Fenway Gardens: Community Gardening in Boston
She built her own raised-bed plots and grows green beans, golden beets, carrots, green peppers, onions, parsley, chives, spinach, lettuce, peas, summer squash, zucchini, and tomatoes, including ‘Better Girl’, plum, and a tiny yellow variety. She also grows lovage, which she likes to add to her tomato sauce; at the end of the season, she makes enough sauce to freeze.
Phyllis Hanes knows a lot about food. Raised in Kennebunkport, Maine, she learned all about gardening from her mother, and as a Girl Scout always entered her prize carrots in competition. She later became a food writer for the Christian Science Monitor and has traveled the globe writing about how food relates to culture. Today she is retired, but she still serves as a judge for the James Beard Foundation awards and remains an avid gardener.
Phyllis has been gardening in Fenway Gardens since 1970, when Richard Parker himself was the supervisor. “When I first started gardening here, I was doing food testing and cooking, and there were a lot of things I could not find in the markets — so I began growing them,” she says.
Her preference is to grow from seed, and she likes to choose unusual items, such as Chinese artichoke, cardoon, arugula, okra, sorrel, lemon grass, and an Egyptian salad and soup green called molukhiya (Corchorus olitorius). “People say, ‘Why from seed?’ and I say, ‘Why not?’ We old-timers see how the younger new people come in and have instant gardens with their six packs and soil. We prepare our soil, mark off the sections with string and pegs…. I like to grow plants from seed; I think they grow better — and I know where they come from,” she adds.
She gets many of her seeds from mail-order companies such as Johnny’s Selected Seeds, based in Maine. She believes that New England-produced seeds do better in this climate.
In addition to her greens, herbs, and vegetables such as carrots, yellow beets, and yellow pear tomatoes, Phyllis also fills her two plots with an abundance of flowers, including pink, red, and white peonies that were left by the previous gardener.
Fellow gardener Arthur Rose has had his same plot for more than 30 years. At 86, he’s as passionate about and attentive to his garden as he was when he started. He grows rhubarb, strawberries, raspberries, tomatoes, lettuce, radishes, Swiss chard, peppers, and peas.
He rotates plantings in two plots, and in a good year, when he has too many raspberries to eat himself, he makes jam. “During summer, I rarely see a vegetable counter,” he says.
When he isn’t tending his plants (like Phyllis, he grows only from seed), Arthur likes to go to his garden and read the paper under a shady tree or catch up with fellow gardeners on their crops. “I just like being there,” he says. “I have water trays around the garden for the birds, and I watch them. I look up, and there are the trees and the Prudential Center in the distance. I don’t know what I would do if I weren’t going to garden every day.”
To learn more about the Fenway Garden Society and The Richard D. Parker Memorial Victory Gardens, call 617-267-6650 or visit fenwayvictorygardens.com