Order and disorder in the allotment garden: seasonality and control

Our author grew up in the city. Now she has an allotment and tries to swing to the rhythm of tamed nature. Which is a lot of work.

How much disorder can you allow? Marlen Hobrack in her allotment Photo: Thomas Victor

The garden doesn’t stand still. Every August, when I return from summer vacation and enter the garden for the first time in a week or two, I feel a little shiver: How can it be that the plants lead such an extreme life of their own in my absence? 20 centimeters of growth in less than 14 days, how is that possible?

It is often said in ecological criticism of the economic growth fetish that there is no limitless growth, but my garden seems to refute this assumption. After every vacation, the tidying up begins, because of course not only what is supposed to grow grows, on the contrary: the weeds and weeds, or simply what is definitely not supposed to grow in this bed at this point, have to be cultivated.

I almost wrote “fought,” but that would have given a completely wrong image of me as a gardener. I don’t have a fundamental problem with weeds. As is well known, the only valid definition of a weed is that it is an herb that you do not want in a particular area of ​​the garden.

Eating weeds

Most weeds such as dandelions, stinging nettles or groundweed are edible and even beneficial to health. Others are simply beautiful, like the thistle species, which shoot up with thorns, but which make life difficult for the gardener if he comes up with the idea of ​​throwing them on the compost heap.

No sensible gardener would do that because there is a risk of proliferation, but I am not sensible in this sense, but rather pragmatic (or lazy).

When I was asked to write this text, the question was whether I wanted to think about gardening at the end of the season. The joke is: There is no end to the gardening season, and if there is, it is certainly not late summer or autumn, which, along with spring, is one of the busiest times. Not only does the main harvest season extend from August to October, but there are all sorts of other things that need to be done.

Divide and transplant perennials. Remove weeds and mulch. Prune trees and shrubs, trim hedges, carry out topiary cuts and sow biennial plants. Cut cuttings for next year. The number of tasks is infinite. In summer, on the other hand, the warmth alone makes it necessary to simply distribute rainwater and literally enjoy the fruits of summer.

Intense connection to nature

I was born in the city and have never lived in the country. I am the daughter of a gardener who never gardened privately. Even as a child, I had an intense connection to nature – or what people think of it on the outskirts of the city. These are usually places that are highly produced and manufactured, such as fields and “nature parks”. For a long time I found the memory of roaming over corn and rapeseed fields very idyllic, but today I wonder how much glyphosate I inhaled in the process.

A garden would certainly have been good for the hypersensitive girl I once was. I have had an allotment garden for a few years now. As strange as it may sound; No place invites you to come to terms with your own self more than the garden. How much order do you need and how much disorder can you allow? Do you allow yourself to be surprised or do you have to control?

I have noticed certain compulsions in myself. I am somewhat sensory sensitive and therefore cannot tolerate certain color combinations. It’s a bit silly, but true. Which is why it frustrates me so much when the colors of the plants I’ve combined don’t harmonize in my head. I don’t like fussy order, but there’s a tipping point where disorder scares me. Whenever things spill out from every nook and cranny.

20 centimeters of plant growth in less than 14 days? How is that even possible?

Our garden is an allotment meets cottage meets natural garden, in other words: Many perennials are very spreading, sometimes they multiply explosively through self-sowing. Which brings us back to the question of control. I usually shake my head when I pass gardens whose lawns look as if they had been trimmed with nail scissors and which have no life in them anywhere. But that may just be an expression of the owner’s personality.

Gardens are highly political

The garden is seen as a leisure space, and at the same time as the most apolitical place par excellence, although the question of who has access to gardens and thus to recreational spaces, to places for growing hopefully unsprayed fruit and vegetables, is highly political. What brought scorn and ridicule to the allotment garden for so long, the petty-bourgeois, stuffy atmosphere, obscures the history of the allotment garden as a place of relaxation for workers in narrow city quarters.

This is exactly where students and families and, by the way, many people with a migration background are discovering the allotment garden for themselves again. Relaxation and contact with nature (as I said, the word nature should be used with caution here) are welcome where there are four-lane roads between the apartment and the discount store around the corner and where any sense of the seasonality of fruits and vegetables has been lost.

It’s one thing to point out seasonality in the spirit of sustainable living, but it’s something completely different to acquire knowledge about it. Because production is not local and strictly seasonal for supermarkets anyway.

One of the biggest trends in gardening, if you follow Instagram hashtags and YouTube vlogs, is self-sufficiency. This self-sufficiency makes the dependence on conventional agriculture (whether organic or not) painfully clear.

Self-sufficiency is illusory

Even at the height of the harvest season, what our garden produces is only a welcome addition to our daily needs. Tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, pumpkins, apples, sour cherries and so on even produce a small surplus, which calls for recipes for tomato sauces and zucchini breads, pickle-vinegar mixtures and apple pies. But self-sufficiency is illusory, and this is not just due to the space – it is said that you need around 30 square meters per person.

These 30 square meters not only have to be cultivated with maximum efficiency (crop rotation, constant subsequent sowing), but must not fall victim to drought, constant rain, hail, snails, larvae or viruses. But this is simply the case, especially in a garden where no pesticides are used.

In our garden, for example, slugs are not a problem in dry years – which is the rule -, but in rainy years they are a real nightmare that is almost impossible to deal with – and which young lettuce and kohlrabi plants were unable to counteract (please don’t write me any emails now , in which you explain to me that you just have to collect them).

Respect for organic farming

A garden like this teaches the greatest respect for truly organic farming, with all the problems that it brings with it. He shows why the idea of ​​retreating to one’s own soil, where one produces self-sufficiently for oneself, is not so romantic at all (although the idea of ​​the soil is of course also problematic for other reasons).

The garden, in which we often confuse cultural assets with nature, which we nurture and care for or neglect or fill with poison, is an expression of our relationship to the world. Just as it protects against hopeless romanticism, it reveals the difficult balance between human interests (such as land use and harvest) and environmental needs.

We can understand it as a place of retreat or as a resonance space in which, at best, we vibrate in the same rhythm with a tamed nature, where we as humans feel safe and at ease, which does not exclude recurring feelings of being overwhelmed and challenged (damn voles! ). He is not an image of the heavenly paradise. On a good day, it’s at least the small equivalent.

Jean Harris

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