polis: a collective blog about cities worldwide

Urban Garden Plots in Vladimir, Russia

by Peter Sigrist

As urban gardening becomes more popular in the United States, there's a lot we can learn from the experience of other countries. Garden plots are among the things that stand out in Vladimir, the city in Russia where I'm currently living. The differences between city and country are blurred here. Bustling streets and high-rise buildings coexist with dirt paths, overgrown foliage, wooden cottages, neighborhood water pumps, and all kinds of gardens.

I wouldn't blame anyone for being tired of hearing me talk about urban horticulture in Russia. Still, my usual focus on parks hasn't left much room for gardening. Most people in Vladimir have easy access to fresh produce in the summer from local gardens. Whether in the city or on small ex/peri-urban cottages (known as dachas), they provide fruits and vegetables for a surprisingly large number of people. Cabbage, beets, cucumbers, berries, and other fresh produce are also preserved in jars for the winter.

Perhaps urban gardening isn't more common in Russia than in the US, only more visible. There are fewer single homes with yards, and cities tend to be more densely populated. So it's common to find gardens while walking through the streets. The ones in Vladimir include shared plots between apartment blocks, small yards connected to wooden homes (of a style that predates the Soviet era), and larger gardens on the outer limits of the city (but within easy walking distance of apartment blocks and bus stops). Many elderly women earn extra money by selling fresh fruits, vegetables, and flowers on the streets.

Although Russian garden plots are outside the scope of my current research, I'd like to study them in detail some day. I wonder how people keep their produce free of harmful chemicals in the soil and air. I've seen a lot of greenhouses here, and the gardens in courtyards are protected from vehicle emissions. People often use transplanted soil on brownfield sites in Brooklyn, so maybe that is also done here. I'm not sure if Russia's gardening tradition will remain strong. The grandson of the couple I'm living with spends a lot of time gardening at the dacha, but (as evident in the altered street poster below left) this may be considered uninteresting and unnecessary by many young people today.

I've included some examples here of gardens in Vladimir. I hope they might bring to mind useful ideas for urban designers in other parts of the world. If the smoke clears up soon I will take more photos. I'd love to see more urban residential areas with landscaped courtyards and accessible garden plots in the US.

Credits: Photos by Peter Sigrist.