This is a new garden that was made available to gardeners in 2019; it was designed in the updated mode of raised beds and wide accessible pathways. Gardeners tend to be younger and live in West Cambridge. A plot can be used for three years.
The story of the site leading up to the community garden there today includes a range of endeavors and enthusiasms. In the early 19th century, maps show that the original natural shoreline of Fresh Pond was much closer to the current garden site. The immensely successful ice industry was well established in 1847 when the Cambridge Branch railroad, from the Fitchburg main line, was built close to the original shore. The Cambridge Line was created to bring visitors to the popular Mt. Auburn Cemetery and Fresh Pond Hotel with two stops at Fresh Pond. The passenger service lasted until 1938 when it became freight until about 2000. Today’s garden sits on top of the remaining rail bed.
In 1888, when the entire pond was edged with stones, the shoreline was moved further out to create more land area between the west side of the railroad and the pond. A carriage road was built next to the pond, the forerunner of today’s pedestrian path around the pond.
Along the east side of the railroad was a road that originally served the ice industry. This later became the first parkway to be built by the Metropolitan Parks Commission (later the Metropolitan District Commission); Fresh Pond Parkway connecting the Charles River and Fresh Pond opened in 1900. The bike path between the parkway and the garden was built in 2002 by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).
The Parkway Garden is located in Fresh Pond Reservation, near the treatment plant and running alongside the pedestrian pathway around Fresh Pond, close to and parallel to Fresh Pond Parkway.
Parkway Garden replaced an earlier one that was closer to Sozio Circle. That garden was longstanding but prone to flooding and difficult to access. It comprised 23 large ground-level plots, and was eliminated to make way for the Drainage and Community Garden Project of the Cambridge Water Department, completed in 2018. The Drainage and Community Garden Project protects Fresh Pond water quality, restores native trees, shrubs, and meadow plants to the area, and provides an accessible place to garden for Cambridge residents.
In 2013, a first step of the project was acquisition of the railroad right of way by the Water Department and the Mass DCR. First the rails and ties were removed. Then the new replacement garden was built on top of the capped rail bed, closer to a parkway crossing and to parking located at the treatment plant. Parallel to the garden on the east side are a regional bike path and the four-lane Fresh Pond Parkway. On the west side is the perimeter road around Fresh Pond. While the new location is more convenient for gardeners, it is a high pedestrian use area with some discouraging vegetable and plant theft.
The garden form is an elongated rectangle 35 feet wide. All 26 plots are raised beds (planters); twenty-two of them are 5’ X 8’ and 10 to 12 inches high. They are in pairs with abutting short sides, which allows for easy access from three sides without having to step into the plot. Three plots are 3 ½ feet high. Just inside the main gate are a small square raised bed and a bench in a gathering space.
There are three gates. The main one is from the connecting pathway between the parkway crossing and the Fresh Pond perimeter path, another is from the Mass DCR bike path and the third is a wide utility gate for the debris collection space, also from the bike path. An informational sign with rules for use and city contact information is near the main gate, along with a drinking fountain and a rack to lock three bicycles. The garden has two spigots. For rat control composting is not allowed. There is no storage; tools and supplies must be brought from off-site. Maintenance services are by the Water Department.
What is Grown
Visiting the garden in its first two years, you would have seen, besides tomatoes, various eggplant and pepper types, carrots, peas, summer squash, zucchini, pumpkins, potatoes, kales, and broccoli. Common herbs included sage, dill, thyme, basil, rosemary, and parsley. Only annual flowers were allowed: sunflowers, zinnias, cosmos, and marigolds drew bees and butterflies, notably monarchs at the end of summer.
By 2020, the emotional impact of plant and vegetable theft caused a few gardeners to remove their plants and leave. One covered her plot with deer netting. Signs were posted and strategies proposed: skip growing eggplant—the vegetable most often stolen, pick early and often, plant a “help yourself” plot near the entrance. Some returning gardeners in 2021 adaptively and defensively avoided high-value plants. The site does not have the advantage of being embedded in a neighborhood. More time is needed to develop practical guidelines and expectations responsive to the problems of the location.
Accessibility was and is the priority of city planners in determining the garden’s location and design and how it is used. Through the built-in turnover rule, the chance to garden will be more accessible to more people over time. The new location is more safely and easily accessed. Pathways are wide and there are three accessible beds. The Parkway Garden, as with all the newer community gardens, has above-ground raised beds so the city can be assured that the soil used is clean and free of anything toxic. The expense of removing urban soils is high. Removal of the railroad bed would have been even more costly. It was capped with impermeable material and built-up to be the garden’s foundation. In summary, the Parkway Garden was built for safety, durability, and usefulness.
Going forward, gardeners will learn how best to use the garden as they better understand its environment. How to manage the rules will be a work in progress for some time. Unlike older gardens the three-year limit on use will be key, for example, in how to recruit and define the coordinator role, and for planning the timely assignment of plots to new gardeners.
Story contributed by the Cambridge Plant and Garden Club. This story was originally published in "Cambridge Community Gardens Today, 2020/2021."