The third day of the transnational meeting started with two approbation sessions led by Riga Technical University (Latvia) Professor Sandra Treija and researcher Alisa Korolova.
Sandra started her session with questions about the reasons for having urban gardens. The participants mentioned that they enjoy having berries and fruit produced in their own household.
Sandra explained the concept of urban gardening. She showed how urban gardening is connected to 17 UNESCO sustainability goals. Urban gardens contribute to the social life of cities. The problems that urban gardens can solve – dealing with an aging population, health issues in urban areas, and various financial challenges. Urban gardening can improve the welfare of the cities, support the poor, and improve the ecology of cities.
It is important to create urban gardens for recreation in proximity to city dwellers’ homes. Lisbon is a city which has experience in installing urban gardens. In her session, Sandra showed some pictures with examples of urban gardens in Europe.
The professor highlighted a positive impact of gardening on mental health. This aspect is broadly explored nowadays. Municipalities should be encouraged to allocate more space to urban gardens to facilitate the well-being of their citizens.
Another important reason for having urban gardens is a financial benefit. The abandoned and neglected spaces can be used for urban gardening. Even small urban gardens can regulate the microclimate of the city, it is especially well observed on hot days – urban gardens help to reduce the risks of overheating with seniors and children.
Urban gardens can bring families together. Every generation will find a job they can do in the garden. It consolidates the families and fosters social welfare.
There are different types of urban gardens in the world. Allotment/ family gardens are popular in the Baltic region, but there are other forms like community gardens, experiential farms or educational gardens which are common in other parts of the world. The group discussed the reasons why educational gardens are not popular with people in the Baltic region.
In Copenhagen, an educational garden is next to each school. Schools define specific subjects, the content of which can be covered in the garden. If educators look closely at the curriculum, it is obvious that almost every subject can be organised in the garden. There was a questionnaire for parents about their attitude to conducting lessons in the green areas, and the answers showed that parents see such benefits as relaxation opportunities for children and helping children to learn in peace and quiet. Children who have social emotional problems feel more confident when they are in nature.
Community gardens allow people to collaborate while working on planting the plants. This is also a communication area for people.
Sandra Treija informed the audience about therapeutic gardens. Sandra told the group about an experiment organised in South Korea. People who participated in the experiment were divided into two groups. All participants did medical tests to check their general health (blood pressure and blood tests etc.). One group had to work in the garden for 2 hours 3 times a week. In 2 months, medical tests were done again. The group who had regular gardening activities showed better medical results. There are strategies to maximise the therapeutic effects of gardening.
There is another type of gardening – guerrilla gardening. It is popular in South Europe, Spain, and also in the Baltics. People organise them without permission.
Further in the session, Alisa Korolova talked about different places for urban gardens – on the ground, on the rooftop, on temporary sites. Urban community gardens are popular in Vienna. There was a question from the audience, “Is it healthy to have urban gardens in the city? There is air pollution from industries and traffic.” Alisa explained that sometimes it is more important for people to enjoy the process of growing plants rather than eating fruit or vegetables. She showed some visual materials which were examples of installing urban gardens to help the workers move, to facilitate recreation rather than production.
There are opportunities to create gardens on the rooftop. The challenges are like the ones on the site. An interesting fact that Alisa Korolova mentioned is that urban gardens are often created by the municipalities before elections. Alisa mentioned several towns in Spain and Estonia where it happened just before the elections.
The researcher talked about vertical gardens, which are often used to produce edible plants, berries, and herbs. Hydroponics (planting without soil) is often used in vertical gardening. The conclusion of the session was that well being and being together is the ultimate goal of urban gardening.
The audience asked about vandalism. Is there any solution to this problem? Alise Korolova mentioned a good example of action to solve the problem of vandalism - one urban garden had a sign at the entrance “Children from a local school grow these plants. Please do not pick or destroy them”. Not surprisingly, positive reinforcement worked with people regardless of their age and status.
lesson was about ergonomics. When you are in the garden, your body works like a machine. It is healthy to work on the knees but most often we bend down to do the gardening.
Asa Hedlinolsson informed the audience about simple rules for gardening, for example, when cutting the grass, the length of the handle must be long enough, there must be protective glasses, and a noise protection headset.
Heavy buckets are the number one threat. We all know that we should not lift them, but we all break the rule, so we should be reminded regularly. Asa Hedlinolsson gave practical advice on cutting the leaves from top of the trees.
Asa Hedlinolsson showed ergonomic tools for gardening. There are additional mechanisms to put on the tools to make them more ergonomic. You must go for lighter tools, avoid metal tools if possible. There are new tools for collecting the leaves. There are special ergonomic tools which fasten the wrist to avoid trauma. It is important to have short breaks. Asa Hedlinolsson showed some videos about ergonomic tools and equipment. Some tools have a special form, it is easy to use them. Some stretching should be done before you start working in the garden.
Asa Hedlinolsson ended the session with showing the exercises to warm up before gardening. The audience practised doing exercises to the music. It brought energy and joy to the session.
In the afternoon, the group of partners and approbation participants attended the Siauliai Botanical Garden. We had a session about invasive plants conducted by the Botanical Garden worker. He showed examples of how invasive flora and fauna spread in new environments and how dangerous it can be for local ecosystems.
At the end of the day, approbation participants and project partners reflected on the lessons and materials, shared ideas, filled in the questionnaire, and were awarded the certificates of attendance. Everyone was pleased and ready to apply the newly acquired knowledge in practice.