This unprepossessing rectangle, with a path running diagonally through it, is aptly named “Field of Dreams.” It is the inspiration for a rich, beloved garden to many. Privately managed by a resident neighborhood group on property technically belonging to Harvard University, Field of Dreams is one of the three Cambridge Community Gardens on land not owned by the City.
Field of Dreams is off of Putnam Avenue near the King/Amigos School at the intersection of Elmer Street and Peabody Terrace, across from the Peabody Terrace Garage.
In 1991, Field of Dreams was developed by a group of Harvard graduate students who were also members of the Riverside Neighborhood Study Committee. The students noticed a vacant lot, a postage stamp, near the Peabody Terrace Apartments for Graduate Students. The plot had no future for development; it seemed only used by short-cutters.
This group of graduate students, including future members of the Cambridge Plant & Garden Club, had wanted a place to garden, so they contacted Harvard Real Estate, Inc. After a year of negotiations, Harvard renounced all claims to the land in return for no responsibility, and the lot was licensed to this group who continue to use it. The University’s last act was to drop 92 cubic yards of soil in the street for the gardeners to use. Since then, Field of Dreams has obtained a water connection from the City, organized soil deliveries, and secured city support for tree pruning and removal.
The group at Field of Dreams has never wanted to fence the garden—instead some gardeners install their own fences, which makes the garden look very personal, varied, and welcoming. Field of Dream gardeners have retained the diagonal shortcut of the original rectangle. Charmingly, they have installed their information board on that crosswalk with only one rule: “If you see someone in the garden, say hello.” Their magnanimity is also seen in their sharing of many plots of berries and flowers with both members and neighbors. There are officially 29 plots, including accommodation for people who need disability access. The general plot size is approximately 10’ X 10’ but there are also two triangular plots because of the shortcut. There is a common area containing a bench, a tool shed, and trash receptacles.
What Is Grown
Eight of the plots are common plots for general use and enjoyment. The common plots include one with strawberries and milkweed; garlic, chives, roses, and perennials flourish in another; there is a plot for blueberries; and another for mixed black and red raspberries. Herbs are also grown in a common plot; with poppies and annual flowers in another; a plot in the shade incorporates native wildflowers. Various flowering plants and mint for pollinators are planted around the perimeter of the garden. Some of these were planted by a Girl Scout troop working on a pollinator project. In addition, the Peabody Terrace Preschool occupies two combined plots. The presence of the Girl Scouts and preschoolers testifies to the genuine outreach of this garden to its neighbors and their children. In return some neighbors responded by removing a stand of Japanese Knotweed that was encroaching on the garden.
The membership of the past few years includes young people in their 20s and 30s, gay couples, middle-aged families, multiracial families, (some with children who join in), and older folks in their 60s and 70s. The oldest longtime member was in her 80s when she left the area a few years ago. Almost all the members live in the surrounding neighborhood, and those who have moved elsewhere still garden at Field of Dreams. Some live in nearby Putnam Gardens and a few members live in private limited equity housing cooperatives. The variety in the membership is mirrored in the plantings: an Indian family grows chilies, turmeric, and other spices; the preschool fills its plot with simple vegetables and flowers; and butterflies crowd the Girl Scouts’ mix of plants for pollinators.
While there are many longstanding members, some plots are recently under new management. One is freshly planted by sisters who live in the building next door. The rows are trim and the way they are experimenting with their crops is creative and bodes well for a future of understanding how to utilize their small patch of soil. Another plot is being planted by a group of three women, who have artfully put in many plants with a standout jungle of marigolds as the summer progresses.
Currently there are two coordinators managing the garden: Nita Sembovich and Aimee Bonana. They manage the waitlist, turnover, garden rules, fees, cleanup, and troubleshooting. Although the garden is welcoming, aside from cleanup days there are few planned social events. There are the usual problems of fi ne gardeners who over time become lax or unable to manage their plots, but who don’t want to leave. Some gardens crowd into the space of other plots. Some gardeners give away their plots without consulting the coordinators. One Japanese woman in the past was a renegade who planted the outside edges of the garden, scrupulously and very successfully, growing all sorts of unknown beans and Asian vegetables. Members were so impressed they found a way to move her into the garden and give her space. Fred Crastas and Apoline Rodriguez from India are the incredible growers of the Indian vegetables. Often, with the number of foreign-born residents in Cambridge, there is a language barrier, but speaking English is not necessary for good gardening talent.
As most of the community gardens are owned and managed by the City through the Conservation Commission, Field of Dreams gardeners wonder how they fit in. While they do not want to be controlled by the City, they do need some city services. For example, Cambridge has a rat problem that is very evident at Field of Dreams. While the City has a rat control program, it is unclear if Field of Dreams can take advantage of it. On the other hand, there does not seem to be much pilfering, theft, vagrancy, or vandalism in the garden despite the lack of fencing or security. The members work uniquely together and derive great satisfaction from their successes in the garden.
Story contributed by the Cambridge Plant and Garden Club. This story was originally published in "Cambridge Community Gardens Today, 2020/2021."