Urban gardening

9. April 2021

Fruit and vegetables fresh from the garden

Fruit and vegetables fresh from your own garden

Spring is just around the corner, so it’s time to head out into the garden, plant seedlings and grow some fruit and veg. The new trend towards self-sufficiency is known as urban gardening or home farming, where you can make use of even the tightest of spaces on your own balcony or terrace. The wonderful side effect is that gardening is very good for us and also has a very calming effect on our soul.

But before we get to that, let’s take a quick look at the history of gardens.

Orchards have existed at least since Roman times. They brought many fruit trees to Central Europe, including non-native sweet cherry, pear, apple, plum and walnut trees. The ancient Greeks also cultivated fruit, but it was not until the arrival of the Romans that the practice spread throughout Central Europe. Fruit has been cultivated in the Moselle region since the 2nd century.  

Monasteries practiced horticulture

Later, the medieval monasteries continued and developed the cultivation of fruit and vegetables. For example, they developed late-blooming, frost-resistant varieties which were able to grow even in rough, mountainous areas. It is well known that the monasteries also started producing wine at an early date. The monks probably adopted the fruit-growing techniques and fruit varieties of Tyrol, Upper Austria and Bohemia.

People mainly used kitchen gardens for the private cultivation of useful plants, such as herbs, fruit and vegetables for consumption. However, a few more centuries would have to pass before ordinary people could enjoy growing their own fruit and vegetables.

This was because average people did not own their own land; it belonged to the nobility or the church. It was only with the rise of the upper middle class that separate orchards and vegetable gardens began to be established next to the pleasure gardens of manor houses. These were previously called kitchen gardens.

Today almost every second private household has its own garden. There are 17 million gardens in Germany alone, and in southern Europe significantly more people have their own garden.

“Schreber” plots prove to be a turning point

Our ability to grow our own fruit and vegetables took a great leap forward thanks to “Schreber” plots. In 1865, German orthopaedist and university professor Daniel Gottlob Moritz Schreber opened a meadow on Schreberplatz am Johannapark in Leipzig. He intended it to be used by children to play and perform gymnastics. But it was teacher Heinrich Karl Gesell who added the first flower beds and gardens to the meadow as a way of keeping the children busy.

You can read about Dr Schreber on Wikipedia:

“In his writings, he mainly dealt with children’s health and the social consequences of urban life at the beginning of the industrialised age. In addition to “systematic therapeutic gymnastics”, he also campaigned for youngsters living in urban settings to get exercise by working in the countryside, for example in poor gardens and special gardens, as the areas surrounding their tenement homes offered few such opportunities.”

But the well-known “Schreber” plots were not in fact initiated by Schreber himself. The first “Schreber Association” was founded in 1864 by Leipzig school director Ernst Innozenz Hauschild after Schreber’s death, and was named after him in his honour. 

Today, “Schreber” plots are so popular that they are precisely regulated and have to meet various requirements. Each plot is limited to a maximum of 400 square metres. Any arbour or pergola on the plot must be of simple design, and is limited to a maximum of 24 square metres of ground space including a covered patio. In addition, the construction must not be suitable for permanent living. This is what the Federal Allotment Garden Act (Bundeskleingartengesetz) says.

From “Schreber” plots to allotments, a trend born of necessity

In Europe, the first allotments were created 200 years ago. In order to at least partially meet their own nutritional needs, families were allowed to lease plots of land. At the beginning of the 19th century, some municipalities were forced to give the poorest members of the population a plot of land on which to grow fruit and vegetables so they could provide for themselves.

At that time, self-sufficiency was already a matter of course for a broad section of the rural population, but not for city-dwellers. During the Industrial Revolution in Europe, people couldn’t survive on the wages they were paid, so new forms of feeding the urban population were sought in order to alleviate poverty and hunger in the cities.

There is evidence that the first attempt began in the city of Kiel. Fifty-nine families were each allocated 256 square metres of land near the city. The idea quickly caught on.

The road to self-sufficiency

After the outbreak of the First World War, neither the public nor politicians questioned people’s need to have their own garden close to the city to provide their own food.  It was garden designer and urban planner Leberecht Migge who developed the concept of self-sufficiency during and after the war. His concept required that everyone should have enough land to grow the food they needed to feed themselves.

Wikipedia says: “Self-sufficiency primarily refers to an autonomous way of life – independent of other people, communities, institutions or states. In everyday parlance, we talk of self-sufficiency when people to a large extent provide themselves with the material basics for everyday living (food, clothing, housing, etc.) and do not simply rely on products offered on the market. This applies in particular to subsistence living, the production of food and its preservation”. In other words, growing your own food. Mahatma Gandhi also later called for land to be made available to the population so they could grow their own food.

The environmental movement 

At some point in Western industrialised society, self-sufficiency became a thing of the past. Allotments were turned into ornamental gardens because people had access to cheap food supplies. Back-breaking garden work fell out of fashion.

But now allotments are “back from the dead”. The swan song for allotments probably came too early. The environmental movement emerged, and began to encourage people to grow organic fruit and vegetables in their own gardens without using pesticides.

Over the last 20 years, the trend has intensified and there seems to be no end to it in sight, as people are placing increased importance on sustainability – and not just when it comes to food. Organic fruit and vegetables that we grow ourselves do not pollute the environment.
In addition, gardening is relaxing, calms your nerves and keeps you healthy through exercise.

Home-grown fruit

What types of home-grown fruit are most popular in German gardens? In first place is the apple. It is the most popular fruit in Germany, followed by the pear and the quince, which are both pomaceous fruit from the Rosaceae family. 

Other popular choices include apricots, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, currants, gooseberries, cherries, plums, apricots, grapes and rhubarb. Rhubarb is mistaken for a fruit by many, as it is primarily used in desserts such as compotes, cakes and jams. Botanically, however, it is a vegetable, since it is not the fruit cluster but the stems that are eaten.

Home-grown vegetables

You can grow the following vegetables in your allotment: cauliflower, cucumbers, peas, broccoli, green beans, broad beans, asparagus, carrots, spinach, kohlrabi, tomatoes, radishes, courgettes, mushrooms, savoy cabbage, chicory and Chinese cabbage. In short: if you have your own garden, you don’t need a supermarket, at least when it comes to vegetables.

Urban gardening or home farming

In recent years a new trend has emerged, the trend towards urban gardening. Many city dwellers don’t have their own gardens, so they are turning to their balconies to grow food. “Necessity is the mother of invention”, as the saying goes. You don’t need a lot of space to grow fruit and vegetables on your balcony or roof terrace. The only requirement is that it needs to be south-facing, because not much can grow without sun.

All you need to get started are balcony boxes, pots, soil and seeds, and you’re ready to go. Don’t forget to water your plants regularly. Even if you have very limited space, you can turn your dream of home-grown fruit and vegetables into reality. In this case, you might want to look at vertical solutions with plant pockets for hanging on walls, or another popular solution, the raised bed. These can be planted with strawberries, herbs and salad leaves.

You can grow the following fruit and vegetables on your balcony or terrace: French beans, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, courgettes, radishes, peas, snow peas, May turnips, aubergines, potatoes, chillies, Mediterranean herbs and also Swiss chard. Carrots, Swiss chard and radishes are suitable for partially shady spots. Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries, blueberries, figs, peaches and dwarf Cape gooseberries are perfect for growing in pots. As you can see, you have a wide variety to choose from.

Balcony plots have one more advantage over gardens. As plants grown on balconies are often protected from rain and water spray, they do not suffer from the dreaded brown rot or fungal diseases. As a result, you get a significantly higher fruit yield on balconies than in gardens.

If you want to go one step further, and manage to find a house with a garden far away from the city, you can also get a lot of interesting tips and tricks in Judith Raker’s new book, “Home Farming”. As an absolute newcomer to gardening, the well-known newsreader managed to realise her “dream of having her own garden”. She grows her own fruit and vegetables, keeps a small flock of chickens, and turns her harvests and eggs into delicious recipes. Along the way, she has found great joy. In “Home Farming”, she explains, in a beginner-friendly manner, her step-by-step progress during her first two years of becoming self-sufficient, the experiences she had, how mistakes are part of these experiences and what she learned from them.

We wish you oodles of fun and inspiration with home farming!


Judith Rakers: Home Farming – Selbstversorgung ohne grünen Daumen, GU Verlag 2021

John Seymour: Selbstversorgung aus dem Garten: Wie man seinen Garten natürlich bestellt und gesunde Nahrung erntet, Urania, Freiburg 2009

Michael Pollock: Obst- und Gemüseanbau: Die praktische Enzyklopädie. 150 Obst-, Gemüse- und Kräuterarten. Mit ausführlichen Pflanzenporträts: Standort, Boden, Aussaat, … Tipps zu Lagerung und Schädlingsbekämpfung, Dorling Kindersley, Munich 2002

Leberecht Migge: Jedermann Selbstversorger, Jena 1919

Alfred Brauchle: Das Paradies des Kindes. Der Schrebergarten. Dr. med. Daniel Gottlieb Moritz Schreber. In: ibid: Geschichte der Naturheilkunde in Lebensbildern. 2., expanded edition from Große Naturärzte. Reclam, Stuttgart 1951, pp. 184–190

Inge Meta Hülbusch, Jedermann Selbstversorger. Das koloniale Grün Leberecht Migges, in: Nachlese Freiraumplanung, Kassel, 1991, pp. 1–16. Ulrich Linse, Ökopax und Anarchie. Eine Geschichte der ökologischen Bewegungen in Deutschland, dtv München, 1986, p. 85 ff.