Unique garden needs more tending

Damola Curtis

FOREST HILLS—Organizers of the Leland Street community herb garden, which acts as a backyard for many area residents, are trying to recruit more workers or re-create a garden that needs less maintenance.

At a meeting at Convenant Congregational Church on the Arborway on March 14, members of the steering committee collected ideas for caring for the garden that is much like a park on the edge of Forest Hills Cemetery from the 25 people in attendance.

“It’s important that we continue the spirit of it being a community space, but figure out how it can be a more broadly shared responsibility, so that the burden doesn’t go on the shoulders of a small group,” said resident Jeanne Bruno.

“A lot of people involved over the last 10 to 20 years are getting older, and are not as able to do much work. The younger people are having families and have small children,” explained Peter Anderson, a member of the steering committee whose house borders the garden.

“We have to rethink how we get the work done. One of the problems is that the work is hard to get done. People don’t quite know what to do and are not available to do the work needed,” said Anderson.

The garden began as an effort to redeem abandoned lots on Leland Street. In 1983, the Boston Natural Areas Fund purchased the land, turning it over to the community for its use. In 1989, the garden received $25,000 from a federal grant program for urban improvements distributed through the Grassroots Program of the City of Boston Public Facilities Department. It is owned by the Boston Natural Areas Network (BNAN). [See related article about JP-based Boston Urban Gardeners.]

A lot of work was done to create the garden. A landscape artist was hired to create a plan. The garden officially opened in June 1991. Today, it remains as a community garden, open to the public, and gardened communally, without individual plots. Flowers and herbs are grown, and a hive of bees produces honey.

As people move in and out of the community, knowledge of the garden and its usage is diminishing.

“We need more of a process for letting people know [about the garden] when they move into the neighborhood. I hope that it will go on the way it is, but with more participation,” said Sarah Buermann, who has lived near the garden since 1987.

Buermann said she hopes the garden leaders will be able to create a web site to attract younger residents. “With younger people, if it doesn’t come through a screen, they might miss it,” she said.

The garden is used for many activities, including neighborhood gatherings, reading, dog-walking, private parties and celebrations, weddings, games like croquet, badminton and bocce, and simple reflection.

Two of the big events are a winter solstice celebration on Dec. 21, when people gather with candles and sing songs and Honey Day, the last Sunday of August, when garden-produced honey, herb tea and mead—an alcoholic liquor made from fermenting honey and water—are sold to raise funds for the garden,

The hive came to the garden in 1997. When the garden steering committee received a large water bill, they turned to Mike Graney, who keeps bees not only in the garden, but in Mattapan on the Neponset River. He has 10 hives in all, each producing 70 pounds of honey. The sale of his honey has raised over $300 annually for the garden. Graney has a website at wwww.eatlocalhoney.com.

“Jamaica Plain is a great place for bees,” Graney said. “It’s a very green area.”

“I would like the garden to get more community use, so that people can come and reap the bounty. More kids need to be involved, for the pleasure of getting their hands in the earth,” said Story Stephenson, who lives near the garden.

Resident Larry Sheinfeld said he sees education as a key to the garden’s success. “If people who are working in the garden have a better understanding of what they’re doing, they’d be less hesitant to participate,” said Sheinfeld.

“It’s an amazing oasis,” said Stephenson. “We’ve talked about living in the country, but the garden had kept us here.”

“The garden is the neighborhood’s backyard, for everybody to have,” said Louise Outler, another resident.

The steering committee will be meeting to put an action plan together on April 6 at 7:30. Contact Deborah Bernard at 522-3315 for more information.

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