Photos courtesy of Bundesverband Deutscher Gartenfreunde

The context

The city of Mönchengladbach is the largest settlement in the Lower Rhine Valley, with a population of 262,500 and an area of 17,100 hectares. It is deservedly considered a green city, with forests and public green spaces covering 2,100 hectares of its area. 130 hectares are incorporated into the city’s green areas, as allotment garden sites. The 50 allotment garden associations with 2,742 allotments, all protected by town planning, form an important part of social life and urban culture.

The gardens' creation

The Windberg group of allotment gardens in the Windberg district is the oldest in Mönchengladbach, formed in 1915. Since then, it has constantly reinvented itself and is now an open site that has become an essential feature of the district and of the green belt that runs through the city.

For decades the allotment garden association was right next to the British army’s base in the Rhine (JHQ), which was stationed in Mönchengladbach. A variety of buildings such as the officers’ casino were adjacent to the site. The allotment gardens were already protected by town planning in 1971 but the fall of the Berlin wall in November 1989 and the end of the Cold War brought repercussions for JHQ. Units were withdrawn and the officers’ casino was abandoned. In 2001, it was decided to build an elderly persons’ home in Windberg on the site of the old officers’ casino.

So, the allotment garden association found itself with a new neighbour but it also took advantage of the situation to integrate itself into the neighbourhood even further. The first step was to create a new path through the allotment gardens, to the great delight both of the home’s residents and the people living in Windberg, who quickly started to use the path as it reduced the distance to the city centre from 1,500 to 256 metres. The residents of the home were actively involved in the gardens, together with the home’s founder and the department responsible for the city’s green spaces. The goal of this project was not simply to be neighbours nor to manage separate projects, but to live and plan together. The 2.5 metre fence on the North side of the home from the times of the military base was dismantled and replaced by a small one metre trellis. It had a gate for pedestrians, allowing residents of the home to access the allotment gardens directly from the home’s grounds.

Children from the local primary school were also involved in the construction. They created multi-coloured paintings for the wooden balustrade around the site, which were later put up in the school’s playground. Most of the existing trees and plants were able to be kept. Adapting the paths for wheelchairs and walking frames not only pleased the elderly but also local families who took their children in prams through the allotment garden sites where the biotopes, wildflowers and educational garden –offered each season interesting things to see.

Finally, an “ornamental garden” was created for the residents of the home, right next to the building of the association. In addition to its grounds, the home also rented an allotment to for an ornamental and vegetable garden suitable for disabled people. Small fruit trees and raised flowerbeds and vegetable patches, easily-accessible via the wide, paved paths around them, permit the elderly residents to enjoy and grow their own garden unhindered, with the help of the allotment gardeners. The garden produce are washed, prepared and cooked by the home’s chef.

Added value

People suffering from dementia need a world they can still understand. The close vicinity of their home is comforting when they leave the grounds and immediately find themselves in the allotment gardens. Mrs S, a pensioner in the home, spends a lot of time in the garden (weather permitting) with one of her friends from the home: “The garden is wonderful and we must take advantage of it every day”. The collaboration between the elderly people and the allotment gardeners is reinforced by mutual invitations to the association’s and the nursing home’s own events. Plans for the allotments and their maintenance are discussed over a cup of coffee, making neighbours true friends and members of the association.

The long-term collaboration between the allotment gardeners, the nursing home’s managers and the city's gardening department has borne fruit and created ties across the neighbourhood. The communal garden area is not only appreciated by the gardeners and residents of the home, but also offers walks, relaxation and interaction for the entire neighbourhood of Windberg.

Future perspectives

In the future it is planned to develop this rewarding collaboration even further, involving the association’s volunteers and the nursing home’s staff, and also local primary schools. Managing the garden is a continuous process, adapting to the users’ needs, thus the always open ornamental garden is planned to be developed into a meeting point to preserve and nurture connections between the gardeners, the nursing home’s residents and the district’s inhabitants.

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