The first garden I visited was Le Jardin d'Alice (40 rue de la Chapelle- M° Marx Dormoy). Situated in a courtyard, entry is granted by ringing a bell from the exterior. As I waited to be let in, two little girls and their mothers caught up to me. The littles gripped the community garden quiz that they were meant to fill out as they completed the tour of the garden, answering trivia questions on particularities of each garden they visited along the way.
We were let in by a dude who looked a lot more Portland, Oregon than Paris, France-which was reassuring in a way. He let us wander around the space, and the girls ran to find the "toilette sèche" (an outhouse that collects human compost for better, and very organic, soil) while I checked out the veggie gardens.
The space was settled by squaters in 2009, with the goal of "increasing accesibility to the empty but livable urban spaces"in the city, their response to the "prohibitive rents in Paris" that plague artists and others. The courtyard contains a garden, where eggplants, tomatoes, and squash among other veggies, were doing their thing. The inner sanctum of this appartment building also houses a space that the squatters rent out as a rehearsal room for musicians (for the non-prohibitive price of 5 euro for 2 hours- e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org if interested).
Wooden boxes and woven baskets provided the majority of gardenable spcae. Here I saw herbs and lettuce growing happily in garbage bag lined bags. While I might not be inspired to hang amoung the severed legs in order to grow produce, my visit to Ecobox definately taught me a thing or two about the possibility and potential of gardening in tight spaces.
Another shared garden that relied heavily on the woven basket option was La Goutte Verte (36 rue des Poissonniers- M° Chateau Rouge). Visiting this neighborhood in the weekend is an event because the African market takes over the streets and vendors of everything from plaintains and salted fish to bootleg dvds and counterfit handbags.
It was therefore somewhat unsettling when I left the bustling of the street and slunk into La Goutte Verte which occupies a vacant lot between two apartment buildings and across the street from Haiti market. The kind of Parisian that used to do my head in when I worked at the bar (the "est ce-que je peux avoir un vere d'eau, mais pas trop frais, s'il vous plaît?" and then leaves no tip kind) was blocking the only path to get into the garden, giving gardening advice to a representative of La Goutte Verte and asking several questions about the space. "What do the neighbors think of what you're doing?" He asked. The answer seemed obvious: they're not concerned. I may be wrong, but this space seemed completely unconnected to the community it was meant to be a part of.
This may be unfounded and please send an angry e-mail if I'm wrong, but the fact that one of tthe gardeners had brought a camping stove and was brewing tea on an overturned door table, "roughing it" instead of getting a hot beverage from one of the many cafés crowding the street seemed to underline this disconnect.
To their credit, La Goutte Verte espoused some great small-space technics, with not only the baskets being used as planter bxes, but also overturned pellets which created a nice (and mobile) space for sprouts. I was encouraged by seeing these technics and I think that Paris Paysanne participants could use similar approaches on their balconies ans have a similar yield.
While I was a little disappointed by the fact that the shared gardens seemed more like creatively altered spaces rather than farmable gardens used by families and community members, I was reminded of the alternative when I visited Baudélire (29 rue Baudélique- M° Simplon). This site must have been included in the list as a practical joke, one that I appreciated ultimately, but had trouble chuckling over as I explained to the very confused front desk manager at the community center that I had come to see the garden. "There is a garden, yes" he explained to me, still unsure of the reason for my visit, "I could show it to you, I guess" he kindly rose from behind the front desk and walked me through someone's office where he opened a sliding door and let me peak out into a mess of overgrown grass and vines, totally out of control, an uncultivated and unused space.
As I left, I looked at the quiz question for this "garden", seeking some sort of explanation. In cities, what is this type of unused space called? I'm not sure what the technical term is, but the obvious answer is that this space is a waste of potenital, a missed opportunity, what the folks at the Jardin d'Alice would call "empty but livable". So, to a large extent I am encouraged by these jardins partagés, because they take a place that would otherwise remain unused and make it fertile, musical, and habitable. I think that is the goal of the spaces, to symbolize a different way of occupying urban space, and I like to know that exists, but don't know where it will grow from there.