HistoryThe garden originated as part of a city redevelopment plan for the area between MIT and Cambridge Street and Lechmere. The neighborhood was comprised of a predominance of Italian, Portuguese, and Black families living in single and duplex houses. Nearby were a large number of run-down brick factory buildings. In concert with the MIT expansion and other development, the City Planning Department blocked off and truncated Lopez Avenue, created a park, and proposed a community garden in one corner surrounded with abutting houses. Through a series of neighborhood meetings in 2003, support for a community garden grew, and the City’s conservation director, Jennifer Letourneau, began gathering names of families who were interested in obtaining a plot in the proposed garden. Twenty-five potential gardeners soon came forward. Three interested abutters assisted with the garden’s development and took over its maintenance.
LocationThe garden is situated in East Cambridge near the Cambridge Court House on the edge of shady Costa Lopez Taylor multi-use park, between Hurley Street and Charles Street. The area is a mix of residential, factory, and newly renovated office buildings.
Garden DescriptionThe most outstanding feature of the garden is a large sculptural entrance gate with the shapes of a squash and pumpkin in yellow metal by artist Roberley Bell. This ebullient work of art signals vegetables and joy. Because the site was originally home to a gas station, the soil was not suitable for growing vegetables and so the garden consists of raised wooden beds. There are 37 of them of different heights, and there are many tubs and pails on the ground around them, functioning as adjunct gardens for some. The original intricately designed water spigots proved too delicate to handle the amount of use, and water pressure was a problem.
Three new water spigots and hoses have recently been added. They have been placed close to clusters of raised beds, making watering easier. Several tables with chairs encourage lingering and socializing, and can also be used to play checkers or chess. A large double swing seat framed by a trellis inside the gate offers a soft, shady place to enjoy the garden.
What Is GrownSeveral gardeners are content to grow flowers and herbs in their raised plots. Others are packed with vegetables including green beans and tomatoes, grown with elegantly fashioned trellises and supports; peppers and squash burst over the confines of the bed. Onions, parsley, interesting greens, and many herbs abound. One gardener is experi- menting with odd or unknown seeds and plants. There are two communal plots, one for flowers to attract hummingbirds, and one for milkweed to attract Monarch butterflies. By mid-summer the garden is brimming with promises.
GardenersThe gardeners living in the surrounding neighbor-hood come from many parts of the world. Lata Ramanathan is from India. She grows seeds and plants hydroponically in her apartment prior to planting them in the garden, and she concentrates on herbs for her famous vegetarian stews. Her neighbor and friend Krista Johansen moved from North Carolina to be near her mother. She is an MD cellular biologist and she takes a scientific and artistic approach to plants. This year she is growing some Egyptian onions whose wonderful curling twisting shapes rival the sculptural squash and pumpkin on the gate. Zhong Wu has built an elegant bamboo trellis for his beans and other vegetables. He has gardened at Costa Lopez for 5-6 years and is happy with the experience. Two Japanese sisters share a plot. Dina Moakley (a present coordinator), still enjoys sharing her plot with her son even though he is now grown up. She grows carrots, green beans, hot peppers, broccoli, and tomatoes.
ManagementStarting in 2005 and ending in 2020, abutters Tamar Granovsky and her husband Steve Behrens were the garden’s dedicated coordinators. They managed communication with the neighborhood and were able to recruit an interesting variety of gardeners. They also were adept at obtaining maintenance help from the City as needed. According to Jennifer Letourneau, the couple were “amazing stewards and champions for the garden. They shared their knowledge. They were community builders.”
This strong community base, there from the start, assures the garden continues to be well managed. There are set times in the spring for gardeners to start planting, and in the fall to clean up their plots. Gardeners are linked through a Google Group so they can arrange to share tools and ask for watering help if they are going to be away. Signs are posted in multiple languages to explain the garden’s rules and who to contact to apply for a plot.
Dina Moakley, who has recently taken over from Tamar and Steve, is an academic living in the area. She first joined the community in 2005 and took a plot to teach her then toddler son.
SummaryAs is usual in many of the community gardens, there is some theft of plants and vegetables. Some people stopped growing tomatoes as a result, but there seems to be a philosophical acceptance of the occasional pilfering, and many, undaunted, are still growing tomatoes as their primary product. The overall impression of this garden is a very positive one. As Steve Behrens put it—“there are people who are just growing vegetables; there are people who are growing flowers; there are people over the years who have decorated or landscaped their plots—there’s just a lot of individual expression.”
Story contributed by the Cambridge Plant and Garden Club. This story was originally published in "Cambridge Community Gardens Today, 2020/2021."