I spend a lot of time looking at aerial photography and maps for work, and I love discovering the signatures of certain features. It’s like a puzzle. If you’ve flown in an airplane you’ve played the same game, identifying a river and its tributaries, the strange shapes of airport runways, bales of hay dotting a mowed field. One day I was fantasizing about vacationing in England, specifically in Oxford thanks to an obsession with Inspector Lewis (I really want to stay on a houseboat in Oxford after watching that show!), and I was looking at the aerial photos of the town. I saw this.
You probably already know from the title of this post what it is, but it took me a second. I went into street view, and puzzled it out. It’s a community garden! Cripley Meadow Allotments, to be specific, and that is the River Thames (it’s called the Isis in Oxford) flowing to the south. Community gardens must be very, very popular in England because there are 36 community gardens (or allotment sites, as they are known there) in Oxford, which has a population of 150,000. Austin, with a population around a million, has 29 community gardens. Here is one in Austin, Sunshine Community Gardens, that I drive by every day. It’s a couple of miles from my house and is really lovely. Sometimes we go for walks there and visit the chickens. There are lots of hidden artistic touches in the plots that are fun to find.
I decided to do some other random checks on other cities around the world to see if I could find more community gardens. I looked in Nantes, France, and almost immediately found the Parc Potager de Fournillère. It looks really beautiful surrounded by the red roofs of the town.
Recently I took a BuzzFeed quiz (yeah, I know, important stuff) and it told me I was meant to live in Japan. I have always been curious about Japan. I flew there in Google Earth to find their community gardens. I found none. I saw some little farms, but they were clearly not the patchwork quilt of a community garden. I was surprised, and I tried to find information on Japanese community gardens. It turns out that it laws in Japan protecting farmers had the effect of preventing urbanites from having community gardens. There were also issues with land ownership and the length of leases. There were attempts to change the laws to allow community gardens in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and it seems they have had success in encouraging community gardens in Japan. Here is the PDF article that I found. I kept looking and found this one in Yokohama. It’s tiny, but it looks like it is probably a community garden. It may be just one family’s, though.
Then I happened upon this sprawling complex of baseball fields and what looks very much like the Western community gardens. It is in the Izumi part of Yokohama. I would love to know more about it. There are some mysteries here. Why are there circular areas without gardens? Are they wetlands? Some kind of sports field? I can’t tell. It’s perfectly circular, and it has some perfectly circular features within it. It looks like a collage on the landscape.
Gardening by satellite! Fun for the modern age.