By Seth Daniel
When Nina Danforth recalls the towering Birch tree on the edge of the Sullivan Square Garden, she remembers it being a small, little tree fighting to grow amidst a lot strewn with bricks, trash and hopeful urban gardeners.
Last Thursday night, June 29, when she set her eyes on that same Birch tree, it was towering more than 30 feet in the air, healthy and blowing in the breeze – while being surrounded by greenery of all kinds and successful gardeners, some who have only been around a year or two and some who have seen all 40 years of change.
“Is that the same Birch tree?” she asked aloud. “We planted that at the beginning. I remember it being this little thing. It really shot up. I guess it would be 40 years old though.”
Gardeners from the Town, and former founding gardeners who came back to see how their plot of land is doing, came together on June 29 for a 40th anniversary party for Gardens for Charlestown. The organization has some other gardens, but its main garden at the apex of Bunker Hill and Main Streets is teeming with activity these days.
Danforth was one of the leaders in founding the garden in 1977 when urban gardening on vacant lots first came back into the lexicon of city living. Boston Urban Gardeners (BUG) was really pushing the effort citywide at the time, and Danforth decided she wanted to make a go of it – to have somewhere to take her infant son from the family home on Monument Square.
“I started clearing the site in 1977,” she said. “It was a lot of rubbish. There was lead in the soil so we had to make plots and we brought in horse manure from the Boston Police horse barn to help the soil. We had no water, so the Boston Fire Department was kind enough to water with their hoses.”
Danforth was eager to get back to gardening in those days, she said, because she had worked in Philadelphia at an arboretum. When she arrived in Charlestown with her husband, she began searching for somewhere that might be suited for gardens.
“I started walking around Charlestown,” she said. “I pushed my young boy from Concord Street in a stroller all over the Town and just looked around.”
Once finding the current lot, which used to house a school and was owned by the Boston Redevelopment Authority (now the Boston Planning and Development Agency), she found helpers in folks like Barbara Mackey, Miguel Gomez-Ibanez and Roger Chesebrough to name a few.
Chesebrough has been gardening his little plot facing Main Street for the entire 40 years.
He recalls bringing down the old railroad ties to separate the plot – railroad ties that they retrieved from the old rail yard nearby.
“It really gave people a sense