Jamaica Plain is home to scores of community gardeners and 19 community gardens—places where residents create a variety of types green spaces: lawns, trees, sitting areas, shared garden plots, individual garden plots and, sometimes, small playgrounds or gathering areas.
The two major organizations that provide space, tools and funding for the gardens are the Boston Natural Areas Network (BNAN) and the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). BNAN and DCR provide free compost, mulch and hay to most gardens.
According to Valerie Burns, president of BNAN, the wait can be up to one year for plots in the JP gardens, due to their popularity in this community. Burns encouraged people to sign up, saying the wait is worth it.
“Gardens create and strengthen a sense of community among… neighbors,” Burns said in a recent interview.
Janell Fiarman, the former garden coordinator and still a regular member of the Paul Gore Street Garden, agreed. “The experience of being in the garden—sometimes just stopping by to see what has developed; sometimes just being there, quietly weeding; having a little space you can plan and watch over and work in; and the pleasure of seeing other people’s gardens develop” are all reasons residents want to become a part of the growing movement for community gardens, she said.
Each garden is directed and managed by a volunteer garden coordinator. The coordinator acts as liaison between garden members and the garden’s sponsor as well as the manager of the garden and its development.
BNAN and DCR do not set the rules or structure for any of their gardens. Instead, the structure is created by the garden coordinator and members. Each person pays a yearly fee to the coordinator that goes toward buying supplies such as hoes, pitchforks and hoses and paying water bills.
Gardens can have anywhere from 10 to 40 plots. As people move, or hobbies change, there is a constant influx of new members to replace those who move out of the garden.
Some community gardens have shared space where there might be a strawberry patch or a blueberry bush. There is a cherry tree in the Anson Street Community Garden.
Or there might just be individual garden plots to maximize growing space like the Hall/Boynton Street Community Garden. Some of the most popular vegetables in today’s plots range from tomatoes to salad mixes to summer squashes. Some people grow flowers like gladiolas, black-eyed susans and zinnias. Some grow herbs—basil, lavender, rosemary and sage. Each garden is as different as the people and the plants they grow.
Members usually participate in shared work days. Each member agrees to work six hours, either in two full work days or four evening shifts. During these days, tasks could include weeding common areas, mending fences or picking up trash from the surrounding area.
Not only are these days important for overall maintenance, but they are the way “to get to know other people,” said Fiarman. When she was the coordinator of the Paul Gore Street Garden, she said, she knew every member. Now, as a member, she makes an effort to meet everyone, especially with the eight to 10 new people who become members of the garden each year.
To become a member of a community garden, visit the BNAN web site at www.bostonnatural.org to find the nearest community garden. [See sidebar for list.] Then call the BNAN offices at 542-7696 to get the contact information for the garden coordinator. The coordinator will know if there are any plots available, how long the waiting list may be and if there is any need for volunteer help if there are no individual plots available.