When you think of the Netherlands you think of farmland- right? Green, lush acres of land filled with gardens, mooing cows and baaing sheep, maybe a windmill in the background. That’s true, to an extent.
The reality is that for the average individual resident there isn’t enough space or room or even GROUND to have a personal garden. Hence, what they do in the Netherlands (and what they’ve done for decades as I recently learned) is rent out a plot in a community garden.
I’ll be frank and say that I hold absolute zero interest in gardening. The dirt and bugs receive no love from me. My husband, however, has a big enough green thumb for the both of us. Where we lived in South Carolina before moving abroad he painstakingly turned up the hard red clay and labored over creating a garden.
He subscribed to gardening magazines and dug, planted and watered with the best of them. Back then and still today he and his father (who lives in Michigan) talk about gardening and plants. It’s something he loves and something that he misses tremendously here since we have a bricked in courtyard in the back of our house and a sidewalk and street in the front.
Thus when Valentine’s Day rolled around I knew exactly what to give him. A friend of mine from school was recently telling me about their garden plot that they have rented for the past three years. She said that the kids love it and she finds great enjoyment out of the community aspect and the fact that she has a pretty decent sized veggie haul year after year for a mere €25 in fees.
She told me that it’s a very quiet and relaxing space for like-minded people to go and tend to their plants. There are really no rules (Grow what you want! Share if you’d like! Just don’t take without asking!) and the gate is open 24 hours a day. You can bring your lawn chairs and hang out, and even tote your travel bbq along to grill right there next to your garden. This sounded like something I absolutely could see us doing with our friends this summer- and if my only logistical issue was how to transport folding chairs by bike I’d find a way to make it happen.
I went to the local garden shop and bought packets of seeds, a trowel, and gardening gloves for the four men in my life and placed it all in a big red bucket as a gift on Valentine’s Day. I told everyone to get in the car and drove them out to this mystery location just a few minutes away. Once we arrived, the boys immediately started running around in their ‘space’ and we talked about what we’d grow. I was thrilled to see them so excited.
The weather since the 14th of February has been anything but pleasant, but that hasn’t stopped my crew from asking each weekend to ‘go see the garden’ or ‘work on the land’. My husband has kept a positive attitude regarding the ‘help’ that three small boys can offer on such a project- and thus far it’s working out well. In fact they’re at the garden now replanting a small apple tree we had in a huge pot sitting in our courtyard. We think it will be nice to leave once our year lease is up- hoping the next family who comes along might keep it.
I’m so glad that I learned about this shared community garden. It’s yet another way we have managed to integrate with our Dutch neighbors while working and living alongside them. My entire family is reaping the benefits (I can’t complain about a quiet house when everyone is there working!) and nothing has even grown for us to eat as of yet! The boys are active and involved which I can only hope does more to encourage their green thumb as they grow.