At Home in the Garden: Urban Gardening As a Leisurely Activity, Homemaking Practice and Source of Health, Satisfaction, and Well-Being

Thursday, 14 July 2016
Location: Hörsaal BIG 2 (Main Building)
Distributed Paper
Petr GIBAS, Sociological Institute, Czech Academy of Sciences, Czech Republic
Allotment gardens started to appear throughout Europe by the end of the 19th century and since then fulfilled diverse functions. They were promoted and understood as spaces of healthy and active urban recreation in natural surroundings, as sites to grow fruit and vegetables in times of shortages, as suitable places for families with children to retreat from harmful urban environment, and more recently as sites of potential resistance to late modern capitalism. In the paper, I draw on my long term research in allotments and focus on the experiential dimension of leisurely urban gardening. Allotment gardens colonies are infused with intense emotions by gardeners working in and taking care of their allotments. Continuous physical engagement with domesticated nature, the time spent in the garden and the unceasing care make gardeners feel rooted in their gardens similarly to the flowers and plants they grow. Gardens thereby represent a part of the gardeners’ homes, dislocated from the places of residence (the flats) but similarly important to gardeners’ well-being and long-term happiness. I argue that the garden becomes a component of home by means of localised, physically demanding, immediate but repeated embodied engagement with the spaces and materiality of the garden resulting in moments of (dis)satisfaction over the aesthetics of and the crop from it. Using ethnographic and visual research material combined with the data from semi-structured interviews from three allotments in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, I unravel the interconnection between activities employed in gardening and emotions and attachments that are formed and strengthened as their result in time. In particular, I enquire how gardeners practice gardening as a demanding and rewarding leisurely activity and how they conceive of its connection to their health, immediate satisfaction, long-term well-being, and last but not least, to homemaking.