The individual size of a parcel typically suits the needs of a family, and often the plots include a shed for tools and shelter, and sometimes a hut for seasonal or weekend accommodation. The individual gardeners are usually organised in an allotment association, which leases or is granted the land from an owner who may be a public, private or ecclesiastical entity, and who usually stipulates that it be only used for gardening (i.e. growing vegetables, fruits and flowers), but not for permanent residential purposes (this is usually also required by zoning laws). The gardeners have to pay a small membership fee to the association, and have to abide by the corresponding constitution and by-laws. However, the membership entitles them to certain democratic rights.
The Luxembourg-based Office International du Coin de Terre et des Jardins Familiaux, representing three million European allotment gardeners since 1926, describes the socio-cultural and economic functions of allotment gardens as offering an improved quality of life, an enjoyable and profitable hobby, relaxation, and contact with nature. For children, gardens offer places to play and to learn about nature, while for the unemployed, they offer a feeling of doing something useful as well as low-cost food. For the elderly and disabled, gardens offer an opportunity to meet people, to share in activity with like-minded people, and to experience activities like planting and harvesting.
Allotment gardening used to be widely popular in the former Czechoslovakia under the communist regime. It gave people from suburban prefab apartment blocks - called "paneláky" in Czech - a chance to escape from city chaos, pollution, and concrete architecture. Holiday houses and gardens served also as the only permitted form of investment of savings for common middle-class citizens.
In 1778 land was laid out outside the fortifications of Fredericia for allotment gardens and according to an 1828 circular from the royal chancellery allotment gardens were established in several towns.
Private initiative formed the first Danish allotment association in Aalborg in 1884 and in Copenhagen an association named "Arbejdernes Værn" (lit. "The Worker's Protection") founded the first allotment gardens of the Danish Capital in 1891. Since then allotment gardens have spread to most Danish towns.