Published by City Farmer, Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture


The History of The Allotment Gardens in Copenhagen

Reprinted with permission from the author, from his book:
Allotment Guide - Copenhagen & Surroundings
by Niels Jensen 1996
1000 printed in English
2000 with the Danish Title: Kolonihave Guide Kobenhavn & Omegn
This excellent little book, full of colour photos, describes the gardens in and around Copenhagen.
Cost: DKK 50 plus DKK 36 to cover postage.
Write to: Niels Jensen
De Frie Fugle
Borgergade, 14, S
DK - 1300 Copenhagen

At the end of the last century Copenhagen definitively broke its old boundaries, and very many large, dense 5-story buildings were constructed. The flats were often very small, some with only the view of a back yard.

This was the background of the first allotment gardens. Much land within the city was not yet built on, many of the citizens came from the country and were thereby used to self-sufficiency. They had the knowledge of cultivating soil. They rented some land and grew vegetables and by and by built a small house with the materials available. Many were artisans with the skill of swinging a hammer but also with dreams and imagination. This resulted in many exciting houses which architects have since looked upon with mixed feelings.

To many the allotment became a breathing hole and those coming from the country were happy to see plants and soil again. Their spare time was very short but the garden was close-by, without the possibility of overnight accommodation. The big day was Sunday.

During the First World War vegetables from the allotments became an important food supply. However, as the city grew, areas of land were seized. Compensation was usually made with areas further out of town. Unfortunately though often on dumps or similar land only covered with a thin layer of soil.

Old gardeners Denmark

When the land was to be built on garden people were given 3 months notice to November 1. They then had to move to another site. Sometimes the house could be moved along, in other cases it would be demolished and the materials re-used. Smaller fruit trees were also moved, especially the apple strain Reverend Wilks, which was particularly appreciated.

Until the Second World War it was relatively easy to aquire land for allotments, but as it was important to be able to walk or possibly cycle to one's garden, only areas close to home were of interest. During the German Occupation, land for vegetable gardens were made available at no cost, and many people got used to and enjoyed having an allotment.

After the Second World War people gradually became more afffluent and could make use of the holiday that had been introduced by law in the 1930's. When the working-day was reduced to 8 hours many adapted ~.= themselves to living in their allotment gardens all summer or at least during the children's 7-week summer holiday. In this aspect, the allot ment gardens of the Capital differed from most of those in the provinces where distances were shorter and the gardens typically were only used in the daytime.

The allotment garden movement peaked during the Second World War with lOO,OOO gardens. After the war prosperity increased and the allotment gardens flourished. In the l960's however, when a private car became within reach for some people in Copenhagen, one just had to have a summer house, preferably on the North Coast about lOO kilomet- res away. If that was not feasible, the allotment garden house should be as similar as possible to a real summer house. No used materials! Vege tables were neither classy nor necessary - such could be bought at a super market.

The motorways were extended to make space for cars. It was the fate of many allotment garden areas that they ended up being situated in a motorway interchange. Many more were afflicted with noise and lead pollution. Now it could be dangerous to eat one's home-grown vege- tables.

The oil crises in the 70's made many sell their expensive summer houses and instead buy an allotment at a moderate distance. Extensive urban development, however, meant that many allotment garden areas had been abolished. Thus many people stood with their garden house, having no place to put it. Neither local nor national authorities offered much help.

A debate in the Danish Parliament at the end of the 70's and a prin ciple decision about protecting and extending the allotment garden areas have since meant that local authorities have an obligation to ensure the existence of allotment gardens. The city is now often seen to grow around the allotment garden areas, thus leaving them as small green enclaves.

Allotments are not just a question for local municipalities which may be willing to provide areas for local citizens, but not for people living in the city of Copenhagen, where there is a large demand for allotments. The attempted solution is to place the allocation of allotment garden areas into the jurisdiction of regional planning so that the Ministry of Agriculture buys up land which is later let out to the allotment garden people on a long term basis.

Allotment gardens develop all the time. In recent years, the cultivation of vegetables has had a renaissance and organic gardening is becoming more and more common in the allotments. In many places conventions of order and tidiness are extreme, but one fine day the attitude towards dandelions and other weeds may become a bit more relaxed.

The Allotment Garden Federation

The Allotment Garden Federation was organized in Copenhagen in 1908. Before this, gardens had been established by the association 'The Workers' Defence League' which in spite of the name was a right wing movement.

The Workers' Defence League established two allotment areas in Copenhagen. The agitation of the League became more and more political and the tenants formed an association to look after their interests. The League countered by giving notice to the chairman of the tenants' association and in 1892, he played a role in establishing what was supposed to become 'a garden association without politics': The Copenhagen Garden Society. Shares were issued and the first areas laid out, one of them jammed right up next to the League's gardens. In 1892-93 'Vennelyst' was laid out. As time went on the allo1ment garden idea was supported by all parties but from different motives! Some of the arguments for worker allotments were to fight idleness, to prevent social unrest and to improve public health.

The Garden Society was a limited company and the shareholders expected a dividend of 5% a year. The tenants, on the other hand, were dissatisfied with bad maintenance and annoyed with the fact that the Society made a profit on land owned by the public.

One of the reasons for founding a Federation was to avoid middlemen. After a sluggish start it managed to stop the Garden Society. This happened when the City of Copenhagen put a ceiling on how much the Society was allowed to charge when subletting the land. The Allotment Garden Federation however, did not expand until new associations automatically became members. The Federation rented land from the State and from the municipalities and in some cases also from private landowners.

In 1916 the nationwide Allotment Garden Federation of Denmark was formed and gradually became an organization with laws, localities and districts etc. Pattern allotment areas were laid out, trial cultivations of plants made and advisers appointed. The ties to Social Democracy were also strengthened. The Allotment Garden Federation today organizes two thirds of the approx. 60,000 Danish allotments.

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Revised Thursday, November 22, 2001

Published by City Farmer
Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture