Fenway Gardens: Community Gardening in Boston
Drivers rolling down Boston’s Boylston Street are sometimes surprised to see — amid the concrete and high-rises — a splash of lush green, a pergola covered in purple blossoms, and bright-red rows of tomatoes, heavy on the vine. This seven-acre plot is The Richard D. Parker Memorial Victory Gardens, better known as Fenway Gardens.The names stems from the neighborhood in which it’s located (along with neighboring Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox). It’s the last of the nation’s original victory gardens, created during World War II across the United States.
When the war created food shortages here in the wake of shipments to the armed forces, President Franklin D. Roosevelt encouraged Americans to grow their own food. The government, schools, and businesses such as seed companies worked together to help find land and to teach people how to garden.
Today, Fenway Gardens is thriving, with 535 15-by-25-foot gardens and 325 gardeners who pay just $30 per plot annually ($15 for seniors). According to former Fenway Garden Society president Carmen Musto, the popularity of gardening is booming among people of all ages — from those in their college years to octogenarians. Carmen has been gardening here since 1990, and his particular passion is fruit trees. Amid his plot’s bushes and flowers are cherry, apple, peach, and pear trees — and no vegetables.
Local restaurateur Leo Romero began gardening here in 1991. He had moved back to the city after 10 years in Calais, Vermont, where he ran The White House inn and restaurant. He missed the inn’s gardens, and he found this plot, a short walk from his restaurant on Gloucester Street, Casa Romero. “I’ve got one of the choicest spots, on the highest point. It’s well drained and I can start gardening early in the season. It has sun and good shade from a large crab apple tree,” he says.
His herb garden includes sage, thyme, lovage, oregano, marjoram, basil, rosemary, germander, and rue, plus lavender, which he uses in the restaurant’s salads and lavender sorbet. At home, he keeps some by his bed for inducing relaxation.
Leo is known for his flowers — from spring daffodils to the last mums of fall, most destined for his restaurant or his home. His favorites include peonies, lilacs, lilies, tulips, dahlias, roses, and irises. He comes here as often as he can to work the garden and experience the peace of the place.
“I go work out as early as possible and then come here,” he says. “Sometimes I just come and sit. Yesterday, I took a nap in the garden. I lie right down on the ground and look at the sky and count the shapes of the clouds. I even come in the winter and start cleaning the garden as early as I can.”
When the Red Sox are playing, retired Houghton Mifflin editor Joan Murphy plans her garden trek accordingly to avoid the traffic. “I take the subway or bus,” she says. She’s been gardening here in the same plot since 1980, and she plants so many vegetables that she rarely has to shop for them in the summer.
“I think it’s nice to have a little backyard like this when you live in the city,” she says, “even if that little backyard is a bus ride from home.”