At certain times of day, everyone notices the traffic as they travel through Charlestown toward Sullivan Square. While you’re sitting in your car, inching up to the rotary, have you ever noticed the beautiful community garden between Main and Bunker Hill Streets? Maybe you notice the daffodils in March, which give way to large fluffy peonies by June, and then roses by July. Perhaps you just notice that it’s a rare open green space in a neighborhood packed with 3-storey row homes.
Gardens for Charlestown (GfC) has a unique history, of which most residents are unaware. In 1978, the property at Main and Bunker Hill Streets was a rubble-strewn lot owned by the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA). The existing buildings there were torn down during Boston’s Urban Renewal. The City’s plan to construct a school on the site did not go forward, and the property began to attract unsavory uses. A handful of neighbors cleared enough land for a few vegetable plots, and the Garden was born.
Carrying water from the Fire Station across the street, these original trailblazers tended their plots and planted the lovely border gardens. In 1981, a Model Gardens Grant from the City funded a modest irrigation system. Eventually, Gardens for Charlestown attained 501(c)(3) non-profit status. The new coalition built a tool shed and greenhouse. Slowly, they reclaimed the property and gave something of beauty back to Charlestown.
In 1995, Mayor Thomas Menino and the BRA, seeing the grassroots effort to improve the site, deeded the property to Gardens for Charlestown with the proviso that it remain open space. Ownership made it easier for the fledgling non-profit to apply for grants to fund more improvements, such as the brick patio, the iron gates and the construction of two sheds. While the funds paid for materials, most of the work was (and still is) done by gardeners volunteering their time.
Part of the mission of GfC is to give back to the neighborhood. The only community garden in Boston that is publicly accessible, Gardens for Charlestown provides an oasis for residents and tourists alike; the chance to sit in a parklike setting and take a moment to smell the roses. In 1993, it became the first wheelchair accessible garden in Massachusetts, truly providing access to everyone.
Another way the Garden gives back to the community is through the Tend and Tell program, begun by two members. First, some informational materials were provided on site to help identify various plants as an educational benefit to visitors. The second part of Tend and Tell, is a 9-week program for kindergarteners at Harvard Kent School that combines weekly reading assignments with the class’ Earth Science requirement. Now in its second year, the students learn how seeds become plants; how bees, bugs, and birds assist crops; and about plants that become our food. One of the 66 garden plots is permanently reserved for use by the students. They make at least 2 field trips to visit their plot and observe the progress of their plants.
Volunteering is an integral part of membership in GfC. Each member pays a small fee and commits at least 12 volunteer hours per season in order to get a plot. Volunteer hours can be fulfilled during Clean Ups, when members gather at specific dates to work together maintaining the common areas of the garden. Alternatively, members can plan or host fundraising events, which are open to the public. Events help cover some of the operational costs that are not covered by plot fees. This year, the big event is the 40th Anniversary Gala, on the evening of Thursday, June 29. There will be a Silent Auction to benefit the garden with many items from Charlestown businesses. Please stop by and help celebrate 40 years of beauty and neighborly friendship!
For more information, please go to www.gardensforcharlestown.org or find us on Facebook!