The culture of gardening in Croatia including history and the most common vegetables, herbs, and flowers

Purple flowers in Croatia

Croatian land is very fertile and gardening is a big part of the culture. Most people living in rural areas have their own gardens, but so do Croats in urban areas even if all they have is a small piece of earth outside their apartment or a sunny balcony.

The growing season runs from early spring to late autumn. Croats usually grow vegetables and herbs, without using pesticides. Those with a bit more space will have fruit, olive trees, and flowers.

In this post, we cover:

The facts are these…

Garden of Zagorje in June
Garden in Hrvatsko Zagorje in late June

Food cultivation and consumption in Croatia

At the beginning of the 90s, Croatia faced war and transitional robbery that affected the agroindustry. The war destroyed agricultural production. If something wasn’t damaged, it was shaken by privatization.

Family farms were additionally endangered by the liberalization of importing products of low prices and dubious quality.

Currently, Croatia exports wheat, corn, live animals, and other primary products. The country imports cheaper, processed products, making it harder for small domestic producers to survive.

Croatia has a surplus in foreign trade for cereals, oilseeds, fish, meat, and fish products, as well as tobacco and cigarettes. Cereals and oilseeds generate ~76% of the surplus. There is a deficit in other categories of food products. The largest deficit is obvious in the exchange of meat, milk, eggs, and animal food which generate ~46% of the deficit.

Approximate statistics on Croatian food self-sufficiency are as follows:

  • Soy – 500%
  • Oil plants – 300%
  • Wheat – 160%
  • Corn – 140%
  • Cereals – 120%
  • Chicken – 85%
  • Production oils – 72%
  • Beef – 65%
  • Vegetables – 60% (we only produce enough potato and cabbage)
  • Fruits – 50% (we only produce enough mandarins, sour cherries, and occasionally apples)
  • Milk and dairy products – 49%
  • Pork – 49%

Croatia mostly imports:

  • Meat – ~11%
  • Cereal and starch-based products – ~9%
  • Milk, eggs, and honey –  ~8%
  • Animal food – ~8%
  • Beverages – ~7.5%

Croatia mostly exports:

  • Cereals – ~13%
  • Food products with a high degree of processing – 9.5%
  • Fish – ~8%
  • Cereal and starch-based products – 8%
  • Oil plants – ~7.5%

Nevertheless, the COVID-19 pandemic encouraged residents to consume more domestic products. We started to pay more attention to quality products, rather than fake ones. If you move outside of the Croatian big cities and industrial zones, you will notice a bunch of small family farms which practice healthy living and produce clean food.

[Read: How to open and close OPG (family farm) in Croatia]

Pomegranate in Croatia

Croatian tradition of gardening

Even with access to many family farms, people still cultivate their own gardens all over Croatia. Not only it is cheaper, healthier, and more tasteful to grow your own products, but it is also a part of our culture.

In rural areas, a household without a garden is something you won’t see very often. Since residents of rural areas mainly live in houses, they have space for a garden and take advantage of it. Sometimes people grow vegetables in nearby fields or at their klet or vikendica (holiday house).

For rural residents, gardening is a skill that has been transferred from generation to generation. Our grandparents suffered during the World Wars and experienced poverty. Growing their own food was their life and they had to do it to survive. The ones who had regular jobs would often get up before dawn to work in the field. During the 60s, my grandmother would go to the field at 4 in the morning to feed the cattle, then she would run to the factory.

Later, when it was possible to buy food on every corner, she wasn’t thrilled that someone else was growing her food. One can’t be sure what it contains and the taste can’t be compared to the full flavor of home-produced food.

Children often still help their families with gardening and thus acquire gardening skills from an early age. I grew up in the garden. This is probably the reason why my interior looks like a jungle and why I still can’t get used to the taste of store-bought vegetables.

Residents of bigger cities who live in buildings usually don’t own a garden unless they are on prizemlje (ground floor). The space around the building is a common area, but that doesn’t stop those on the ground floor from using it for their own purposes.

If not on the ground floor, many still grow vegetables and herbs like tomatoes, basil, and parsley in jars. Jars will fit nicely with flowers on balconies or terraces, especially during the flowering and harvesting season. Some city dwellers own land or holiday houses in rural areas next to cities where they also grow their own gardens during weekends.

In some cities, there is a possibility of renting land from the city. This option is ideal if you are a beginner – it enables you to experience gardening without major obligations. In Zagreb, there are 14 city gardens with over 2.152 garden plots. View more information here.

Many people have a plastenik (greenhouse) incorporated into their gardens or fields. This is common for family farms since they have to ensure good conditions for growing vegetables throughout the whole year.

Croatian gardening

Vegetables that are often grown in Croatia

Vegetables that you will most often find in Croatian gardens are:

  • Arugula – rikula
  • Beans – grah
  • Beet root – cikla
  • Broccoli – brokula
  • Cabbage – kupus
  • Carrot – mrkva
  • Cauliflower – cvjetača, karfiol
  • Celery root – celer
  • Chard – blitva
  • Corn – kukuruz
  • Corn salad – matovilac
  • Cucumber – krastavac
  • Eggplant – patlidžan
  • Garlic – češnjak
  • Green beans – mahune
  • Horseradish – hren
  • Leaf cabbage – kelj
  • Leek – poriluk
  • Lettuce – salata
  • Kohlrabi – koraba
  • Onion – luk
  • Peas – grašak
  • Pepper – paprika
  • Pepperoni – feferon
  • Potato – krumpir
  • Pumpkin – buča, tikva
  • Radish – rotkvica
  • Spinach – špinat
  • Spring onion – mladi luk
  • Tomato – rajčica
  • Turnip – repa
  • Watermelon – lubenica
  • Zucchini – tikvica

[Read: Croatian 101: Vegetable Translation Cheat Sheet]

Garden in Hrvatsko zagorje in middle May and kitty the guardian

In the gardens or next to them, it is also common to grow the following fruits:

  • Apricot – marelica
  • Blackberry – kupina
  • Blueberry – borovnica
  • Cherry – trešnja
  • Chokeberry – aronija
  • Currant – ribizl
  • Fig – smokva
  • Jabuka – apple
  • Lemon – limun
  • Mandarine – mandarina
  • Peach – breskva
  • Pear – kruška
  • Plum – šljiva
  • Pomegranate – nar
  • Raspberry – malina
  • Sour cherry – višnja
  • Strawberry – jagoda
  • Wild strawberry – šumska jagoda

Personal garden in Croatia

Croatian calendar of planting vegetables

Thanks to the good climate and fertile soil, the cultivation of vegetables in Croatia is not too demanding. However, some vegetables are more common in certain regions since the climate varies.

Delicious tomatoes, watermelons, and wild oregano grow in Dalmatia. Istria is known for tomatoes, Lika for potatoes called lički krumpir, and Međimurje for cabbage.

Below is a calendar for planting vegetables in Croatia organized by month including information on sowing and planting species that are common in Croatia.

[Read: A local’s guide to buying food at Croatia’s farmer’s market]

MONTHSOWINGPLANTING
JanuaryINDOOR:
Broccoli
Cauliflower
Cabbage
Chickpeas
Leaf cabbage
Salad

OUTDOOR:
Beans
Bob
Garlic
Onion
Peas
-
FebruaryGREENHOUSES:
Celery
Eggplant
Kohlrabi
Parsley
Pepper
Tomato

OUTDOOR (in warmer regions):
Arugula
Beet root
Bob
Carrot
Chard
Chickpeas
Chicory
Onion
Parsley
Peas
Radish
Rhubarb
Spinach
Artichoke
Early cabbage
Garlic
Leaf cabbage
Potatoes
Salad
MarchAsparagus
Beet root
Black root
Chard
Industrial hemp
Jerusalem artichoke
Flax
Millet
Parsley
Parsnip
Peas
Radish
Radishes
Spinach
Sugar beet (in Slavonia)
Bob
Carrot
GREENHOUSES:
Cucumber
Eggplant
Pepper
Tomato
AprilAsparagus
Beet root
Black root
Broccoli
Cabbage
Carrot
Corn
Cucumber
Eggplant
Green beans
Industrial hemp
Kohlrabi
Leaf cabbage
Leek
Parsley
Pepper
Radish
Radishes
Rutabaga
Salad
Spinach
Sugar beet (in the northwest of Croatia)
Tomato
Zucchini
Asparagus
Broccoli
Cauliflower
Eggplant
Horseradish
Kohlrabi
Leaf cabbage
Pepper
Potato
Salad
Tomato
MayBeet root
Broccoli
Black root
Brussels sprouts
Buckwheat
Cabbage
Carrot
Cauliflower
Corn
Cucumber
Great Millet
Green beans
Kohlrabi
Leek
Lentil
Parsley
Rutabaga
Radish
Salad
Sesame
Soybean
Zucchini
Sweet potato (at the continental part)
Pumpkin
Celery
Cucumber
Tobacco
Tomato
Eggplant
Salad
Zucchini
JuneAmaranth
Beet root
Broccoli
Brussels sprouts
Cabbage
Carrot
Cauliflower
Endive
Leaf cabbage
Leek
Kohlrabi
Parsley
Radicchio
Rice
Rutabaga
Salad
-
JulyBeet root
Cabbage
Carrot
Cauliflower
Endive
Green beans
Kohlrabi
Leaf cabbage
Leek
Parsley
Radicchio
Radish
Rutabaga
Salad
Broccoli
Brussels sprouts
Cabbage
Cohlrabi
Cauliflower
Leaf cabbage
Leek
Radicchio
Salad
AugustBeet root
Carrot
Chard
Chinese cabbage
Corn salad
Endive
Leek
Parsley
Radicchio
Rapeseed
Salad
Silver onion
Spinach
Broccoli
Brussels sprouts
Cabbage
Cauliflower
Cohlrabi
Endive
Leaf cabbage
Leek
Radicchio
Salad
SeptemberCarrot
Corn salad
Flax
Parsley
Rye
Salad
Oat
Artichoke
Bear onion
Endive
Garlic
Leek
Radicchio
Salad
Silver onion
Young onions
OctoberBarley
Carrot
Parsley
Spelt
Spinach
Wheat
Artichoke
Corn salad
Garlic
Onion
Radicchio
Rhubarb
Salad
Silver onion
NovemberCarrot
Chickpeas
Parsley
Peas
Spelt
Garlic
Onion

GREENHOUSES:
Tomato
DecemberBob
Chickpeas
Peas
GREENHOUSES:
Early cabbage
Early leaf cabbage
Salad
Chives in bloom and strawberries in the background

Herbs that are often grown in Croatia

In addition to vegetables, we cultivate amazing herbs. Herbs can be sown at any convenient place including gardens, yards, pots, balconies – wherever you have a free piece of land.

Herbs that you will most often find in Croatia are:

  • Basil – bosiljak
  • Bay leaf – lovorov list
  • Dill – kopar
  • Caraway – kim
  • Chives – vlasac
  • Cilantro – korijander
  • Fennel – komorač
  • Lemon balm – matičnjak/melisa
  • Majoram – mažuran
  • Mint – menta/metvica
  • Oregano – origano
  • Parsley – peršin
  • Rosemary – ružmarin
  • Sage – kadulja
  • Thyme – majčina dušica/timijan
Rosemary

Herbs can be a nice fragrant decoration in flower gardens, especially rosemary with its tiny gently blue flowers which bloom in spring. A bay leaf can grow into a small lovable tree that will decorate your yard.

Some herbs also grow as wild plants. On Croatian islands, you can find the most fragrant wild oregano. Thyme can often be found in the wild as well.

[Read: Wild plants you can pick and eat during summer in Croatia]

Whenever you can, use fresh herbs picked from your garden right before usage. This way, you will get a more intense and fresh flavor. Dry the rest of the herbs and use them throughout the year.

Garden in Croatia

Flowers that are often grown in Croatia

In Croatia, colorful flowers grow in almost every yard or garden. Some people plant flowers not only directly in the garden, but also in decorative jars. They incorporate garden decorations like garden statues in their flower gardens as well.

The most common flowers are:

  • Begonia –  begonija
  • Bluecrown Passionflower – modra pasiflora
  • Bougainvillea – bugenvilija
  • Carnation – karanfil, klinčić
  • Chinese Aster – lijepa kata
  • Chrysanths – krizantema
  • Daffodil – narcisa
  • Dahlia – dalia
  • Garden Nasturtium – dragoljub
  • Geraniums – pelargonija
  • Gladiolus – gladiola
  • Grape hyacinth – presličica
  • Hibiscus – hibiskus
  • Hortensia – hortenzija
  • Iris – iris (perunika)
  • Jasmine – jasmin
  • Lavender – lavanda
  • Leather Flower – klematis
  • Lilac – jorgovan
  • Lily – ljiljan
  • Mallow – sljez
  • Marigold – kadifice
  • Mattiola – noćna ljubičica
  • Mimosa – mimoza
  • Moss-rose purslane- prkos
  • Oleander – oleandar
  • Peony – božur
  • Petunia – petunija
  • Pot Marigold (calendula) – neven
  • Primrose – jaglac
  • Rose – ruža
  • Salvia – salvija
  • Sunflower – suncokret
  • Tulip – tulipan
  • Viola – ljubičica
  • Wild Pansy – maćuhica
  • Wisteria – glicinija
  • Zinnia – cinija

Backyard garden with olive tree, palsm and grapevines in Croatia

Roses are the most common flowers in Croatian gardens, cultivated both in a form of bush and climbing. The red ones are the most beloved, but you can also find yellow, pink, orange, and white. Climbing roses decorate houses, fences, balconies, terraces, and gardens.

The Croatian climate may vary according to the region, but flowers thrive almost everywhere. Along the Adriatic coast and on islands, you will often come across the lavender, white, pink, purple, or red oleander, pink mimosa, and pink or purple bougainvillea. In the continental part, colorful tulips, lilac, daffodils, and hortensias are very common.

Roses in bloom on the fence in Hrvatsko zagorje

In Hrvatsko zagorje, there is an annual reward for the most beautifully decorated gardens and yards. The evaluation criteria are the overall appearance of the yard, the originality of the landscaping, cleanliness, equipment, landscaping, surface functionality, and compliance with the surrounding space and the house.

View the most beautiful yards and gardens of the city of Zabok in 2020 here.

There is also an annual contest for the most beautiful school gardens organized by the Ministry of Science and Education and HRT (HTV) – Croatian public television in cooperation with The Ministry of Agriculture, The Environmental Protection and Energy Efficiency Fund, and other donators. It includes kindergartens, primary and secondary schools, and other related educational institutions for children and youth.

More information on this contest and photos is available here.

A common custom is to exchange the seedlings or flower seeds with family, friends, and neighbors. When we travel somewhere, it is common to bring seedlings from another region to our homes. You would be surprised with everything that grows in Croatia thanks to our favorable climate and great dedication to gardening.

Peony and a fig and rosemary in the background

View our other plant posts


Sources:
https://www.vrtlarica.com/cvijece/
https://www.vrtlarica.hr/kalendar-sadnje-povrca/
https://www.vecernji.hr/vijesti/jedemo-li-hrvatsko-imamo-dovoljno-samo-krumpira-kupusa-i-mandarina-1468764

Please note: All information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal or financial advice in any form. For legal advice, you must consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. For financial advice, you must consult with a licensed Croatian tax advisor or accountant. We can recommend one if you contact us.

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