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In our garden colony

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Just a few metres behind the luxury buildings of a new housing estate in Zbraslav is a double-fenced area filled with dozens of bizarre little huts in the middle of immaculately kept tiny gardens. It’s the garden colony Kamínka, a little world of the local gardening enthusiasts. There are hundreds such settlements in the Czech Republic, but they are disappearing forever and being replaced by new buildings. Right now, Czech MPs have decided to slow down this development. They want to introduce a gardening law that would shift local crop lovers from the category “bizarre” to the category “beneficial for the society”.

No discussion      
Kamínka has a long tradition here in Zbraslav: Locals and people from the nearby Prague come to this quiet place to enjoy their farming experience for decades. And, as they say, the gardens helped them survive the boring period of communism (and the Communists promoted these gardeners as well as fishermen and gamekeepers vehemently).

Digging in soil brings them pleasure these days as well. Not all people have a garden next to their house and not all people can afford a seaside holiday. Moreover, growing a few kilos of your own tomatos is still worth the effort. But the world of Czech gardeners is endangered: Just in the capital city, more than 120 such garden colonies have ceased to exist in less then 20 years, and many others are fighting to survive, suing City Hall over the validity of contracts on the lease of these plots. The gardeners claim that destroying the gardens means an irretrievable loss in a uniform city full of cars. Even the smallest garden colony produces a lot of oxygen and livens up the grey urban area.

This is also the stance of the authors of a new gardening bill, worked out by the Social Democrats and backed by the Communists and the Greens (only the ODS is against it). Václav Gruner of the ČSSD says the objective of the bill is to give gardeners, as a civic group, the status of a publicly beneficial organisation and to support them in negotiations with town halls and other land owners. “Until now, no one had any respect for what they do. Towns get rid of them thoughtlessly for some speculative profit,” Václav Gruner said.

“I think the people deserve it. After all, they contribute to the renovation and maintenance of green areas for free. And when they are in the way of a town’s plans – like it happened in Chomutov recently -, they were simply liquidated without any compensation and discussion,” Green Party MP Přemysl Rabas said.

A perfect symbiosis
František Šatra, 65, bought his plot five years ago for CZK 120,000 and built a hut there for CZK 60,000. Since that time, the former turner has spent all his leisure time there. He likes growing tomatos (and his wive likes current and strawberries), but there is also an apricot tree, a peach tree, a plum tree and apple trees in their little garden.

“It’s a lot of hoeing and weeding, but when you’re eating a peach or an apple that you have grown on you own, it’s a big pleasure. There are dozens of birds flying around and singing, and suddenly it gives you an impression of nearly a perfect symbiosis.”

The garden colony in Zbraslav emerged in the late 1970. At that time, the local gardeners brought electricity and water pipes as well as tonnes of soil to the locality on their own. At present, the colony comprises 248 gardens on an area of roughly 80,000 square metres. The land is partly owned by the municipality, with the annual rent reaching CZK 1 per square metre (and contracts expiring in 2014) and partly by private owners and by a local association.

Marta Kyselová, 75, who lives in Prague, goes to her little garden every other day for more than thirty years. “It’s pleasure and a salvation: I always feel much better here. If I was just sitting at home and watching television, I would probably die soon,” she said and smiled.

It’s for all people
Garden colonies in the Czech Republic occupy an area of around 100,000 hectares. Jiří Kříž, chairman of the Czech Union of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners and former dentist says: “The gardeners never got anything. They built everything in their leisure time on former mine waste dumps and garbage dumps.

And this is why the contemporary society should express its favour in the form of the above-mentioned new law, like it happened for instance in England, Austria, Germany, France and Poland, said Kříž. “We would welcome a bigger incorporation of the gardens into the so-called green belt in Prague within the planned zoning plan,” Kříž added.

The gardeners in Zbraslav have been lucky for now. The town hall is not planning any new development projects after some thousand people have moved there in recent years. “There is a shortage of shops, and the capacity of bus transport and waste containers is insufficient already now,” mayor Renata Hůrková said.

But still, the local garden colony, where the town hall rents out 66,000 square metres of land, represents a very lucrative locality. “In line with a contract concluded in the 1990s, they only pay that one crown per metre, and CZK 66,000 really is not a corresponding price,” the mayor said. She did not rule out that when the contracts expire, the land will be subject to confiscation too.

“We would like the land to be used by all Zbraslav citizens, not just a group of advantaged gardeners. We are thinking of some urban park to keep the existing verdure and to maintain what they have built here. And we would like to find some compensation for the gardeners. Perhaps we will find some suitable place together,” she said.

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