A student of mine recently told me an amusing anecdote. One of her Chinese relatives was visiting Holland and while they were sitting in a train my student’s relative looked out of the window and said she thought Holland was a prosperous country. She had absolutely no idea that they had a problem with shanty towns alongside railway lines! Recovering from her laughter my student told her relation that these were allotments, or volkstuinen, where the Dutch come for fun and not because they can’t afford a proper home.
I suppose the whole phenomenon of allotmenteering is quite strange to many cultures. In the UK it’s all about growing vegetables whereas here in NL allotments are primarily a place to relax and get away from the bustle of the city. In fact, there’s a worrying tendency for a lot of chalet owners to cover their ground with concrete and so dispense with the need to garden at all.
Our allotment is in Geuzenveld, de Eendracht, situated in the garden city suburbs which merge with the green belt between Amsterdam and Haarlem. It has existed since 1962 and comprises 239 gardens and chalets. It is a little community in itself, more like a village than a town. Neighbours are often caught chin wagging over the fence and passing someone on the path without greeting them would be unthinkable. In fact it’s like stepping back in time, to an era when a sense of community still existed amongst town dwellers.
We bought our chalet and started renting the ground in 2007 and it’s a decision I’ve never regretted. It’s quite a commitment of time and energy and for all this effort I’m indebted to my husband’s unswerving passion for all things green. I don’t know what the opposite of green fingers is but anyway, that’s what I’ve got. Even though gardening is not really my thing, the garden is a place of sanctuary. Since the recession, the neighbourhood where I live has become increasingly noisy and untenable with thirty something’s getting their foot on the property ladder and gutting and renovating homes, with the accompanying noise terrorism.
There is no mains electricity at the allotments so thankfully we don’t have to put up with the perpetual drone of DIY/gardening gadgets. There’s a simple kitchen and toilet in each garden chalet so many people opt to spend the summer there. It’s possible to cook from Calor gas and many owners have turned their gardens into mini-paradises!