Sustainable Cities™

Århus: Allotments more popular than ever

The smell of freshly turned soil, flowers and freshly brewed coffee fill the air in hundreds of allotment garden associations dotted around the outskirts of many Danish towns and cities. Allotment living entices city dwellers with its fresh air, sense of community and earth under the fingernails. In Denmark's second city, Århus, the most popular allotment garden association has provided a green breathing space for flat dwellers since 1933. The history of the Danish allotment gardens has its roots in the early 20th century, but the gardens are even more desirable and popular today.

Lars Kloster Silkjær, Juni 24, 2007, Flickr Creative Commons

In Denmark, allotment gardens are a popular breathing space for many town and city dwellers. Small houses, often not much bigger than a shed, gorgeous flower beds, red chequered tablecloths, chats across the garden fence and the Danish flag flying on a Sunday are the idyllic image many Danes have of life in an allotment garden. Allotments in Århus's Skovlunden association, not far from the city centre, can only be bought by people who live in flats and have no garden. Some have even been on the waiting list for as long as 14 years.

The Skovlunden allotment garden association is beautifully situated in lush surroundings behind Marselisborg Castle, and is among the city's most desirable. The association now has 133 gardens with small houses. Each garden is around 400 m², although some are a good deal larger. Owners are allowed to live in their simple houses throughout the summer when the association's main water tap is on. There is no water in the area during the winter and it has no sewage system, the lavatories being emptied by a gully emptier. Some owners have installed their own solar arrays on the roof, while the rest of the association's members do without electricity.

Lars Kloster Silkjaer, May 5, 2007, Flickr Creative Commons.

In times past, the gardens constituted a necessary larder, where people grew their own vegetables or consumption back home in flats. These days, it is the simple life in the allotment garden association which attracts people. There is, for instance, no prospect of electricity being installed in Skovlunden. Life in the allotment garden association is all about unwinding, getting away from stressful urban life and enjoying the countryside. In Skovlunden they do so among more than 1100 apple trees, 850 gooseberry bushes and some 1150 raspberry bushes. The allotment gardens have become status symbols, according to the association's chairman Frank Karlsen. There are 1200 people on the waiting list for an allotment garden, of whom 300 are actively looking. On average, six allotment gardens are sold every year.

"It's all about having just the right flat in Frederiksbjerg and an allotment garden within easy cycling distance," says Frank Karlsen, chairman of the Skovlunden allotment garden association in Århus.

The Skovlunden allotment garden association has been at its present site since 1933, although the association's history goes further back than that. Under the name of Skovly, it used to have some plots near Havreballeskov. When this woodland was cleared to make way for an extension of Århus Zoo, and all 64 allotment gardens which made up Skovly were given just a month's notice to move out. In less than a month, the association mobilised its members and new land on Skrovriddervej was leased and a map of the site was drawn up, with allotment gardens and roads marked out. The association became a reality in November 1933 and 100 allotment gardens were rented out within the first year.

The allotment garden movement existed even before the First World War. Life in the allotment gardens served many more purposes than simply growing vegetables. Even at that time they were a sanctuary for the working class inhabitants of the densely populated inner-city districts. Many families even moved out into their allotment gardens during the summer. For them, going on holiday was unimaginable, and the allotment gardens were paradise that the children. Apart from this, the allotment gardens rapidly became the framework of an all-important social life. Family ties were strengthened in the allotment gardens, and across the hedges these city dwellers experienced an extension of day-to-day class solidarity - now simply under less formal circumstances. Finally, the allotment gardens contributed to increasing understanding of nutrition and working the soil.

Last updated Tuesday, December 16, 2014