Uncategorized, Will

Source: Kalin

The Berlin Wall famously divided families and enforced division for nearly thirty years, but strangely it also gave one man the opportunity to create a flourishing urban garden. This is the story of Osman Kalin, a Turkish immigrant who defied the authorities to turn a piece of wasteland beneath the Berlin Wall into an oasis of greenery beloved by his community. It’s an example of gardening at its best: a source of greenery and positivity during a darkly turbulent time.

In 1961 the Berlin Wall was erected quickly and haphazardly, and consequently a splinter of East Berlin land ended up on the wrong side of the dividing line. Given that it was inaccessible to its legal owners the land was used as an informal dumping ground, until 1982 when Osman cleared away the rubbish and started up a vegetable patch as a post-retirement project. In a nearby watchtower East Berlin guards spotted his activities and investigated to make sure he wasn’t digging a tunnel, but eventually allowed him to carry on with his green fingered endeavours. The West Berlin police also turned up and tried to move him off the land, but he stubbornly refused to budge.

Source: Kalin

Osman soon planted garlic and onions, along with several fruit trees, and he would regularly make gifts of his produce to the guards on the wall. They soon became comfortable with his presence and even began sending him a Christmas card every year. In 1983 Osman also began constructing a ramshackle shed that slowly evolved into a two-storey treehouse kitted out with electricity and running water, which soon became known as ‘Das Baumhaus an der Mauer’ or ‘The Treehouse on the Wall’.

The violence inherent in the Berlin Wall was never far away, as the garden was located at a popular crossing point for those desperate enough to make an escape attempt. Yet despite the presence of barbed wire and machine guns, Osman became famous for his cheerful friendliness, always happy to share his produce or invite visitors in for a cup of tea. Anarchist punks living in the area were especially big fans, holding him as an example of heroic resistance to political power.

Source: Kalin

In 1989 the Berlin Wall came down, and while this was a moment of great joy for most, it meant Osman had become an illegal squatter. There were attempts to evict him, but the local community rallied to his side. This included the Church of St Thomas next door, which helpfully tried to use a map from the 1780s to claim that the land actually belonged to the church. Faced with such widespread opposition the local council abandoned their attempts and the garden was allowed to stay.

Osman passed away in April 2018, but the garden is now tended by his son Mehmet and granddaughter Funda. People still visit the Treehouse on the Wall, inspired by Osman’s determination to create something special amidst the harsh realities of international power politics. As Osman showed, gardening can often mean much more than just a hobby; it’s a way of improving mental health, gathering people together, and bringing beauty to those that need it most. The Berlin Wall might be long gone, but the garden remains – surely that says something about what really matters?

Why not follow in Osman’s example yourself? Although you may wish to avoid requisitioning land that doesn’t belong to you, even a small space can be turned into a calming oasis of greenery, or a bountiful source of fresh fruit and vegetables. Have a look at Primrose’s range of outdoor sheds or tools for growing your own veg, and get started on creating your own outdoor escape.

All images have been reproduced with permission of owner.

Will at PrimroseWill is a Copywriter at Primrose and spends his days rattling out words for the website. In his spare time he treads the boards with an Am-Dram group, reads books about terrible, terrible wars, and rambles the countryside looking wistful.

See all of Will’s posts.

Gardening, Will

Our memory of the First World War tends to focus on the trenches and shellfire, but for hundreds of men held in Ruhleben Internment Camp in Berlin the war was actually spent tending vegetable patches and organising flower shows. When the war broke out in 1914, British men of military age who happened to be in Germany were interned within the confines of the Ruhleben Racecourse. In total about 5,500 men were detained there, and they created a community that closely resembled the one they had left in Britain. This soon included a thriving horticultural society, which is itself a fascinating story and an example of the positive power gardening can have in the most challenging of circumstances.

Source: RHS Lindley Library

The German authorities left the camp’s internees to run their own affairs, and in addition to public services, they founded a series of hobby clubs – including popular sporting, musical and theatrical societies. In 1916 the Crown Princess of Sweden gifted some seeds to the internees, which inspired the idea of an official horticultural society. In September 1916 the initial 50 members drew up a constitution, and the society quickly expanded – by the start of 1917 there were 454 members on the books.

A letter was sent to the Royal Horticultural Society in London asking for official affiliation. They apologised for being unable to include the usual fee, but the RHS did not see any problem with that, and sent a batch of bulbs and seeds to get them started. Gardening efforts were initially focused on growing flowers, with the camp’s joinery shop producing frames to help bring on the first seedlings. The flowers were prized as a way of distracting from the dreary daily reality of barbed wire, and were even sold to raise money for their families back in Britain. An array of different flowers were grown, including chrysanthemums, dahlias and over fifty varieties of sweet pea. A rock garden was also established near the wash house, which “redeemed one of the most melancholy views in camp”, according to a report by the society’s committee.

Source: RHS Lindley Library

In April 1917 the first camp flower show was held, which was organised with written directions and assistance from the RHS. The horticultural standard was high and the show was a great success. There were several further shows in the following years, which grew in size and popularity – in March 1918 600 pots were staged in total, and 2.000 pots were sold for a healthy profit.

In 1917 the Ruhleben Horticultural Society widened their focus to growing vegetables to supplement the internees’ diet, and took over a large parcel of land for that purpose. A loan from the German authorities also enabled the building of a heated greenhouse, which was used to grow melons and tomatoes. The vegetable garden was managed by a permanent staff of 18 internees, assisted by 10 volunteers, and by 1918 the camp was almost self-sufficient in fruit and vegetables, in stark contrast to the near starvation being experienced throughout Germany at the time.

Source: RHS Lindley Library

The society’s gardening efforts were not always easy; the soil at hand was dry and sandy, and sourcing manure was difficult – but they worked around the challenges to create amazing results. The Ruhleben Horticultural Society is a wonderful example of finding positivity in a time of hardship, and is a demonstration of just how life-changing gardening can really be. The internees were released in November 1918, and will surely have returned home healthier in mind and body thanks to the green-fingered efforts of their horticultural society.

Sources:

RHS Lindley Library

https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/search/archives/59079105-fa9a-3b97-a7d1-78195115b711

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/10606906/Ruhleben-the-WW1-camp-where-gardening-blossomed.html

Will at PrimroseWill is a Copywriter at Primrose and spends his days rattling out words for the website. In his spare time he treads the boards with an Am-Dram group, reads books about terrible, terrible wars, and rambles the countryside looking wistful.

See all of Will’s posts.

 

Garden Furniture, Will

There is a great appeal to using natural materials to make the items we use, especially in garden spaces.  Rattan is one of the more familiar materials – traditionally used for lightweight furniture – but what actually is it, and where does it come from?

Rattan Climber Plant
A rattan cane growing in India. Picture credit: Dinesh Valke (2011) licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Rattan refers to around 600 species of vine-like palm climbers found growing in tropical regions across the world, although commercial rattan production is centred on Southeast Asia. The plant is formed of a spine-covered woody stem, which in the right circumstances can grow up to 100m long. Once the cane’s outer layer has been removed and the core dried or cured it becomes immensely strong, flexible and lightweight, and can be used for many purposes – Italian scientists are currently on the verge of releasing a working rattan bone graft!  

Rattan has long been an important resource in the lives of local populations, but its many desirable qualities mean it is now a globally-coveted commodity, with the rattan industry worth over US$4 billion annually. The industry is a vital source of income for many rural communities and is held as a shining example of sustainable, eco-friendly development – it grows reliably quickly, and is easy to harvest and process in a village setting. Given that rattan is dependent on trees to grow, its production also helps protect against destructive deforestation. In countries such as Indonesia rattan is now a valuable tool for protecting areas that would otherwise be under threat, although there are concerns about overexploitation.

Rattan being prepared for use

In the UK rattan is often used for garden accessories, where its natural appearance and touch helps blend with the greenery of the garden space – a good example being this hand woven planter with inbuilt drainage system. However, rattan is now rarely used for outdoor furniture. Although it is immensely durable, rattan will eventually suffer from prolonged contact with the elements after a number of years. There is consequently a great demand for synthetic rattan garden furniture, which aims to replicate the benefits of the plant while better serving in long-term outdoor use.

Synthetic rattan (or ‘rattan effect’) furniture is generally made from either Polyethylene (PE) or Polyurethane (PU), which both share the key characteristics of being weather, mould and UV proof. Despite this, PE rattan is widely considered to be the superior material, given that it’s notably more durable, as well as being environmentally friendly to manufacture and completely recyclable. Synthetic rattan garden furniture also come in several different weaves – full-round, half-round and flat – all offering different aesthetic effects and tactile experiences.

Primrose offers a range of high quality synthetic rattan garden furniture ideal for outdoor entertaining and alfresco dining: this 6 Seater Set is made using PE rattan with a full-round weave, and comes in a natural colouring, while this 12 Seater Round Sofa also uses PE rattan, but comes in flat-weave and a chocolatey brown colouring.

Rattan, whether natural or synthetic, has a great deal to offer any outdoor space. The natural product is a wonderful material for certain garden accessories despite its limitations, while the synthetic equivalent makes for some truly lovable furniture – perfect for any outdoor entertainer.

Will at PrimroseWill is a Copywriter at Primrose, and spends his days rattling out words for the website. In his spare time he treads the boards with an Am-Dram group, reads books about terrible, terrible wars, and rambles the countryside looking wistful.

See all of Will’s posts.