International Gardens are an award winning project developed in 1995 by Bosnian migrants in Göttingen, Germany. In the gardens, families or individuals are assigned a plot, that they cultivate according to their own wishes and ideas. In addition communal space is reserved for common activities, events and festivities, for a playground for children as well as for a leisure area to sit together. The agreements and ‘rules’ of managing the garden are collectively discussed and developed.
Sowing the seeds of integration
One of the challenges in newly built neighborhoods is how to overcome anonymous residential structures. The International Gardens are community gardens. They are in the open and thus visible, they constitute animated public space. By participating, or by casually exchanging greetings or gardening tips in passing, residents get to know each other. Even if they do not do any gardening themselves, they can buy the produce or visit one of the festivities and garden events. People in the settlement begin to get faces and names and to become familiar.
Neighborhoods develop through common activities and common experiences. A community garden can provide these. Practical activities with tangible results and benefits for the participants tend to be more successful in engaging residents, than projects that state ‘communication’ or ‘integration’ as their explicit goal. Interacting with nature and gardening provide common reference points, a focus for common interests and values, and for the sharing of knowledge and experience, that weave social cohesion and integration.
For participants from the local population the gardens represent opportunities for recreation and social contact, for relaxation, for exposure to cultural variety, getting to know, understand and be at ease with different cultures and traditions, and for learning about gardening and subsistence production.
For refugees and migrants the International Gardens create bridges between the old life and the new. Plants that were familiar at home can be grown in the new earth, thus providing an element of continuity.
Gardening techniques and traditions that are part of the agrarian and cultural heritage can be handed on to the new environment.
Being able to contribute something meaningful, having something to offer are important elements of developing a sense of belonging, of ‘having arrived’, of taking part in and being part of the new country.
The International Gardens also include strategies for economic development. In addition to the economic benefit participating families have by harvesting food for their own consumption, the project involves a lot of potential for the creation of small businesses:
for instance a catering service for churches, schools, municipal agencies, and private parties, a repair shop for garden tools and agricultural machines, a gardening service to take care of the gardens of double income families in the new settlement, or marketing strategies for selling plants and produce in the area.
The chapter describes what elements are needed to implement an International Garden and sketches a possible scenario.