Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Schreber’s Garden

That time has come when I engage in gardening chores, an activity as close to bliss as I’ve come to experience, but that’s the inward feeling. Outwardly it demands actual physical labor, lots of bending, lots of moaning, sweat, dirt, haul, scrape, on and on. But there is nothing like it. The thought arose: One genuine justification for owning your own house—even if small—if it has a bit of land behind it. Next thought was: Europeans living in apartment. The next was Schrebergarten! They too escaped, the Europeans—to the allotment. In Germany such gardens, some distance, sometimes quite a distance, from the house, quite small in size, usually a little shed for tools, are called that. And while I stood up again, groaning, I wondered where the name came from—and then, of course, I immediately surmised. Some German visionary, probably nineteenth century, helping the benighted of the age of industrialization, open your windows, expand your chest, breathe deeply, that sort of thing. At my age such guesses tend to be on target. Yes. There was a Schreber, Moritz Schreber (1808-1861), Leipzig, physician, university professor. He was a great advocate of physical exercise, his chief focus the (negative) consequences of urbanization during the Industrial Revolution. He is viewed as the originator of allotment gardening, at least in Germany. In England they trace it back to darker roots, the Inclosure Acts (beginning 1845), which robbed people of their commons. The first garden that Schreber inspired was in Leipzig and served as a place where children could exercise—and later garden—in pleasant surroundings. Their parents soon took to this recreation too. Schreber’s name came to be associated with this kind of gardening only after his death—thus gardening on land set aside by municipalities and rented at low rates. In this country the activity is called community gardening, and the first of these were the “victory gardens” set up during the two world wars to help grow food. To garden lifts the soul while getting the hands dirty. The name is secondary. But for us the word Schrebergarten has sunny overtones.  

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