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Prague: ARTĚL Style

Expert recommendations and insider tips for first-time visitors and locals alike from ARTĚL’s founder, Karen Feldman, who has lived in Prague since 1994. Click on the links below for detailed reviews – from Feldman’s own unique perspective – of all the best that Prague has to offer...

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What’s a Garden Colony?

Published on August 15th, 2013 in Interviews

  • Lori & Dean’s Chatička (Cabin)

  • View of the city

  • Lori and Dean

  • Garden path

  • Almost ready...

  • Harvest time!

  • Beautiful veggies

  • Bowl of freshly picked veggies

  • Tending to the flowers

 

Long before the urban locavore movement took off, Czech city dwellers were tending small plots of land, typically located on the fringes of town, known as garden colonies (zahradní kolonie). Sadly, these charming patches of green are becoming a bit of a rarity in Prague, largely due to suburban sprawl. I recently spoke with fellow American abroad Lori Wyant Selby who, along with her husband Dean, owns the popular Vinohrady burger joint The Tavern—as well as a flourishing city garden. This is what she had to say about life in the colonies.

 

 

KF: First, if you please, tell us a little about yourself.
LWS: I came to Prague for a visit in 1991, after I graduated from college, and ended up staying. Dean came a few years later. We met in 2003. We opened The Tavern in December 2011. I also work as a script supervisor on international films.

 

KF: How is it that two American expatriates came to own a typical Czech zahradní kolonie?
LWS: Our friends were looking for a “pea-patch” in Prague and came across some listings in [what is now] our garden colony, located on the border of Žižkov-Vysočany. We happened to be visiting them in 2007 when we were told another plot had come up. We took it immediately and started growing in 2008.

 

KF: How would you explain the concept to foreigners? What does it compare to?
LWS: The UK and other parts of Europe (e.g. Germany) have a long tradition of garden “allotments” where people can grow their own produce and raise small livestock within the city. The Prague ones began during World War II. Now it’s illegal to have animals (other than pets) in the colonies.

 

KF: What is the general appeal? Are they cheaper than a traditional Czech cottage (chata)?
LWS: It’s a wonderful alternative to having a country house as, yes, it’s generally cheaper and still affords the feeling of getting away but is easily accessible for city dwellers.

 

KF: How frequently do you visit yours?
LWS: In the summer we spend as much time there as possible as it is truly a delightful get away.

 

KF: What becomes of your plot in the winter?
LWS: Some people actually live in their cottages year-round, but most of us use the gardens for growing flowers and vegetation, and relaxing and enjoying them in the warmer months. We have a stove that heats our chatička so we do spend time there in the winter, too.

 

KF: Do you have friendly neighbors?
LWS: On one side of us, there is a couple that has lived in their cottage for 45 years; the couple on the other side has had their garden for 40 years. They forgive our broken Czech and always help with gardening questions. There’s a lot of “passing over the fence” if someone has extra veggies or makes a special dessert or batch of cherry wine!

 

KF: Can you invite friends over for garden parties?
LWS: It’s a great place to entertain guests; our colony has its own private “gardener’s pub”.

 

KF: What do you grow there?
LWS: Tomatoes, corn, peas, beans, lettuce, cucumbers, squash, strawberries, and rhubarb and a variety of herbs including basil, thyme, rosemary, chives, and parsley. We also have an assortment of fruit trees including peach, plum, apricot, apple, and cherry, and red currant and gooseberry bushes.

 

KF: Does any of it show up on the Tavern’s menu?
LWS: Most of what we grow is for personal consumption, but we do use some of our fruit in The Tavern’s signature BBQ sauce, wood from our trees to smoke the pork for our pulled pork sandwiches, and seasonal fruit for the pies.

 

KF: The whole enterprise sounds like a winner to me (especially the garden parties part)!
LWS: Ultimately, learning to garden and becoming a part of a traditional garden community has been more rewarding and fun than we could have ever imagined.

 

To read more about Czech garden colonies, Lori recommends the website http://www.zahradkari.cz (in Czech, English, and German).

 

 

 

 

 

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