Peggy Hayes Memorial Garden is well established and deeply embedded in its immediate community. All the gardeners can walk from their residences to the site: this is a garden whose members see each other on the street and share garden tasks.
The garden is located at 14 Watson Street, a short street between Brookline Street and Pearl Street in the Cambridgeport neighborhood.
In 1973, the City took ownership of the lot that is now the site of the garden. Due to a fire the lot was already vacant, although the basement of one house remained. After the two houses burned down the owner abandoned the site. It was then cleared by the City and put up for sale. An umbrella coalition of seven member organizations, called the Cambridgeport Alliance, acquired the site with one grant for the property and another for the taxes. This was the same time the Emily Street community garden was being created, and it inspired the possibility for one on this site. In 1977, the site was named the Peggy Hayes Memorial Garden in remembrance of Mrs. Hayes who had lived nearby and used to sit there, under her umbrella, before its formal organization as a community garden. A memorial plaque is located on a stone in the southwest corner.
In the intervening years, a nearby cooperative preschool made some use of the lot. Eventually the Alliance offered to sell it back to the City. Utilizing funds available through the Community Preservation Act, then recently enabled through state legislation, the City was able to buy the property in 2006-2007.
Improvements by the City included bringing in clean soil and installing black chain link fencing with two gates on Watson Street. Water is provided from a two-faucet spigot located in the front.
The garden is 70’ X 60’ and has 17 plots. From the corner entrance, one path forms a square, with single plots between the path and fence on the two long sides and a patchwork of plots in the middle. Across the front are the gates (one is a double and rarely used), the waste barrels, raspberry bushes, and grasses. A venerable yew and a lilac remain perhaps from the pre-fire homes. A communal space in one corner contains a round perennial bed, two donated apple trees, and the Peggy Hayes memorial plaque. The garden is open across the shady back area, with chairs, tables, and the tool shed.
The individual gardens are separated by wooden edging boards. Some plots have become raised beds and some are divided in various ways. There is very little fencing of plots except for netting against rabbits. The path is grassy and on the weedy side by September. By good fortune, surrounding buildings are mostly low and residential so that the garden gets good sunlight with the exception of the back.
What Is Grown
A wide variety of vegetables, herbs, flowers, and fruit is grown: annuals—cosmos, marigolds, zinnia; herbs—sage, basil, thyme, parsley; vegetables— tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, carrots, beans; perennials—hosta, amsonia, obedient plant, iris, phlox; fruit—blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, red currants, plus two apple trees and one peach. One gardener has dedicated much of his plot to growing cut flowers for his wife’s desk. Even in late fall there are still tomatoes, kales of various varieties, squash, late lettuce, and a low growing spinach bursting with energy and shared with all wishing to help themselves. Another interesting plant is a kind of sweet potato that its Asian plot owner has grown mostly for its elegant leaves. He has planted his plot in the manner traditional to his culture in mounds. By mid-June harvesting of lettuces and peas is underway, with gardeners starting to hover over their tomato plants. A stand of fava beans was particularly magnificent in 2020.
The garden has a membership of twenty families in 17 plots. The stability of longterm participation has made additions from the waiting list very slow. Sharing of plots has enabled greater participation and also solved the problem of the members who might need help with maintenance. A few families now have some space to garden with their young children.
In this garden it is easy to recognize the deep satisfaction felt by individual gardeners. As a group, some are outgoing socializers while others are more interested in being quiet and alone. This respectful attitude allows diversity without pressure. Cleanups are a shared activity and members water each other’s plants when someone is sick or away. Everyone is expected to keep the tool shed tidy.
At present three coordinators share management of the garden, with Kathy Gardner doing most of the administration as she has for the past 10 years. Meetings are called, finances are reviewed, and decisions are made with the participants or in some cases by the coordinators alone. Gardeners who seem not to care for their plots very seriously find themselves being tactfully advised. Members are responsible for the care and good health of their plots, which can be reassigned if not deemed adequately used.
Rules established for administration and maintenance of the garden are distributed and signed each year. In addition, a $30 fee is requested to cover items such as hoses, barrels, and tools. Composting is not allowed onsite but some gardeners bring compost they have made at home to their plots.
Although plagued by the burgeoning rabbit population of Cambridge, the Hayes garden is relatively untroubled by animal pests or casual poaching of garden produce. In the case of rodents, keeping the gardens clean and clear of food scraps from the compost brought in seems to offer the best solution. The inevitable temptation to help oneself to a good-looking vegetable or fruit is probably best deterred by the garden’s appearance of care, the presence of busy people, and by a certain amount of goodwill toward outsiders.
Story contributed by the Cambridge Plant and Garden Club. This story was originally published in "Cambridge Community Gardens Today, 2020/2021."