My plot of land

For years, allotment gardens were considered a symbol of the Swiss bourgeoisie, but times have changed. Now, people of all nations appreciate them as place to withdraw and relax. Vito from Italy, Birsen from Turkey, Vaz from Portugal and other allotment enthusiasts talk about their individual plots of land. 

Colourful national flags are flapping in the wind in one allotment at the foot of the Uetliberg near Zurich. The warm temperatures have attracted amateur gardeners who groom their plots of land and work away busily. Flowers radiate from every corner. Vegetables and salads grow like weeds. Children run around and the smells of charcoal and herbs fill the air.

Vito Crudo, from Italy

“I have had my allotment for three years. It’s great! I love the view and the fresh vegetables. Here I get some headspace and it is a joy to see everything grow. My little daughter loves playing with our neighbours’ girl and the two can run around to their hearts’ content. It’s important for children to have this space.”

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Diana and Andreas Bandomir, from Poland 

"We sold our house with a garden nine years ago. As I missed our garden so much, we looked for an allotment. I love the biotope here with its frogs and fish. My husband looks after our organic vegetables and I make fruit compote. It is delicious. We have nice neighbours, a great view and, apart from the roses, we don’t treat anything with pesticides.”

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Allotment gardens have not always been a place of leisure, though. In the 19th century, local farmers had to be self-sufficient just like factory workers years later. In urban areas, working families used to grow potatoes and other vegetables on small plots of land on the outskirts of the cities. Back then, it was important to offer some green areas for workers living on housing estates. Gardening was supposed to make employees work hard, to develop a sense of family and to keep them away from alcohol and politics. The German term for allotment - Schrebergarten - comes from the German paediatrician Moritz Schreber. He argued that hard physical labour would suppress lust and desire, a theory that remains quite controversial today.

René and Evi Braun, from Switzerland

"We grow most of our food ourselves. It tastes much better than what you buy in the supermarket. We love nature and we have had the allotment for three years. It’s a great place to create some headspace. Our grown-up sons also come here to have barbeques with their friends.”

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Murat and Birsen Lavanur, from Turkey

“We have had the allotment for two years and we still have to learn a lot. It is not as easy as it seems. We enjoy cooking and having barbeques here in these cosy surroundings. We like working in the garden and we share all the work. Our kids can spend some time in nature and can run around freely.”

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In Switzerland, amateur gardeners joined up to form associations, which led to the creation of a Swiss umbrella association in 1925. Now, 24,500 members and the equivalent of around 900 football fields belong to the Swiss Association of Allotment Gardeners. The plots of land are also a social institution for tenants to spend their free-time in a creative and productive environment. 

Allotments are not only the green lungs of a city, they also reflect society and the age we live in. They are also instrumental for the integration and social interaction in communities and city quarters. The umbrella association works on projects providing space for children, the elderly and refugees.

Sebastian Suva, from Romania

"I am on the board of our Allotment Association, as it is important to get involved. We need some rules so that everyone can peacefully work side by side. I have had my allotment for five years. I want my children to know how things grow, what they eat and that their food needs looking after. It is a great balance to my professional life as it allows me to think about other things. I also like coming here in winter.”

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Pedro and Tavares Goncalvez, from Portugal

“Our garden is simply a lot of fun! We love making pizza and getting together with our friends and families. This is important in life! Here we can relax from everyday life and sit in the sun. Our kids also like coming here.”

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However, such idyllic places are not always free of conflict. Many young people and families renting allotments do not have enough time to groom their green spaces according to the required standards and get reprimanded by the authorities. They often prefer to organise barbeques than to weed their gardens. Combining the multicultural mix and the different requirements is not always easy, which is why many allotments in Switzerland have strict rules.

Theiler family, from Switzerland

"We have been members of the association since the creation of this allotment in 1965. The vegetables, lovely flowers and our relaxation are priceless! We really appreciate our neighbours and their helpfulness. The only downside is getting the allotment ready for the winter. It’s a lot of work.”

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Vaz, from Portugal

"I have a bad back, which makes gardening quite difficult for me. However, I like being here and I have been coming for twelve years. My dog and I often sit here and reflect on things.”

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Photographs and text

Ester Unterfinger,


Felipe Schärer Diem
Sylvie Stark