One day I found a community garden in the Parc de Gerland amidst the early spring flowers and the Rhône River.
France was one of the first European countries to create these gardens. The idea originated at the end of the 19th century in order to improve the lives of workers by providing two things: a social equilibrium and better alimentation. Inspired by the words of the physician and educator Daniel Gottlob Moritz Schreber in Germany, some French people began to seriously think about creating these familial gardens. Father Jules Lermine echoed these sentiments and visioned,
« Les jardins ouvriers professent une vocation sociale et défendent un certain ordre social : s’ils permettent aux ouvriers d’échapper à leur taudis en profitant d’un air plus respirable, ils les éloignent aussi des cabarets et encouragent les activités familiales au sein de ces espaces verts. »
Roughly translated, this means, “The allotments profess a social vocation and defend a certain social order: they allow workers to escape their slum enjoying a more congenial, they also move towards and encourage family activities within these green spaces.”
After the Second World War, they were renamed les jardins familiaux or les jardins de famille and are still in use today as communal gardens even though they are made of individual plots. Each community garden has a cabanon, which is essentially a garden shed where tools are stored. Starting in March of each year, it is a very common sight to see men and women gardeners working on their plots, talking with their neighbors, or just basking in the early spring sunlight.
Nowadays, les jardins familiaux, as defined by la Fédération Nationale des Jardins Familiaux, are:
“Les jardins familiaux sont des lotissements de parcelles gérés par une association, mis à disposition de jardiniers afin qu’ils en jouissent pour leurs loisirs et les cultivent pour les besoins de leur famille, à l’exclusion de tout usage commercial.”
Which essentially means that these community gardens are for the use of gardeners for their own pleasure and to provide food for their families, but cannot be used for any commercial purposes.
I’m excited to see what flowers, fruits, and vegetables crop up in this Lyonnais garden during the two months I have left in France. Actually, change is already a-happening. Many of these photos were taken in late March. In the last two weeks or so, these plots have been filled with green vegetable. Indeed, two of these images were taken in the same place, but in the 2-3 week span, les glycines have bloomed. The light purple/lavendar wisteria flowers draping over the fence are so beautiful and the flowers have one of the most intoxicating scents I’ve ever smelled. I’ve always said that even if I was to live in France for another decade, I’d never fully understand the French. But seeing this certainly helps me understand a little more of the French passion for freshness, for beauty, and for life.