Volkstuinen - "gardens for the people"

If you spend any time in Holland, it won’t be long before you see a volkstuin – a collective of gardens, usually equipped with small houses.

They’re everywhere – some hidden down laneways,

at the backs of parks, or alongside railway tracks – and in a country more densely populated than India, it offers a cheap solution to the problem of not many people having even the possibility of a garden where they live. If you can find one.

Municipalities lease the land out to collectives, and even though there are somewhere in the neighbourhood of a quarter million of them in Holland, wait lists are long. But if you get in, for about 500 euros and a couple of days of your labour every year, you can pretty much do what you want with your turf. And most people do.

There are the overdone,

The Zen,

The colourful,

The overgrown,

The unabashedly simple,

Some with names, wistful ones (“Seaview” in a place where there is no hope of the sea for at least 20 miles), and the just-right.

Most volkstuins have running water but no electricity, so you live (and sleep) by daylight and woodfire.

Cars aren’t allowed on the grounds, and at the one we visited this weekend, there was even a bee hotel

and a butterfly garden next to the vegetable plots to make sure everything gets pollinated.

This is dense, compact farming, at its best. The rhubarb next to the herbs, the strawberries side-by-side with the spring onions, and just enough room for an apple tree in the back…

I know more than a few people who have a volkstuin here, and I don’t know anyone that’s ever given one up. They’re delightful, restful places.

You make them your own, and then let them speak for you.