Pre- and home gardens

Front gardens & Co: When Graz discovered green space

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10.07.2024 11:00

How much green space does Graz need? This question has preoccupied the city for decades. But how long have home gardens, courtyards, parks and front gardens actually existed in the city? And how have they been used throughout history? The "Krone" asked the GrazMuseum, where an exhibition on the topic is currently on display.

The Austrian Museum Prize 2024 goes to the GrazMuseum. On Tuesday, Andrea Mayer, State Secretary for Art and Culture, announced in a press release that the most important Austrian museum prize had been awarded to Styria for the second time since it was founded in 2000 - the Admont Abbey Museum won the prize in 2005. In particular, the museum's openness and the way in which "art and urban history enter into a lively dialog with the public" was praised.

Current exhibition on courtyards and gardens
The most recent example of this work is a large exhibition on the discovery of green spaces in Graz: "It all began with industrialization," says Catalin Betz, curator of the exhibition "In Graz Gardens and Courtyards" at the GrazMuseum. "Between 1850 and 1900, the population of Graz tripled and the city grew beyond its former city walls - for example towards Geidorf, St. Leonhard and Jakomini."

Where once there were meadows and fields, suddenly villa districts and apartment blocks sprang up. "The many new industrial plants also made the city dirtier. This also increased the need to create small or large green oases in the city."

The city is growing - and people want green space
Initially, however, the focus was not so much on the feel-good factor: "Above all, it was about having space for kitchen gardens. The often poor people who came to Graz from rural areas because of the job opportunities wanted to be self-sufficient - with fruit and vegetables, for example." The new apartment blocks were therefore deliberately built in such a way that large inner courtyards were created to provide space for this. 

Setting up the first maypole in the Steinfeld home garden association in 1975 (Bild: Heimgartenverein Steinfeld)
Setting up the first maypole in the Steinfeld home garden association in 1975

The food shortage, which was a recurring problem at the time, was also a decisive factor in the founding of the first home garden in Graz in 1907 - many more followed within a few years. "Everyone had their own little plot of land where they could grow whatever they wanted," says Betz. "But it was also about a communal experience: people shared tools, there were big parties, they went on outings together."

Farmland becomes an oasis of well-being
Until well after the Second World War, the home gardens (which, incidentally, are only called that in Graz - presumably named after Peter Rosegger's magazine of the same name) focused on growing fruit and vegetables: "It was only from the 1950s onwards that they increasingly became oases of well-being, where the focus was no longer on food supply."

Catalin Betz on a guided tour of the show at the GrazMuseum. (Bild: Sebastian Reiser)
Catalin Betz on a guided tour of the show at the GrazMuseum.

Citizens of the Wilhelminian era discovered green spaces as prestigious areas much earlier: in 1863, Beethovenstraße was one of the first streets in Graz to be completed with enclosed front gardens. "These had no agricultural purpose, but with their elaborate fences and ornamental plants were primarily intended to show the owners' aesthetic design intentions," says Betz. For contemporary commentators, the front gardens were "among the most beautiful ornaments in the city". 

Today, the small green oases - whether front gardens, courtyards or home gardens - often serve another purpose: "People don't always think about it, but there are also many animals that live in the city or pass through it - and they need such spots in the urban space," says Betz. In addition, every tree and every green space also helps to cool the city in summer - especially in times of global warming. And: "Green spaces are also simply beautiful to look at. They are green balm for the soul."

This article has been automatically translated,
read the original article here.

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