the growth of urban gardening in Riga / Article
Escape the confines of your own four walls, keep your distance and relax – in the days of the Covid-19 pandemic, this currently works particularly well in your own backyard. Lucky are those who have a summer house, a family garden or a green space in the countryside. For those who do not, mobile urban alternatives are now available in the Baltic States.
In Latvia and the other Baltic States, many people have rediscovered an old hobby and participate in what is called urban gardening. In many cities, public gardens have sprung up in which gardening enthusiasts can rent a plot of land and cultivate it as they see fit. In Tallinn, Rīga and Vilnius but also in small towns, people get their hands dirty and grow plants and vegetables in community gardens.
The inhabitants of a particular neighborhood are also creating more and more communal gardens with the aim of taking care of previously abandoned land and turning it into public space for all.
Urban gardening has become a big trend. In Tallinn alone, there are now 13 community gardens that provide beloved destinations for a green break from the monotony of the city. Similar initiatives aimed at developing urban gardening and improving the quality of life and the environment have also been launched in Rīga and Vilnius.
In both capitals, the tradition of small-scale gardening in allotment gardens is old and still quite common, especially on the outskirts of the city. Yet shared community gardens have been limited.
Transforming the void into a public space
The Sporta pils dārzi (Sporta Pils Gardens) in Riga is an illustrative example of the rise of urban gardening in the Baltic States. Located in currently unused territory right in the city center, abandoned and closed for more than a decade, there is now an urban gardening space where the people of Riga can rent sections where they can plant flowers, herbs and plants. vegetables. It’s like many other urban gardens that have become popular in other urban settings.
One of the townspeople who have successfully applied for land that can be rented for a season at very affordable prices is Maija Mauriņa. “We don’t have a summer house outside of Rīga – so we’re here quite often,” says the home gardener, pointing to the public beds which are maintained by a community of like-minded people.
About 150 local residents are part of the project which was launched in late summer 2020 by a non-profit organization that also offers gardening masterclasses and organizes community activities on site.
Gardening in the middle of the Baltic metropolis is an idea that arose during the Covid-19 pandemic. Living right next to the closed territory that adjoins four streets, project initiator Renāte Prancāne came up with the idea of urban gardens during self-isolation while looking at the adjacent unused area from her window.
“The pandemic has highlighted the need for a spacious urban area that is accessible to the public, as the outdoors cools down and is a healthier alternative to indoor public spaces,” she says. “Using strategic planning, it can also become a tool for changing citizens. awareness and feelings about their own city. ”
Recalling the strong traditions of urban gardening in New York, where she studied art history, Prancāne addressed the owner of the empty space where the Riga Sports Palace stood until 2008. Originally opened in 1970 to commemorate Lenin’s 100th birthday, the iconic building later attracted hockey fans. Riga club “Dinamo” have played their home games here for a few decades. Following several changes of ownership, the territory now belongs to the Estonian real estate developer Rotermann Group who wishes
to build a complex of offices, apartments and entertainment venues. The latter responded positively to Prancāne’s idea and agreed to cede the site to his non-profit association for a period of three years, entirely free of charge, so that it could establish urban gardens there, while the preparations for construction work continue in the background.
Green growth everywhere
After cleaning up the territory last fall, the gardens of the Jardins de la Sporta Pils opened their doors this spring. Once inside the two hectares of garden accessible to the public, you quickly leave the hubbub of city life. The best examples of different fruits and vegetables grow from wooden crates and plant boxes.
A total of 150 urban gardens are available to community members. Each of the units is 12.5 square meters in size and comes with 3-8 garden boxes filled with fertile soil ready for immediate use. The garden also includes composting sites, work areas, and sharing points for water and gardening tools.
“I planted everything I could find on the market: rosemary, basil, tomatoes and strawberries”, explains Mauriņa, proudly showing off her flower beds and highlighting what she has achieved. in its small plots of land. Now she carefully places a punnet of sweet potatoes in the last empty corner of one of her three garden boxes.
“He’s our newcomer. I bought it today, and so did Mangold, ”she says, before starting to water the latest addition to her small urban plantation.
Mauriņa didn’t really think about having a garden until now. Initially, she was skeptical of whether or not she could keep up with normal gardening pros and their green thumbs. Maybe she was all the happier with her first harvest.
“The strawberries were very tasty, as were our tomatoes and greens. We drank a lot of Mojitos made with our own peppermint. Happiness was there, ”enthuses the new amateur gardener.
The great success of his gardening adventure also seems to have convinced his family. “Initially, it was called Mum’s Garden. The family ignored me and said “Do whatever you want”, recalls Mauriņa, laughing. “But one day my husband came home from the shops and proudly presented me with a blueberry plant. To me, it seemed to me that he had become a gardener from then on. “
Living within walking distance of their garden, the couple and their three-year-old son are now regular visitors to their plot to water their plants, watch them grow and simply enjoy their green oasis downtown.
“On average, we spent about ten hours a week with peers here, but during the recent hot spell we came every day. It was so much better to spend the hot parts of the day outside. so we sat here until late in the evening “.
For Prancāne, this confirms the desire of the inhabitants of the city to feel closer to nature, and the need for more green leisure spaces. She insists that urban gardening is about more than just growing plants and vegetables. It is also a way to cultivate community engagement and to shape the urban environment. The interest seems high: the demand for plots in the gardens of Sporta Pils exceeds the available supply.
This article also appears in the latest issue of the Baltic Business Quarterly magazine published by the German-Baltic Chamber of Commerce of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and is reproduced with kind permission.
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