You're taking a walk through your town and you come across an intensively cultivated plot of land in an incongruous place. Next to the school sports hall, for instance. This is a Schrebergarten, an integral part of Swiss life.
Rented usually from the community, such allotments enable residents who live in apartments without gardens to cultivate their favorite tomatoes or dahlias.
We once had such a Schrebergarten, one of four that were rented out by the Catholic church in town. The priest had one plot, in which delphiniums in every shade of blue preceded the riotous colors of gladioli, succeeded in turn by the giant stalks of sunflowers. Living an otherwise quiet life, he asserted a need for unfettered self-expression in these delightful blossoms.
Another of the four plots was a paean to Swiss-German practicality and orderliness. Every spring, the verger and his wife set out sticks at precise intervals and ran string between each pair to mark out exactly straight rows in their plot. When the beans and carrots came up, the tiny seedlings were already arrayed in perfect formation, row on row. Potato plants were also allowed, along with radishes and kohlrabi. No flowers, and weeds would not have dared take hold; exposure to a search and destroy mission would have been the result.
The third plot belonged to a young French speaking Swiss journalist and his wife who would hail me with "Grüezi Madame!" when we met. Their idea of order was of the Gallic variety; cucumbers planted in small square plots, short north-south rows of beets alternating with long east-west rows of carrots, circles of herbs and nasturtiums. The whole was a sampler of color and shapes, flowers and vegetables, with roses and sweet peas forming the outside borders of their plot.
Then there was our garden. Bold corn stalks towered above rambling pumpkins, with their plump orange fruit surrounded by outsized, blatant gray-green leaves. Not too many weeds here either, but only because they didn't stand a chance against the rampant competition.
One had only to look at it to know that Americans had been at work in this garden plot. Brash, it looked and the pumpkins had no respect for other people's territory – sneaking their tendrils into French-Swiss refinement and Swiss-German order alike. A political message here perhaps? Or is that too harsh? Is the message rather one of exuberance and healthy growth?
This story originally appeared in the November/December 2012 issue of the Round Robin, the magazine of the American Women's Club of Zurich.