Saturday, March 5, 2016

Understanding urban gardening. Berlin experiences and more

Once the first signs of spring are in the air, Berlin is becoming a completely different city. It is not about the good mood and the sun and the flowers in bloom, but also about the little corners of the city turned into improvised gardens. Especially in the Eastern hipster part of the city, it is usual to find on the street small patches of earth used as flowers or vegetables garden. You run your bike, stop for watering or picking up some fresh salad and back in the kitchen you go. But it starts to happen in the fancy Western part of the city too, as a message that the divisions do not longer exist. 
Berlin is part of a bigger European, and recently USA trend of urban gardening, as a way to increase awareness about healthy food and improve the environment. It is a movement taking a critical stance towards fast food and supermarket food culture. Another famous place for gardening experiments in Berlin is Prinzessinengarden, in Moritzplatz, a big space in the middle of the city used for growing vegetables. The place opens around April and is a hub not only for passionate gardeners, but also for various cultural events. There are many other such organised or spontaneous projects in Spandau or Neuk├Âlln or Prenzlauer Berg. The fancy Ritz Carlton Berlin not only has its own green supplies but also uses the honey produced on the roof beehive for treating its special guests. 
Politically, I am quite far away from the people involved in this movement, but cannot ignore the merits of such projects. Besides healthy food on the table - always a very good personal choice - increasing the presence of green areas is changing for good the quality of the air we breath. One of the many things that kept me in Berlin for such a long time is the fresh air I breath regardless the season, due to the green lungs that around or inside the city. More and more cities in Germany or in the world are following the same path. And it seems that Munich took even over Berlin, as from 1996, it requires every new construction to have a fit green roof. In Freiburg, in the South of Germany, the roof of the central train station was turned into a huge garden. In Madrid and Barcelona, there are buses running in the city with mobile garden roofs. Many years back, Frank Lloyd Wright created the Midway Gardens in Chicago or the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, with its roof terrace used as a garden area.
Gardening is not easy though. When my neigbour suggested me to get involved into a gardening summer project, I openly said 'no', due to my both lack of time and experience. As a kid, I grew up in houses with huge gardens, whose maintenance was not a transient hobby to practice when nothing else to do. Especially if you want to create your own ingredients for the salad, every good looking tomato is the result of a lot of gardening knowledge. Hopefully, there are more and more books dedicated to help people like me do the right gardening.
Annie Novak's Rooftop Growing Guide, recently published, is a practical guide based on the experiences of developing the Eagle Street Roof Farm in Brooklyn. The knowledge and lessons learned go beyond, with many tips about how to do the regular maintenance, be aware of the local authorizations, how to build a subirrigated container, calculate the rooftop sun exposure. It also has a consistent colletion of websites and other references where everyone can find inspiration and advice for his or her rooftop project. 
With a baby in the house, I may think differently about food culture. Also I would love that my son shares at least a part of my joy for nature and good love so maybe gardening is not such an utopic project after all.
Disclosure: I received the book for review, but the opinions are, as usual, my own

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