The community garden and playground of Hurley Street Park, amid the tightly knit neighborhood of East Cambridge, is truly a haven. The curved, rounded lines of its beautiful design by Gary Chan of the City’s Community Development Department provide relief from the block-by-block urban grid; the lush hedges and the vegetables and flowers in season offer color to the surrounding asphalt and wood structures; and the garden and play areas welcome the elderly, young couples, and a host of children.
The James J. Hurley Street Park is named after a WWI Sargeant in the United States Army killed in action in Lamont, France, in 1918. It is a small playground and community garden located on Hurley Street in East Cambridge. It sits on the south side of a roughly six-by-eight block residential area with a unique and cohesive character.
East Cambridge, also known as Area 1, is bounded by Somerville to the north, the Charles River to the east, the Boston & Albany Railroad tracks to the west, and Kendall Square to the south. It grew in the mid-19th century with a large immigrant population serving local manufacturing and industrial businesses. Most of the houses in East Cambridge were built between 1820 to 1875 along streets that form a tight grid. Hurley Street belongs to the Northern part of the grid bordering Somerville. The population of East Cambridge was originally predominantly of Irish and Portuguese origin, with a mix of Polish and Italians. Since the 1990s the development of Kendall Square and the proximity to Boston businesses have brought in a number of young professionals and their families.
The land occupied by Hurley Street Park, approximately 0.3 acres, was acquired in 1942 in foreclosure for non-payment of taxes in arrears since 1938. It was still vacant in 1946 when the city erected two barracks-style structures for housing of veterans. They were removed in 1951 or 52 when the land was appropriated for a tot lot, completed in December 1954.
In the fall of 2014, guided by the goals of the Healthy Parks and Playgrounds Initiative and with input from the community, the city moved forward with the renovation of Hurley Street Park under the direction of Gary Chan, then associate neighborhood planner for the city. The work, completed in October 2015 includes, besides the refurbished playground, an entirely new community garden on the east side: the Hurley Street Community Garden.
Hurley Street Park was conceived and designed as a tightly knit ensemble, including a playground and a community garden. The park is bounded on three sides by a hedge of Hornbeams and on the street side by a sidewalk imprinted with a poem by Rose Breslin Blake, one of the winners of the 2015 Sidewalk Poetry Contest.
The playground area occupies the central and west part of the lot, shaded partly by a large Dawn Redwood. It includes a water and sand play section for younger children, a water play plaza, and a climbing structure with a toboggan and swings. Passive seating areas and swinging chairs welcome parents and visitors, who are shaded by parasols and a pergola.
The community garden proper is enclosed within a low curved fence with two unlocked gates, one off the street and one facing the park plaza; the latter allows children to come in from the playground and explore the garden. Eighteen rectangular raised beds, approximately 10’ X10’, face north south, spaced loosely to allow circulation around them. In their midst stands a single watering source—a spigot, and a long hose. The ground is covered with a sandy mix of small pebbles. A wooden storage shed stands in the southeast corner of the garden. Two chairs allow gardeners or visitors to rest on the southwest side.
What Is Grown
Grown vegetables include beans, broccoli, brussels sprouts, carrots, eggplants, garlic, kale, lettuce, onions, peas, peppers, squash, strawberry, and tomato plants of all varieties. Fruit includes strawberries, melon, and watermelon; herbs include basil, chives, lavender, lemon verbena, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme; and flowers, mostly cosmos, marigold, milkweed, and zinnia.
Many members live close by and garden in their own time. The Crawford and Seif families are representative of the younger group who garden with their children. Gardening parents keep an eye on their children as they climb, swing, or roller skate in the playground.
Older adults, such as Terrence Rothman, take part as well. Terrence walks to the garden from his Third Street apartment. Terrence lived a good part of his life in Germany until he returned to his native US, eventually moving to Cambridge a decade ago. He did not have a garden in Germany but was always interested in “plant things” and became very good at mushrooming. He joined Hurley Street Park three years ago. A younger friend assists him with demanding tasks. Terrence very much enjoys gardening at Hurley Park, appreciates the beauty of the environment, the proximity to the play space, and the opportunity to talk to children and parents. Terrence would welcome more companionship and sharing with fellow gardeners.
Conrad Crawford and his wife Kari coordinate the garden. Conrad assumed the position in 2017 after serving as executive director of Groundwork Somerville. Conrad describes the coordinating as “minimal.” There are no summer get-togethers or “crop parties.” Kari will email gardeners occasionally to alert them of her presence on a given day. Conrad receives requests from new members or is notified by the city about aspiring candidates. There seems to be little turnover in membership and there is room for new members.
Justin Seif, who started gardening at Hurley Street Park some eight years ago, is actively involved in the management of the garden as well. Justin maintains a spreadsheet of the gardeners, secures their contact information, and keeps an eye on inactive beds.
There seem to be few problems at Hurley Park Garden. Conrad recently replaced a combination lock which had given trouble on the shed last year. Justin added a reel-cart to facilitate the management of the hose. Rats do not seem to be an issue. There is little or no vandalism. Children will occasionally play with the hose; teenagers sometimes play on top of the shed and the roof needs to be redone. Pilfering occurs as in any garden—tomatoes seem to disappear—but there are no major issues. The garden could use more members and possibly more of a sense of community. All in all, Hurley Street Park is a beautiful and well-maintained community garden.
Story contributed by the Cambridge Plant and Garden Club. This story was originally published in "Cambridge Community Gardens Today, 2020/2021."