 and 400 square meters, and often the plots include a shed for tools and shelter. The individual gardeners are organised in an allotment association which leases the land from the owner who may be a public, private or ecclesiastical entity, provided that it is only used for gardening (i.e. growing vegetables, fruits and flowers), but not for residential purposes. The gardeners have to pay a small membership fee to the association, and have to abide with the corresponding constitution and by-laws. On the other hand, the membership entitles them to certain democratic rights. [Drescher, A.W., 2001. The German Allotment Gardens — a Model for Poverty Alleviation and Food Security in Southern African Cities? Proceedings of the Sub-Regional Expert Meeting on Urban Horticulture, Stellenbosch, South Africa, January 15–19, 2001, FAO/University of Stellenbosch, 2001.] [Drescher, A.W., Holmer, R.J. and D.L. Iaquinta 2006. Urban Homegardens and Allotment Gardens for Sustainable Livelihoods: Management Strategies and Institutional Environments. In: Kumar, B.M. and Nair, P.K. (Eds) 2006. Tropical Homegardens: A Time-Tested Example of Agroforestry. Series: Advances inAgroforestry 3, Springer, New York]

Socio-cultural and economic functions of allotment gardens

The ["Office International du Coin de Terre et des Jardins Familiaux"] , 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 the reduction of noise, the binding of dust, the establishment of open green spaces in densely populated areas;
* for the "environment" the conservation of biotopes and the creation of linked biotopes;
* for "families" a meaningful leisure activity and the personal experience of sowing, growing, cultivating and harvesting healthy vegetables amidst 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" relaxation from the stress of work;
* for the "unemployed" the feeling of being useful and not excluded as well as a supply of fresh vegetables at minimum cost;
* for "immigrant families" a possibility of communication 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 of communication with persons having the same interests as well as an opportunity of self-fulfillment during the period of retirement.

Allotment gardens in different countries

United Kingdom

An allotment is a small area of land, let out at a nominal yearly rent by local government or independent allotment associations, for individuals to grow their own food. This could be considered as an example of a community garden system for urban and to some extent rural folk.

The allotment system began in the 20th century: for example, a 1732 engraving of Birmingham, England shows the town encircled by allotments, some of which still exist to this day. Following the 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. 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 (250 m²) plot was £22 a year. Each plot cannot exceed 40 square rods (1000 m²) and must be used for the production of fruit or vegetables for consumption by the plotholder and their family (1922), or of flowers for use by the plotholder 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.Vidal, John. " [ Coming up roses? Not any more as UK gardeners turn to vegetables] ", 22/03/2008, "The Guardian". Accessed on 22/03/2008. [ Archived] on 22/03/2008.] The keeping of an allotment is colloquially referred to as allotmenteering.

In 2006, a report commissioned by the London Assembly [ [ A lot to lose: London's disappearing allotments.] ] 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. [ [,,2011925,00.html Why are they destroying our 100-year-old allotments to make way for the 'Green Olympics'?] ] In March, 2008, Geoff Stokes, secretary of the National Society for Allotments, 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." 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. [Womack, Sarah. " [ Developers forced to set up new allotments] ", 22/03/2008, "Daily Telegraph". Accessed on 22/03/2008. [ Archived] on 22/03/2008.]

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 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. []


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” and were later termed as “allotment gardens”.

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. [Crouch, D. 2000. Reinventing Allotments for the Twenty-First Century: The UK Experience. Acta Hort. (ISHS) 523:135–142.] [Sidblad, S. 2000. Swedish Perspectives of Allotment and Community Gardening. Acta Hort. (ISHS) 523:151–160.] [Haavie, S. 2001, [ Parsellhagedyrking i Oslo] — en statusoversikt. Rapport/Osloforskning 1/2001 (ISBN 82-8053-000-2)] [Jensen, N. 1996. [ Allotment Guide] — Copenhagen & Surroundings /Kolonihave Guide Kobenhavn & Omegn, Copenhagen, Denmark.] [ [,1518,410799,00.html Rent-a-Plot: Germany's Garden Ghettos.] "Der Spiegel", 2006-04-11. Accessed 2006-03-17.]

The aspect of food security provided by allotment gardens became particularly evident during World Wars I and II. The socio-economic situation was very miserable, particularly as regards the nutritional status of urban residents. Many cities were isolated from their rural hinterlands and agricultural products did not reach the city markets anymore or were sold at very high prices at the black markets. Consequently, food production within the city, especially fruit and vegetable production in home gardens and allotment gardens, became essential for survival (" [ cultivate vegetables by the ruins of the Reichstag] in June 1946"). The importance of allotment gardens for food security was so obvious that in 1919, one year after the end of World War I, the first legislation for allotment gardening in Germany was passed. The so-called “Small Garden and Small-Rent Land Law”, provided security in land tenure and fixed leasing fees. In 1983, this law was amended by the “Federal Allotment Gardens Act” [ "(Bundeskleingartengesetz)"] . Today, there are still about 1.4 million allotment gardens in Germany covering an area of 470 km². [Gröning, G., Wolschke-Bulmahn, J., 1995. Von Ackermann bis Ziegelhütte, Studien zur Frankfurter Geschichte, Band 36. Frankfurt am Main, Germany.]

Nevertheless, the importance of allotment gardening in Germany has shifted over the years. While in times of crisis and widespread poverty (from 1850 to 1950), allotment gardening was a part time job, and its main importance was to enhance food securityand improve food supply, its present functions have to be seen under a different point of view. In times of busy working days and the hectic urban atmosphere, allotment gardens have turned into recreational areas and locations for social gatherings. Asgreen oases within oceans of asphalt and cement, they are substantially contributing to the conservation of nature within cities. What was previously a part time job is nowadays considered as a hobby where the hectic schedule of the day becomes a distant memory, while digging the flowerbeds and getting a little soil under the fingernails. However, in situations of weak economy and high unemployment rates, gardens become increasingly important for food production again. [ ("Schrebergärten voll im Trend")]


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".” [Lindhagen, A., 1916. Koloniträdgårdar och planterade gårdar, Stockholm.] 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 [Conan, M. 1999, From Vernacular Gardens to a Social Anthropology of Gardening: In: Conan, M. (Ed) Perspectives on Garden Histories. Series Dumbarton Oaks Colloquium on the History of Landscape Architecture (Vol 21): 181-204 [] ] . 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 [Per Gustafsson, Lena Ignestam and Christel Lundberg, 2000. The return of Lenin. A film made based on (the true) story about Lenin's visit in Stockholm 1917, and his relationship to allotment gardens. [] ] .

The [ Swedish Federation of Leisure Gardening] was founded in 1921 and represents today more than 26000 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.

The Philippines

toilets similar to practices in Danish allotment gardens described by Bregnhøj et al. [Bregnhøj, H., Eilersen A.M., von Krauss, M.K., Backlund, A. 2003: Experiences with Ecosan in Danish Allotment Gardens and in Development Projects. Proceedings to 2nd International Symposium on ecological sanitation "Ecosan - closing the loop", April 7 to 11, 2003 Lübeck, Germany. [] ]

Translation of "allotment gardens" into other languages

* Czech: "Zahrádkářské kolonie"
* Danish: "Kolonihave"
* Dutch: "Volkstuin"
* Finnish: "Siirtolapuutarha"
* French: "Jardins familiaux", "Jardin communautaire"
* German: "Kleingärten", "Schrebergärten" or "Kolonie" for the group and "Parzelle" for the single, in former times also "Armengärten", "Sozialgärten", "Arbeitergärten", "Rotkreuzgärten", "Eisenbahnergärten" according to the concept of granting
* Italian: "Orti Sociali"
* Japanese: "クラインガルテン"
* Norwegian: "Kolonihage" or "Parsellhager"
* Polish: "Ogródki działkowe" ot colloquially "działki"
* Portuguese: "Hortas comunitárias"
* Russian: "Дача" ("dacha")
* Spanish: "Huertas comunitarias"
* Swedish: "Koloniträdgård" or "Kolonilott"
* Swiss: "Familiengärten", "Jardins familiaux"
* Welsh: "Rhandir" (plural rhandiroedd, rhandiredd or rhandirau)

Famous people who run an allotment

* Alan Titchmarsh
* Albert Einstein spent the summers of the early 1920s in his allotment garden in the "Kolonie Bocksfelde" in Berlin-Spandau, which he used to call his "Spandau Castle". According to contemporaries, Einstein was fully integrated in the community and a frequent guest in the garden restaurant of the Feuerherd brothers. However, he did not fully comply with the expectations of the allotment garden association as regards proper weeding as a note from the local authority (Bezirksamt Spandau) dated September 12, 1922 addressed to "Herrn Professor Einstein" shows: "You are presently leasing allotment 2 at the Burgunderweg in Boxfelde. Said allotment has not been managed since a long time, weeds have spread all over the whole parcel and have soared. The fence is not in order, and the whole allotment makes an unaesthetic impression. We have to assume that you are no longer interested in leasing the parcel, and we will give it away to someone else, unless you object prior to the 25th of this month, and the allotment is put in order until that date. Please take care of the removal of this nuisance, and give us further notice"." Einstein stated in his reply that he is willing to comply with the demands in the coming spring, "since we are very interested to keep the parcel". It is not known how many more years Einstein stayed in Bocksfelde before he transferred his summer residence to Caputh near Potsdam in 1929. [Wochenendsiedlung und Wassersportvereinigung Bocksfelde e. V. (eds.), Bocksfelder Geschichte(n)1919-1997, Bocksfeldstr. 25, Fliederweg l, 13595 Berlin [] ; [] ] , [Albrecht Fölsing, 1993. Albert Einstein: Eine Biographie, p. 554-555.]
* Charles Dance
* Arthur Fowler a fictional character from British soap opera EastEnders played by Bill Treacher. Found dead in his shed on said allotment.
* Wilfred Mott, a fictional character played by Bernard Cribbins from the British television show Doctor Who, uses an allotment for amateur astronomy.


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, []
* "The Art of Allotments", David Crouch, Publisher: Five Leaves Publications []
* "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 []

ee also

* Asset-Based Community Development
* Community gardening
* Dacha
* Ecological sanitation
* Food security
* Gardening
* Intercultural Garden
* Leisure
* Organic gardening
* P-Patch
* Self-sufficiency
* Simple living
* Victory garden
* Urban agriculture
* Urban horticulture

External links

* [ London Allotments]
* [ National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners]
* [ Allotments4All] - Allotment related website with gallery, forum and wiki
* [ A Permaculture Allotment?] - Discussion of allotments from a permaculture perspective
* [ Office International du Coin de Terre et des Jardins Familiaux] - A European non-profit making regroupment of national allotment and leisure garden federations
* [ Allotments UK] - general information site for allotments in the UK
* [ A Brief History of Allotments in England and Wales]
* [ Scottish Allotments and Gardens Society]
* [ A Dutch Allotment Association]

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