The "Jardins Partagés" or literally translated as “Shared Gardens” are green spaces in urban areas where the urban community plays a vital participatory role in both its development and maintenance. Since they were first established in Lille in 1997, the “Jardin Partagé” phenomenon has extended across the whole of France and we can today find shared community gardens in all important French cities. This year marks the tenth anniversary since the first shared garden was established in Paris. The extent of this phenomenon has been enormous in the city of light, which now counts about 70 gardens.

What is a Jardin Partagé or Shared Garden?

A "Jardin Partagé" or "Shared Garden" is defined as a garden that is designed, constructed and collectively cultivated by the inhabitants of a generally urban area. Its main objectives are to: (1) stimulate/promote the social relationships of the people involved in the project accordingly to principles of respect, solidarity, coexistence and community and (2) develop various farming and gardening techniques that respect environmental and biodiversity conservation. They are multidisciplinary spaces and typically managed by non-profit associations, which act as a support for educational, cultural or artistic activities and events that are free and open to the public.

The origins of shared community gardens

The origins of the Jardins Partagés can be found across the Atlantic in New York and Montreal, which are the cities that pioneered this phenomenon. The first community garden in New York was born in Manhattan, in the early 1970s, when the city was going through a tough urban and financial crisis. Many abandoned buildings were demolished or burned, leaving behind plots that were turned into tips. In this context, the artist Liz Christy decided to rejuvenate and green these areas by scattering handfuls of seeds. The result of this initiative was that flowers started to grow on the rubble. Encouraged by this success, she decided to extend her endeavour. In 1973, she brought together a group of friends and neighbours. Together they created the first community garden in the Lower East Side neighborhood in Manhattan, which now forms part of the grounds that are protected by the city of New York. In 1974, Liz Christy founded the Green Guerillas association to help others to create their own community gardens, and in 1978 the City of New York created the Green Thumb programme, to help promote the development of these gardens.[1]

In France it was in the 1980s when social leaders, activists and gardeners became interested in these practices and established the first community gardens. However it was not until 1997 when the the first Jardin Partagé was founded in Lille. It was that same year, that the first national forum of Gardening and Citizenship (“Jardinage et citoyenneté”) took place. At this forum, the French network of community gardens known as "Le Jardin dans Tous Ses Etats - JTSE" was created. The JTSE consists of various regional representatives, mostly associations, which act collectively to facilitate the establishment and implementation of shared gardens.[2]

Shared Gardens - Spaces of social unity and biodiversity protection

Shared gardens have an important social role. They are spaces that bring together the community and neighbours, enabling them to develop together their love for gardening. Today in Paris there are about 70 shared gardens located around the city. These make up a regional network that facilitates communication and information exchanges between associations and creates a peaceful coexistence among the citizens. In these gardens a number of different activities are carried out. Apart from gardening, there are also concerts, debates, exhibitions, performances, workshops and conferences.

The general public often considers green spaces to be sterile and inactive spaces. Shared gardens however are malleable, ever changing areas, which reflect the citizens' need to be close to nature. "In shared gardens people feel more comfortable than in conventional green spaces. There is a personal connection because it us who create, nurture and care for the gardens", says Alain Wiéderlé, the President of the Jardin de l'Aquaduc in Paris.

According to the Parisian "Main Verte” guide, all gardens are required to open two days a week at least. Everyone is welcome to visit whenever there is a member of the association in the garden. The interesting and curious thing about shared gardens is that every garden is different, so there is no specific model to follow.

Conserving biodiversity

The Jardins Partagés could be described as true conservatories of biodiversity, where there is a direct relationship between people and the natural environment that surrounds them. This relationship has almost been forgotten by the inhabitants of large cities. It has been shown however that having close contact with nature can considerably enhance the quality of life and wellbeing of urban citizens. Citizens who come to these spaces learn gardening techniques that are environmentally friendly and that promote the protection of biodiversity in urban ecosystems. As Alain Wiéderlé puts it, "There are people who every day after work visit the garden. They spend a quarter of an hour in the garden and return home full of energy. People come to the garden in a sick state and leave in good health!"

We would like to thank the six gardens that invited us and took the time to answer our questions for this article. Merci beaucoup à tous!