By Beth Treffeisen
Each summer, the Fenway Victory Gardens come to life with blossoming flowers, colorful vegetables and greenery that attracts many passersby who stop, and take in the fresh air that is otherwise untouched by the urban environment around it.
But, the same attractiveness that brings people to wander through the garden is the same appeal that brings some unwanted activity to the gardens.
“It’s a beautiful place,” said Police Sergeant James Freeman. “A lot of tenants put a lot of work in it, and it is why people go down there. In terms of walking or jogging, it is a safe place to that point.”
During the warm summer months the gardens, a quiet oasis in the middle of the city continue to draw people in, whether it be fans after a Red Sox game looking for place to sit after the game or teenagers trying to sneak in some drinks unnoticed.
“People abuse the reeds,” said Freeman. “They are able to hide back there.”
This past April, the Boston Police had to fish a body out of the area. The high reeds that line the Muddy River provide the perfect hiding place for those who want to take part of illicit activities.
Freeman said that the Boston Police go through there and try to flesh it out. He said he is often met with the excuse of ‘I’m not staying but stopping’ and regardless the police try to push people away from hanging out there.
“It’s really more of a nuisance when a crowd forms there,” said police officer Bernadette McCarthy. “There are no robberies or anything that has harmed someone. Sometimes they don’t realize that they’re being intrusive.”
McCarthy said that this problem tends to peak during each summer and teeter out in the colder months.
“It’s a continuous problem,” said McCarthy. “But, in a few a months they’ll be indoors. I’ve gone down there for years and it is a historic problem but we are doing the best that we can at solving it.”
The Fenway Victory Gardens are comprised of 500 gardens spanning seven and half acres located in Fredrick Law Olmsted’s famed Emerald Necklace. A community of more than 350 members from The Fenway Garden Society tends to the gardens.
The Fenway Garden Society works to maintain and encourage urban gardening in the Victory Gardens for the benefit of all people of the City of Boston to provide a chance to work outdoors, enjoy green space, and work with nature.
They also cooperate with the Boston Parks Department and other related agencies and community groups, in preserving, maintaining, and beautifying city park areas and other areas.
But, urban gardens do come with some unique challenges.
“The Fens are a public park and urban parks have challenges,” said Kevin Cranston the head of the safety committee for the Garden Society. “The attractiveness of the park always brings in people who want to grab at the produce or pretty flowers.”
He continued, “If they have them, they get to them.”
Cranston said that the gardeners do secure their garden plots but it is an open and public by the nature of the place. Cranston said, “It’s a balancing act.”
Along with other parks around the City, the Fenway Victory Garden has also seen an up-tick in discarded syringes.
“Nobody knows a solution and we don’t have an answer on this,” said Freeman. “It’s a nationwide epidemic.”
Cranston who has lived in the neighborhood for 37 years said that there is no way to tell if it is better this year than in previous years but maybe there’s more illicit drug use in the parks. “But that seems to be city-wide and the same challenges are in other neighborhoods in the city as well,” he said.
A number of the area of directors in the garden are trained on how to probably dispose of syringes in a few sharp containers kept in the park said, Cranston. But, generally, he said calling 311 has been very effective in taking care of the problem.
Most gardeners Cranston said, don’t mind that there are people who use the park at all hours of the day, but when some people start setting up camps back by the reeds, it can become a problem.
“We are not anti-homeless,” said Cranston. “It’s just that encampments often bring threatening behavior.”
This year, Cranston said, the BPD and the Park Rangers have been more aggressive breaking up the encampments.
“The Parks Department and the Police do the best that they can,” said Elizabeth Bertolozzi the vice president of the Fenway Garden Society.
Bertolozzi who is copied on e-mails to the Boston Parks Department and the BPD said that recently in the gardens it has be quiet but the most common disturbances are break-ins to the garden plots.
“If they see a tomato they are going to take the tomato,” said Bertolozzi.
Bertolozzi said that gardeners know not to put vegetables on the side of their gardens because people are walking through there all the time.
“These are not problems you have in the suburbs but you live in the city,” said Bertolozzi.
Every few weeks the Fenway Garden Society does a clean up of trash that can be accumulated in the area. “We find everything,” said Bertolozzi.
“I typically leave the gardens before dark,” said Bertolozzi. “I don’t know what happens there after dark and frankly I don’t want to know. It’s an open area and people come in after the gardeners – there’s a lot of foot traffic.”
Each month the Fenway Garden Society holds a security meeting that catalogues all of the complaints and tries to find solutions to the problems. Currently, they work hard to secure the gardens with fences and ask that the gardeners keep a line of sight between the plots.
Cranston said, “We want to make sure the garden remains a pleasant place to walk through and see the gardens but at the same time make sure they are secure.”
Everyone is welcome to join the next security meeting that will be held at the Fenway Community Center on Sept. 12 at 6:30p.m.