A New Site for Urban Gardening

What is a group of first and second graders doing with a scarecrow at the edge of an Ernen garden? The story actually begins in the city, when Ernen’s own Peter Clausen was visiting a niece in the Zurich-Wipkingen quartier. He admired the pots and large planters she had set in a compact urban garden just off her kitchen. The fledgling plants were flourishing, and she was already enjoying their small but healthy bounty.

Industrious as he is, Peter wondered if such a project wouldn’t be a good idea for Ernen. He was born in a house right over the famous Dorfplatz, and, apart from his studies, has lived here all of his life. Over the years, he had seen two small patches of garden in the middle of the village − patches his own mother once tended − fall victim to both a traffic corner and a two-car, paved parking space. Gardens in the town were, of course, a given over the centuries; at this distance from a large market town, people had to eat what they could grow.

Ernen’s largest garden collective is wedged inside the hairpin of the road that comes up into the village on the one side and continues into the Binntal on the other. Measuring some some 100 x 300 meters, it has 35 plots, each one purchased and managed by locals who themselves choose what to plant and when to harvest. Here’s one in hands of somebody who’s has only potato plants − easy − and comes only rarely to check on their progress. Here’s another whose great mix of everything from berries to herbs, from fleshy-leaved veggies to flowering shrubs, shows great creativity and lust for life. A third is turned over almost entirely to roses. Taken together, the many plots are like a mirror of a community.

Peter’s idea for a open and commonly-tended urban garden – rather than either the existing personal plots or a business enterprise − found resonance with the Landschaftspark Binntal, the umbrella organization devoted to sustainable landscape and culture management in the greater Binn Valley. It gave Peter’s idea both funding and publicity, such that friends of the new Gemeinschaftsgarten (community garden) broke ground and planted seeds for vegetables, flowers, fruit and berries in the spring. And one of the first “public” events staged in the new garden was the visit by the schoolchildren whose picture with their teacher, Sylvia Joller, appears above. In late May, the pupils learned first hand about what planting a garden entails, and what value home grown produce might bring both to the environment and their own general health.

While half of the children turned over the ground, the other half fashioned a scarecrow who keeps an eye out for anybody who comes either to help or to avail themselves of the garden’s many gifts. On Tuesday evenings, the garden is open to everybody for 3 hours, and it’s then that a handful of working hobby gardeners tend to the plants, or join friends in the cozy, covered corner on the garden’s Sitzbank. It’s also a chance for gardening know-how and tips to be informally exchanged.

Peter took great pride is sharing the garden’s story with me for this blog. Stirring a slimy, green liquid in a big plastic barrel, he explained that the best fertilizer was made by recycling green waste with water, and letting it “brew” for about a month, as was being done here. “The stuff fairly stinks, but it does the job well, and the plants take nicely to its warmer temperature,” he said. Since organic gardening methods and environmental awareness are key to the success of the community project, Peter and other supporters have also installed a teaching exhibition in the ground floor space of Ernen’s charming Jost-Sigristen Museum, just near the Dorfplatz. It, too, is well worth a visit.

As we were leaving, I noticed some ruby-red currents heavy on their vines along the stone wall. They were ripe enough for eating, and Peter encouraged me to go ahead and help myself. No inhibitions on that front: a slight tug, and half a dozen dropped into my hand. Okay, Mr. Scarecrow, move over.

Friday, 29 July 2016, by Sarah Batschelet


Born in Ernen in 1962, Peter Clausen has played a key role in his town’s cultural politics for many years. A teacher by profession, he also heads the foundation and friends of the local Museum Jost-Sigristen, and is also project leader of environmental awareness programming for the Landschaftspark Binntal.

Landschaftspark Binntal
Museum im Jost Sigristen-Haus