Questo sito utilizza i cookie per migliorare servizi ed esperienza dei lettori. Se decidi di continuare la navigazione consideriamo che accetti il loro uso. ok Leggi

Home > Kitchen garden history

storia degli orti

Discover the kitchen garden history, from the origins to present days...

history of veggie gardens

Ancient civilizations

Vegetable garden in ancient civilizations

The King’s Garden in the Royal Palace of Ashurbanipal
The King’s Garden in the Royal Palace of Ashurbanipal

Originally it was the lost paradise: a garden or vegetable garden of delights in which humankind lived in peace, in close contact with divinity.
This representation is common to many ancient peoples: a defined space in which benign nature spontaneously provides all edible food, fruit and vegetables, milk and honey…; all of this among shady trees, flowers of all kinds, springs and streams, where even the wild animals are tame.

Garden of Nebamun (circa 1600 BCE) in Thebes
Garden of Nebamun (circa 1600 BCE) in Thebes

This ideal space was the inspiration for the oldest and most famous gardens or royal parks of the East and of Egypt, where the sovereign enhanced his absolute power by recreating artificial paradises peppered with varieties of fruits, flowers and plants that demonstrated the wealth and prestige, as well as the vastness of his dominions.

Garden of a Theban tomb (circa 1400 BCE)
Garden of a Theban tomb (circa 1400 BCE)

The most ancient gardens, of which we have several testimonies, are those of the Egyptians (circa 1600-1400 BCE). In ancient Egypt, the garden was a very important symbol of life and the ever present pool, as well as being a supply of water, represented the primordial ocean.

Hypothetical Representation of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon
Hypothetical Representation of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon

In many populations that have chosen the city as the main setting for daily life, the kitchen (household vegetable) garden is built around, and inside the palaces of the powerful, taking on architecturally monumental structures and forms. The most famous and well known are the legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon (near today’s Baghdad, Iraq) which, according to lore, were built by the Assyrian queen Semiramis.
In the following centuries, these ancient models would be reproduced in the gardens and parks of kings, princes, emperors and in general, the powerful of the times.
The production aspect, more specifically that of fruits and vegetables, would have greater or lesser bearing on its ornamental appearance depending on the economic and cultural context that has always regulated the balance between urban and rural.

A French 18th century print of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (A. Manesson Mallet)
A French 18th century print of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (A. Manesson Mallet)

Next to the vegetable gardens in the Eastern tradition, there have always been kitchen gardens, those of which in the cities and countryside have been cultivated by families with land available for either their own consumption, or for that of the local market. In these cases, the main purpose was profit though it seems that the ideal tendency was towards a small, private “paradise”.

Text: Paolo Braconi – Università degli Studi di Perugia

Roman times

The Roman Hortus

Mosaics of the Bardo Museum
Mosaics of the Bardo Museum

The Latin word hortus (Greek chortos) has the same root that led to the word garden (garten, garden, jardin) and which refers to the idea of “enclosed space”.
The original Roman Hortus was, in fact, a small plot of enclosed land attached to the domus (home).

Roman Domus
Roman Domus

This was strictly dedicated to the production of vegetables, fruits and some flowers and was an extension of the house, a sort of pantry in the open, protected by the same deities that protected the home (the Lares).
The Roman diet was mainly based on plant products. If meat was the indispensable exception that characterized parties, and therefore conviviality, cereals (soups, polenta and bread) were the staples, an irreplaceable and indispensable source of sustenance for civilian (as a citizen) and military life.
But despite the tendency to ration food imposed by the rituals of sacrifice, war or city business, the Roman enjoyed representing himself as a traditional ancestral eater of vegetables and fruits, foods considered to be more civilized because they were products from the nearest and most domesticated lands (those of the vegetable garden) that were perpetually tended to and never left to rest in rotations as was the land in the fields.
In addition to domestic gardens, a vegetable-garden ‘beltway’ surrounding Rome and the urban centers supplied local markets daily.
To the ancient mind in general, and that of the Roman in particular, products from the vegetable garden were preferable and less expensive because they were consumed raw, or better yet, “cooked” by ripening in the sun (such as fruit, lettuce and some roots).

Text: Paolo Braconi – Università degli Studi di Perugia

The Roman Horti

Reconstruction of the Horti Luculliani (Gardens of Lucullus) on the Pincian Hill in Rome
Reconstruction of the Horti Luculliani (Gardens of Lucullus) on the Pincian Hill in Rome

The rustic simplicity of its origins was altered when the civilizations of Greece and the conquered East in turn, “conquered” Rome.
The small vegetable garden behind the house therefore left room for sophisticated peristyles, micro-havens in imitation of the Hellenistic mansions. In 66 BCE, Lucullus, victorious over Mithridates of Pontus, in addition to importing treasures and other novelties snatched from the enemy, realized the first large, private Roman park-garden with flower beds, groves, pavilions, porticoes, water lilies and art exhibitions- in short, a forerunner of the great parks and villas still present today in Rome.                                                                                                                                                                                                                              In labeling this large urban space (which was not for the production of beans, peas, lupines or lupini beans, cabbage, onions and lettuce), the Romans continued to use the name of the ancient traditional vegetable garden in the plural form: Horti Luculliani (Gardens of Lucullus) which were followed by those of Sallust, Caesar, Maecenas and many others who drew criticism from conservatives who were never resigned to seeing a Roman farm the land without showing a profit.
Of course, the vegetable garden and horticulture would continue to live on, between town and countryside, and supply the tables of the rich and poor with plant foods.

Text: Paolo Braconi – Università degli Studi di Perugia


The Buried Gardens of Pompei

Villa Livia
Fresco of the garden of Villa Livia in Pompei, Museo Nazionale Romano, Rome

Stratigraphic excavation and ethnobotany, together with valuable testimonies like that of Pliny in Naturalis Historia and frescoes that decorated the Roman houses of the Vesuvius area, have made it possible to reconstruct the appearance of the gardens of Pompei with detailed information about plant species and their multiple uses: from the decoration of the garden to ornaments for the crowns, to their use in medicine and in cooking.                                    The flowers that were available, though they were not many, were cultivated in isolated groups or together with roses. The presence of exotic species in the Vesuvius area (the lotus flower, date palm, plantain, lemon, cedar) testifies to the existence of trade with distant regions. To decorate the green areas, the gardeners used many shrubs and trees, especially evergreens, which provided shade (mites), a fitting background to the architecture and a pleasant smell. There was widespread diffusion of fruit trees in the gardens and beyond those, there may also have been an orchard: apricot, peach, cherry, pomegranate, apple, pear, plum and fig were all frequent and utilized in their entirety. Frescoes depicting the grapevines are so precise that the varieties can actually be distinguished; the abundance of presses, amphorae and wine cellars found in Pompei testify to abundant wine production, and literary sources tell of a fine Vesuvian wine. The olive tree also grew in the area: its oil was the basis of perfumes and ointments; its wood was used in inlaid furniture; the residue from the olive presses was used to fuel the lamps; the sediment kept the insects away from the granaries.
Adjacent to the orchard was the garden: it was used for the family and for trade and there, beans, peas, lupines, cabbage, onions and lettuce were grown. The vegetable gardens also surrounded Pompei and supplied the town with fresh vegetables at the town market (we must remember that the lack of refrigeration and impassable roads made it necessary to grow produce near the trade markets). Cabbage was considered the king of all vegetables and several varieties of it were cultivated. The best quality artichokes came from Carthage. Fennel and lettuce, sacred to Adonis, were widely used as sedatives and sleeping pills. Pumpkin and cucumber had been cultivated since ancient times, and endive and wild asparagus were very much appreciated. Some watermelon seeds were found in Pompei, a fruit which appeared exclusively on imperial tables.
The gardens of Pompei also represented the “home pharmacy and perfumery”. In medicine, many ingredients were left to macerate in wine whose alcohol base extracted the active ingredients, while scented species such as lilies, roses and violets were destined for the preparation of perfumes. Some plant species were also used as dyeing plants and, depending on the fiber and the mordant used, gave different colors.
In the Vesuvian landscape there were also fiber crops: flax and hemp to produce clothing, upholstery, sails and fishing nets; esparto for the soles of light shoes and cordage, the reeds for mats, baskets and shopping bags.
In August of 79 CE, nature overcame the homo georgicus, and the volcano buried the vegetable gardens of Pompei.

Text: Stefania De Pascale – Università degli Studi di Napoli “Federico II”

Middle Ages

The Arabic Garden

The Spring, The Mewar School circa 1700
The Spring, The Mewar School circa 1700

The Arabic Garden was designed to represent paradise, full of ornamental cultivations, fruit trees and vegetable gardens that satisfy all five of the senses: sight, with the colors of the flowers and their harmonious lines; smell, with the intense aromas of each season; touch, with the freshness of the trees and in particular, the leaves; taste, with the always present fruits; hearing, with the sound of flowing water.

The Garden of Happiness, miniature Moghul, circa 1590
The Garden of Happiness, miniature Moghul, circa 1590

It was the Arabs who introduced Mediterranean Europe to some important crop species such as eggplant (or aubergine), lemon, orange, peach, apricot, cotton, sugarcane, rice and carob trees.

Text: Manuel Vaquero Piñeiro & Francesco Tei – Università degli Studi di Perugia

The Medieval Hortus Conclusus

Hortus conclusus 1

The Middle Ages is a historic-cultural period that spans nearly a thousand years from the fall of the Roman Empire (476 CE) to the discovery of America (1492).
Behind the houses of medieval cities were narrow vegetable gardens where essential aromatic herbs were grown in neatly arranged, square frames. Sometimes, there were even vineyards and orchards.

The Monastic Garden (photo The Basilica di Santa Croce in Jerusalem in Rome)
The Monastic Garden (photo The Basilica di Santa Croce in Jerusalem in Rome)

The Hortus conclusus (the Latin translated into English as “walled garden”) is the typical form of a medieval vegetable garden, attached in particular, to monasteries and convents, where the Church guaranteed civil and social organization.

Hortus conclusus 3

As the name suggests, this was a green area that was generally small and surrounded by high walls. Here, the monks, safe from invasions and raids, cultivated plants and trees for food and medicines; it was also a space dedicated to reading, prayer and meditation, while any ornamental function for such a garden was practically unknown.

Hortus conclusus 4

St. Benedict of Norcia (480-c.547), with the construction of numerous monastic settlements throughout Europe and the application of his “Rule”, contributed greatly to the teachings and dissemination of agricultural techniques and cultivation.

Text: Manuel Vaquero Piñeiro & Francesco Tei – Università degli Studi di Perugia

Benedictine Monasteries in Umbria

Reconstruction of a Monastic Complex
Reconstruction of a Monastic Complex

Umbria is the cradle of Benedictine monasticism. Around 480 in Norcia, nestled in the Apennine valleys, St. Benedict was born. He was the source of inspiration of the famous rule “Ora et labora” [pray and work] which had, before the year 1000, established the formation of a network of abbeys and monasteries in Western Europe that extended from England to Italy, from Germany to the Iberian Peninsula. The so-called “black monks”, because of the color of the clothes they wore, established (beginning in the sixth century) the roots of a new agrarian culture that was attentive to the cultivation of the fields, the introduction of more advanced techniques and the management of water sources by building mills to care for the vegetable gardens. Hence, the Benedictine settlements constituted a fundamental chapter in the evolution of western agriculture.

The Abbey of Saints Severus and Martyrius, Orvieto
The Abbey of Saints Severus and Martyrius, Orvieto

In Umbria there is a close relationship between the environment, the secular work of the monks and the architectural forms. The Abbey of San Pietro at the gates of Perugia which currently houses the Department of Agriculture of the Università di Perugia, is testimony of the long and fruitful relationship that over time has been consolidated between the Benedictine tradition and the modernization of agricultural practices. If the monks were the first to take advantage of the codes that were carefully stored in their libraries, there are now students who study in those same environments. Similarly, we can turn our attention to the monasteries of San Pietro in Valle (Ferentillo) or Santa Croce in Sassovivo (Foligno) which, with their monastic settlements in inaccessible mountainous areas, represent the intent to colonize areas covered with forests. But even in flat areas, there are examples of this which are equally eloquent. Here we observe the profound effects of the agrarian measures taken by the monasteries of San Salvatore of Monte Corona (Umbertide), Santa Maria di Valdiponte (Perugia) or Saints Severus and Martyrius (Orvieto) that played an essential role in the development of vineyards, olive groves and silkworms, to the more recent times of tobacco and corn.
But we cannot forget that Umbria is, at the same time, the land of St. Francis. It is therefore no coincidence that in Assisi, the city of “the poor man”, just a few meters from the magnificent Basilica with frescoes by Giotto, stands the Abbey of San Pietro which in the nineteenth century became a colony used for the reception and education of orphaned children. The goal was to integrate the children into society, an aim to be accomplished through the teaching of this work in the fields, and the formation of agricultural know-how. Educational training, similar to what today is growing with social farming, is a phenomenon that in Umbria lies in a fertile furrow of tradition and the past.

Text: Manuel Vaquero Piñeiro – Università degli Studi di Perugia


Pietro de’ Crescenzi:

The Medieval Garden versus The Renaissance Garden

De Ruralium Commodorum
De Ruralium Commodorum – P. De Crescenzi “1299 -1305″

Pietro de’ Crescenzi, also known as Pier Crescenzi (Bologna, 1233-1320), was an Italian writer and agronomist. A scholar of philosophy, medicine, natural sciences and law, he is considered to be the greatest agronomist of the Middle Ages in the west. In his Ruralium Commodorum Libri XII (Book on Rural Arts), he theorized agricultural techniques and the cultivation of horticultural gardens whose application would determine the characteristic elements of the modern agricultural landscape in (modern-day) Italy. It envisaged rules for the gardens “of kings and lords,” but also for the “common people”: the first surrounded by walls, with a fountain and “forest of trees”; the second girded with hedges, fruit trees, but not without a “shady pergola”. This treatise was one of the few texts about agronomy to see the light of day in the Medieval period.

Text: from Wikipedia

The Medici villas as ancient kitchen gardens

Villa Medicea di Petraia
Villa Medicea di Petraia

In 1537, a young, eighteen-year-old Cosimo de’ Medici received the title of Grand Duke of Tuscany. Cosimo, descendant of a collateral branch of the family that had held the reins of Florence in the previous century, continued the patronage that had characterized his ancestors. In the Florentine court, both artistic and scientific matters were followed with great interest, and the best expressions of these aspects can clearly be seen in the vegetable gardens and gardens that were created in the sixteenth century.
Cosimo and the two sons who succeeded him to the throne of Grand Duke, Francesco and Ferdinando, were all extremely passionate about botany and agriculture.
In 1543, Cosimo founded the first botanical garden in the world in Pisa, and two years later in 1545, inaugurated the Giardino dei Semplici (Garden of Simples) in Florence.

Villa Medicea di Castello
Villa Medicea di Castello
Villa Medicea di Castello 2
Villa Medicea di Castello
Villa Medicea di Petraia
Villa Medicea di Petraia

Between 1537 and 1609, the first three Grand Dukes completed the network of the Medici villas which came to be surrounded by important kitchen gardens. The images of the Medici villas by Giusto Utens (Righteous Utens), commissioned by Ferdinand and painted between 1599 and 1602, testify to the crop cultivations that were distributed throughout the Florentine gardens: the Villa di Castello hosted one of the most important collections of citrus trees in Europe; at the Villa di Petraia, the trees that were represented in the garden were dwarf pear trees. These particular crops were appreciated for two reasons: they did not interfere with the surrounding views and, as was mentioned in the treaties of agriculture in Roman times, could be taken as an example for the recreation of the ancient kitchen gardens.

Text: Marco Maovaz – Università degli Studi di Perugia

Modern age

Absolutism of the Grand Siècle (XVII century) in the vegetable garden: The Jardin Potager of Versailles

Jardin Potager of Versailles, XVII century (Kitchen Garden of Versailles)
Jardin Potager of Versailles, XVII century (Kitchen Garden of Versailles)

The fame of Versailles is not only connected to its fabulous gardens and buildings: a significant role in the creation of the mythical aura that surrounded the court of the Sun King was played by the King’s kitchen garden, the ‘Jardin Potager’ and its creator: Jean De La Quintinie (1624 – 1688).

Jardin Potager of Versailles, XVII century
Jardin Potager of Versailles, XVII century

Always imitated but never surpassed, this fertile garden was created to supply the pampered French court and to demonstrate French excellence in horticultural practices.
De La Quintinie obtained extraordinary first fruits, peas in April, figs in June and lettuces at Christmas with which to impress important foreign guests.
Just to have an idea of the variety of the seventeenth century, the Jardin contained 50 varieties of pears (including the King’s favorite, the pear Bon-Chrétien), 20 cultivars of apples and 16 varieties of lettuce.

Jardin Potager of Versailles, XVII century
Jardin Potager of Versailles, XVII century

The fruit and vegetables grown at Versailles were a favorite subject of the court, as noted by Madame de Sévigné in her letters: “The craze for peas continues. The impatience waiting to eat them, to have eaten them, and the pleasure of eating them are the three topics that our princes have been discussing for the past four days now”.
And indeed the King spared no expense on these productions: the management of the vegetable gardens, the greenhouses and the 12,000 fruit trees were taken care of full-time by thirty experienced gardeners.

Text: Marco Maovaz – Università degli Studi di Perugia

Contemporary age

Pietro Verri and the Garden of Enlightenment of “The Botany of the Palate” (XVIII century).

Pietro Verri
Pietro Verri

In 1764 in the newspaper Il Caffè, the scholar Pietro Verri published a description of an ideal garden that bears witness to the great progress of botanical globalization: “That which remains to the left as you enter is designated for the botany of the palate: there you find all the most flavorful herbs, and fruits of Asia, Africa, and America, and the most exquisite asparagus, melons, and lettuces of Holland which, without offending the illustrious lineage of the Pineapples, and the grapes of Good Hope, feed on the same soil: by means of carefully heated greenhouses wherein you have the most exotic fruits, and uncommon […]. The Marquis has refused to admit amongst these vegetables the vast range of foreign plants, which sterilely occupy the land […] everything here must serve or educate, or offer the pleasures of smell, and the dining hall; the pomp, the vainglory of a man is not worthy of this, that seeks the truth, not ostentation, and the opinion of the common people.”

Il Caffè
Il Caffè

Verri was well aware of the ethical and enlightening significance of this garden: the utility of the vegetables as opposed to the passion for exotic ornamental plants, which were becoming status symbols and that would have eventually banished the fruits and vegetables to a position far from the dwellings in just a few years’ time.

Some years would have to pass before we would see the produce be treated in an ornamental way.

Text: Marco Maovaz – Università degli Studi di Perugia

Historicism between the 1800s and 1900s and the Revival of Ornamental Gardens: Villandry

Vegetable garden of the Garden of Villandry
Vegetable garden of the Garden of Villandry

The arrival of the global flora to the gardens of the old continent had some negative consequences on the vegetable gardens and orchards, which over time, gradually became more and more obscured from view.
Historicism and the revival of past architectural styles came along in the mid-nineteenth century to salvage the role of vegetable gardens in their position in ornamental gardens.
In fact, during the 1800s, the layout of historical gardens was studied and reproposed, and there was a renewed awareness of the important role the vegetable gardens had played in production in the various periods.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, ornamental plants in the gardens began to reappear.
Subsequently, the period was witness to the reconstruction of entire ornamental gardens whose most famous example is the vegetable garden in the landscaping of Villandry, built in 1906. The owner of the castle, Joachim Carvallo, commissioned the Spanish landscape architect Javier de Wynthuysen for the restoration of the grounds. De Wynthuysen was inspired by French and Italian Renaissance gardens, into which he inserted typical elements of the Spanish garden, such as ceramics. Although it is a reconstruction, over the years, the horticultural garden of Villandry has become one of the most visited and appreciated of the Loire.

Text: Marco Maovaz – Università degli Studi di Perugia

Industrialization and Urban Horticulture

orticultura urbana 1

During the period of the Industrial Revolution in Europe, a large number of workers and their families migrated from rural areas to cities in search of work in the factories.

orticultura urbana 2

Very often, these families lived in precarious economic conditions, experienced social marginalization and suffered from malnutrition. The “vegetable gardens of the poor” (the ‘allotment gardens’ in the UK, the French ‘jardin ouvriers‘) were set up in allotments from land owned by the local administrations, factories or religious communities, and had the task of alleviating these hardships by permitting the cultivation of vegetables and the raising of small animals.

orticultura urbana 3

The first association of individuals, families and small growing communities of urban vegetable gardens, was founded in Germany in 1864 following initiatives advanced by the physician Daniel Gottlob Moritz Schreber (1808-1861). In Germany, his name is still associated with the idea of urban vegetable gardens which also take the name “Schrebergarten”. In 1921, after more than a decade of preparatory discussions, the German urban gardens organized an association, Bundesverband der Gartenfreunde (, which today unites about 1.5 million members in approximately 15,000 associations (of which there are a good 900, with 80,000 gardens in Berlin alone).

orticultura urbana 4

orticultura urbana 5

In France, the history of urban gardens officially began in 1896, when the abbot Lemire founded the “Ligue du Coin de Terre et du Foyer” and created the ”Ouvre de Jardins Ouvriers” in order to provide help to families in grave economic difficulty. During the International Exposition in Paris in 1900, the association had its own stand where it presented the project of urban gardens, and in 1909, the “jardin ouvriers” was recognized for its public usefulness. The spread of the gardens was extensive in the period of World War I, and in 1926, the thirtieth anniversary of the association, under the stimulus of the French league (which, in 1921, had changed its name to “Fédération Nationale des Jardins Ouvriers de France’) the ”Office lnternational du Coin de Terre et des Jardins Ouvriers” was established by delegates of the gardens of France, Luxembourg, Austria, England and Germany.

orticultura urbana 6

orticultura urbana 7

Text: Francesco Tei – Università degli Studi di Perugia and Giorgio Prosdocimi Gianquinto – Università degli Studi di Bologna

The War Gardens

Orto di guerra 1

The utility and proliferation of urban gardens became even more important in the first half of the twentieth century during the two World Wars, when the socio-economic situation was especially shocking in terms of food.

Orto di guerra 2

In fact, many cities were isolated from peripheral rural areas so that agricultural products were no longer able to reach the city markets and were sold at very high prices or on the black market.

Manifesto orti di guerra

Consequently, the production of food, especially fruits and vegetables, in kitchen gardens and in urban gardens (which later became “war gardens” in Italy, “victory gardens” in Anglo-Saxon countries) became essential for survival.

Text: Francesco Tei – Università degli Studi di Perugia e Giorgio Prosdocimi Gianquinto – Università degli Studi di Bologna

Urban Horticulture from the Function of Productivity to Multi-functionality

Urban Vegetable Gardens
Urban Vegetable Gardens

The period between the ’70s and ’80s of the twentieth century was characterized by strong industrial expansion and was connected to the phenomena of mass immigration. As a result, urban gardens started to develop, especially in areas where the process of massive urbanization was taking place. Agricultural productivity was considered by all accounts, the most important aspect. The urban vegetable gardens provided a product that mainly served for personal consumption, but it also inserted itself into an exchange economy circuit. The integration of [the produce and] an insufficient salary obtained with great fatigue (often the lands were actually dumps), was surely the primary component, but certainly not the only one. The profile of the urban farmer was that of one who tried to retrieve the values and roots that seemed far away and lost to him, even at the cost of obtaining, often illegally, a tiny plot of land in marginal and degraded areas of the urban suburbs. These new farmer-workers had the will to recover their values and distant experiences through means such as the land and agriculture that was so integral to the lives they used to lead. The vegetable garden thus became an identifying element for the immigrants, and gave them more opportunities for recreation, something to do in their leisure time, and a reason to get together.
Since the ’90s, increasing affluence in industrialized countries has pushed the productivity of the vegetable garden to the background, intended as a means of supplementing income. The produce is still important, but has made space for other necessities such as the possibility of having fresh food available and whose chain of production is known. The vegetable garden has also gained importance in terms of development, maintenance and preservation of typical vegetable products of the territory. The production of urban vegetable gardens is still principally destined for personal consumption, but there are also farmers who sell their products at a good price, to neighbors and to solidarity-based purchasing groups, so-called GAS (‘Gruppi di Acquisto Solidale‘, for ethical purchasing groups) who “shop” directly with small urban farmers.
Today, the productive function of urban agriculture in general, and urban farming in particular, is critical in developing countries where access to food is severely limited and the eradication of poverty is one of the Millenium Development Goals, but it has once again become important in many developed countries due to the economic crisis and a growing segment of the urbanized population suffering undernourishment and income insecurity.

Text: Francesco Tei – Università degli Studi di Perugia e Giorgio Prosdocimi Gianquinto – Università degli Studi di Bologna

Urban Horticulture in Developing Countries

Orticultura urbana PVS

Although urban agriculture does not cover only the production of vegetables and fruit, the horticulture sector is undoubtedly the one that is most important in the cities and provides a significant and regular income, not only to the cultivators, but to all the actors in the production chain. The fruit and vegetable crops, if compared to other crops for consumption, are characterized by a much higher production potential and can provide up to 50 kg / m2 of fresh product per year, depending on the species and production technologies that have been adopted.
Urban and peri-urban horticulture can include all sorts of vegetable-fruit crops for nutrition purposes, but the type of farming practiced depends on the context and is to be closely linked to the local culture and traditions.
In general, in the city, the cultivation of short-cycle crops is preferred, while the peri-urban areas are reserved for those with a longer cycle, or for orchards. Cultivation in the urban and peri-urban areas differs substantially from that in the rural areas. The greatest constraint on the cities is the limited availability of land, thus leading to a strong crop intensification and to the choice of species that produce higher income.
The move towards horticultural crops is also determined by the fact that, compared to other crops and agricultural activities, horticulture is characterized by a more efficient use of resources, including soil and water. In relation to the availability of land and water, urban horticulture can roughly be divided into three categories:

• highly intensive horticultural systems that also utilize advanced cultivation technologies (e.g., localized irrigation and soilless systems);
• mini- or micro-gardens (which also use simplified out-ground cultivation systems);
• community vegetable gardens.

By way of example, it is estimated that there are about 7,000 hectares of urban gardens in Hanoi (Vietnam), 26,000 gardens in Havana (Cuba), 10,000 ha in Shanghai (China), 27,000 vegetable gardens in schools, 42,000 community vegetable gardens and 1,600,000 kitchen gardens in Baguio (Philippines).
Slow Food ( has promoted a food development program in Africa by encouraging the construction of 10,000 family kitchen gardens.

Text: Francesco Tei – Università degli Studi di Perugia e Giorgio Prosdocimi Gianquinto – Università degli Studi di Bologna

Contemporary Multifunctional Urban Horticulture

Orticultura urbana multifunzionale

Urban horticulture, with the original aim of ensuring the supply of food, has nowadays evolved into carrying out aesthetic recreational, educational, social or therapeutic tasks in response to the changed economic and socio-cultural conditions. The “community gardens” and “allotment gardens” of Anglo-Saxon countries are paradigmatic of this evolution.
The community gardens are plots of land that are taken care of collectively by a group of people. Most community gardens are open to public use of green spaces in urban areas with a variety of opportunities for social relationships, recreation, education, simple relaxation and, obviously, the production of vegetables and other crops in the direct care of the members.
The small plots of land in urban areas used for amateur gardens are now a reality diffused worldwide: the “Kleingarten” in Austria, Switzerland and Germany; the “ogrodek dzialkòwy” in Poland; the “Rodinná Zahradka” in the Czech Republic; the “kiskerteK” in Hungary; the “volkstuin” in the Netherlands and Belgium; the “jardins ouvriers” or “jardins familiaux” in France and Belgium; the “kolonihave” in Denmark; the “kolonihage” in Norway; the “kolonitraetgard” in Sweden; the “siirtolapuutarhaf” in Finland; the “shimin-noen” in Japan; the “community gardens” and “allotment gardens” in Anglo-Saxon countries; the “orti urbani” or “orti sociali” in Italy.
Today the Office lnternational du Coin de Terre et des Jardins Ouvriers is the most important grouping of amateur urban gardens in Europe that brings together organizations from 14 countries (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, Sweden and Switzerland) with more than 3 million members (
In England, the nearly 300,000 amateur urban gardens are organized in several organizations among which, the most important one being the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners (NSALG) established in 1901 (
In the USA, urban gardeners formed various associations which were then consolidated in the American Community Gardening Association in 1979 (
In Canada, there is a growing diffusion of “community and allotment gardens” and other forms of urban horticulture (rooftop and back-yard gardens, urban farms…) for the purpose of contributing to the food security of certain citizen social groups. Today, Montreal has the largest urban horticulture program in Canada and of the 100 community gardens, 73 are managed by the local administrations which provide the plots, equipment, water supply, waste collection as well as a form of technical assistance. The origin of the gardens in Montreal dates back to the early ’70s, when the citizens of a predominantly Italian and Portuguese background began to take possession of uncultivated land along the railway and hydroelectric lines.
The first official and organized “community horticulture” program was founded in 1975; later in 1979, thanks to the activism of Pierre Bourque – at that time, director of the botanical garden who would later become the mayor of Montreal – the city administration decided to classify the majority of the urban gardens as parks to safeguard them from allotment. Thanks to this initiative, two-thirds of Montreal’s urban gardens are currently classified as parks.

In Japan, the association of urban gardens (Shimin-noen Seibi Sokushin-I) was formed in the ’80s by taking the German and English experiences as examples.

Text: Francesco Tei – Università degli Studi di Perugia e Giorgio Prosdocimi Gianquinto – Università degli Studi di Bologna

The Evolution of Community Gardens

community gardens

Community gardens are prevalent all over the world but particularly in the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand though their goals, structures and organizations may be quite varied. In North America, community gardens range from family areas (contemporary versions of “relief gardens”, “victory gardens” and “war gardens”), where small vegetable plots are cultivated, to the “greening” interventions of street corners, up to larger projects of “urban greening” to preserve or maintain natural areas and parks, or to recover and redevelop urban wastelands in degraded urban areas from an urban and social point of view (for example the organization “Green Guerrillas” in New York,, or Green Thumb,
In Great Britain and elsewhere in Europe, however, the amateur urban gardens have mainly taken on the character of “allotment gardens”, meaning areas divided into small plots for cultivation allocated to individual members or associations for production, social or educational purposes.

Text: Francesco Tei – Università degli Studi di Perugia e Giorgio Prosdocimi Gianquinto – Università degli Studi di Bologna

Social Agriculture and Horticulture

agricoltura sociale

Social farming includes a plurality of experiences joined by the characteristic of integrating socio-health, education, job training and placement and recreational activities aimed particularly at disadvantaged segments of the population or those at risk of marginalization ( ).

This context includes vegetable gardens for educational and therapeutic purposes, for prisoners and the elderly.
In particular, “Horticultural Therapy” is the term used to indicate the basic methodology that sees the use of horticulture as therapeutic rehabilitation in physical and psychological therapy processes for people with certain disabilities, particular ailments or forms of social disadvantage.
The fundamental principle on which horticultural therapy is based is the most general positive psychological and physiological action of all sensations and emotions that arise from contact with nature, especially in those contexts (a walk in a park, the care of a garden, the presence and the sight of plants and flowers…) in which the relationship of man/nature is not a work commitment.
Today, all over the world, horticultural therapy is an established and recognized methodology for the treatment of a wide range of disorders for people in therapeutic, but also simple wellness programs, as we can see from the purposes and activity fields of numerous associations such as the American Horticultural Therapy Association (whose official scientific journal is the Journal of Therapeutic Horticulture) founded in 1973 (, Thrive founded in 1978 in England (, the Canadian Horticultural Therapy Association founded in 1987 (, the Japanese Horticultural Therapy Society founded in 1996 (, the Australian Horticultural Therapy Association (, the German association for Horticulture and Therapy established in 2001 (, the Horticultural Therapy Swiss association founded in 2004 ( and the increasing number of university courses.
In Italy, for the moment, only the Scuola Agraria del Parco of Monza has organized regular specialization courses for horticultural therapists, officially recognized on a regulatory level and financed by the Region of Lombardy.

Text: Francesco Tei – Università degli Studi di Perugia e Giorgio Prosdocimi Gianquinto – Università degli Studi di Bologna

Urban Horticulture in Italy

orticultura urbana in italia

In Italy, garden crops were already present in urban areas in the first half of the nineteenth century; this presence went hand in hand with the development of the cities in the following decades, integrating itself into the urban transformations, especially in the north of Italy. In this period and in the first decades of the twentieth century, the autonomous and spontaneous nature of the urban gardens coexisted with early forms of the assignment and management of horticultural areas, implemented directly by industrial entrepreneurs through the so-called “company towns”. In many Italian cities in the early ’40s, the gardens changed their name to “war gardens”. The number rose dramatically in almost all cities (Milan went from fewer than a thousand to more than ten thousand units), where even the communal garden areas, public parks and roadside areas were cultivated. During the war, even the areas destroyed by the bombings were cultivated. After the war, reconstruction work began: employment went up; industries grew; the city expanded; the prices of development properties rose, and so the phenomenon of urban gardens decreased significantly. But, the gardens did not disappear altogether having moved from city centers to reappear, often illegally, in the suburbs.
In cities like Milan and Turin, the farmers were migrants from the countryside, and the difference in lifestyles of the big city and factories was traumatic. After this phase, dating between the 1950s and ’60s, the phenomenon of urban gardens took on new vigor mainly in the industrial cities of the north, and in particular in the peri-urban areas, i.e., in those areas of “transition”, between town and country that were historically destined to accommodate certain activities (industries, railways, warehouses, central water and gas plants, etc.) and that in those years were being incorporated into the growing cities. These were the areas that were characterized by widespread degradation and social isolation typical of neighborhoods in the extreme outskirts of the city. This is where the housing complexes would be built for the new industrial workforce coming from the south of Italy and these were the areas in which the phenomenon of urban gardens would see its most pronounced development.
In this regard, the case of Turin is significant: in the town of Piedmont, during the ’70s, the gardens were the prerogative of the southern immigrants and in 1980, for a population of about 1,143,000 inhabitants, 146 hectares were covered with horticultural crops. The extent of the phenomenon prompted the City Council, as part of a refurbishment project for and the regulating of crop space within the marginal areas of the city, to launch a thorough study into the phenomenon of urban gardens. From this study, it emerged that the architects of Turin’s horticultural boom were indeed these Southern migrants: farmers, laborers, shepherds who, forced to become workers in the large factories, maintained a relationship with their culture of origin, with their roots, through the cultivation of tens of thousands of small plots along the city’s riverbanks (Sangone, Stura, Dora, Po), along the railways, the roadsides and any other piece of residual land. In the same period in Milan, the Association of Italia Nostra carried out research about the crop situation after the war and onwards. The study showed a consistent pattern of growth of urban gardens between 1964 and 1980: in fact, the growth went from about 91 hectares of horticultural areas to 285 hectares. The plots were cultivated by seniors (most of whom had already possessed the garden for a long time) or by young immigrants (we refer again to the internal migration of the country) who integrated this activity with their employment. Following this study and in recognition of the social utility of the gardens, the municipality of Milan instructed the decentralized offices to survey the areas potentially suitable for urban cultivation and to provide a list of people interested in the project (Bulli, 2006).
Currently, the phenomenon of social gardens in the Milanese hinterland is broad and diverse. Of particular interest are the experiences of the “Parco Nord Milano” and “Boscoincittà”, inaugurated in the 1970s. Since then, other provincial capitals and many other towns have joined Milan and Turin in offering plots of land, borrowing its urban form, and have repeated the experience of the gardens in response to the social dynamics of their communities. Among the most active in this context are the towns in Emilia Romagna where urban gardens have multiplied, aimed in particular at elderly people, and where in 1990, the Associazione Nazionale Centri Sociali, Comitati Anziani e Orti (ANCeSCAO) was founded. Today, this Association has spread throughout the country and boasts more than 390,000 members and 1,328 community centers (

Text: Francesco Tei – Università degli Studi di Perugia e Giorgio Prosdocimi Gianquinto – Università degli Studi di Bologna

Vegetable Gardens for Educational Purposes

school gardens

The importance of teaching and training becomes crucial when placed in the context of school programs (“school gardens”) as has been the case since the ’20s in Amsterdam in the Netherlands, or more recently in Saxony-Anhalt in Germany or in the US.
Activities for children and teenagers (often together with their parents) are organized regularly in urban gardens in Germany, Austria, Poland and Luxembourg.
The FAO also promotes the organization and dissemination of school gardens as a means of improving the level of nutrition and education of children in developing countries. In Italy, school gardens already existed at the beginning of the twentieth century, especially in Milan, where they experimented with “active schools”, then gradually, these initiatives were abandoned. Today, the project “Orto in condotta” by Slow Food ( in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, takes after a similar initiative of school gardens created in 2003 in the US. It involves all regions, 439 gardens and about 30,000 children. The objective is to improve the dietary approach of younger generations, create an important and growing relationship with nature and promote greater exchange between generations, as the project involves parents, grandparents and seniors from the neighborhoods.

Text: Francesco Tei – Università degli Studi di Perugia e Giorgio Prosdocimi Gianquinto – Università degli Studi di Bologna

Urban Gardens for Seniors

orti urbani per anziani

The activities related to horticulture and amateur gardening are of moderate intensity and cause multiple sensory stimuli so that in seniors, these activities decrease the incidence of osteoporosis, cardiac arrest, heart attacks and mortality. In addition, total cholesterol levels, blood pressure, muscle tone and joint mobility is improved and there is an increased psychological well-being and greater sense of social inclusion.
The results are so encouraging and consistent that the maintenance of green areas as a sport for adults has been proposed: the “Green gym”, an initiative originating in England in 1997 by Dr. William Bird, who wanted to combine the benefits of physical activity with “voluntary ecological” activities, and that in over twelve years has involved more than six-thousand people, grouped in 55 work projects in the UK (
However, in order to obtain these beneficial effects on health and general welfare, these horticultural activities should follow certain guidelines that take into account the specific needs of the elderly. Some authors also suggest the possibility of developing integrated amateur horticulture programs for the elderly and children in order to better exploit the positive interactions of mutual exchange between the generations.
In 1990, the Associazione Nazionale Centri Sociali, Comitati Anziani e Orti (ANCeSCAO) was founded, and today, has more than 390,000 members and 1,328 community centers ( spread throughout Italy.

Text: Francesco Tei – Università degli Studi di Perugia e Giorgio Prosdocimi Gianquinto – Università degli Studi di Bologna