With most all special events cancelled, and a lot of summer fun that just isn’t socially distant, the expectation is that gardening – particularly in community gardens – is going to skyrocket in popularity, and in a lot of ways, it already has.
Peter Bowne, of the Trustees – who oversee community gardens in Boston, said gardening is a safe activity where one can be outside, can exercise and also be social at a safe distance.
“It’s safe,” he said. “We already have put up guidelines about gardening in COVID-19 conditions. It’s about social distancing and wearing masks and wear-ing gloves and being very mindful of what you touch that is community proper-ty like a gate or lock or shed…It’s going to be really important for people to get outside when they can safely and to be part of a community still…The bottom line is the gardens are open and we’re working with folks and figuring out how to do things virtually.”
So far the weather hasn’t completely cooperated for gardeners to safely plant the summer vegetables, but it hasn’t stopped many from making preparations.
John MacLachlan, who gardens at the Berkeley Gardens in the South End, said almost everyone in the garden seems not to be deterred by COVID-19.
“Many of us have been out already preparing our gardens,” he said. “I’ve been out on the few nice days we’ve had trying to rabbit-proof my garden, and cleaning out the winter debris.”
Sarah Hutt, of the South End, said her garden plot has already been producing peas and lettuce, which are perfect for the colder weather.
“This year we had the most gardeners return than any other year,” she said. “I’m not sure why but we didn’t have many unclaimed gardens this year for the lottery…The big thing this year is where to buy plants. SoWa had a neighbor-hood favorite from a New Hampshire farm that brought great tomatoes and other things. The Flower Market on Albany Street had good things, but it is closed now…Being able to go over and play in the dirt is really, really a wonder-ful feeling.”
For Bob Minnocci, who gardens at the Rutland Washington community garden in the South End said he doesn’t see any slowdown in gardening so far this year. Most are abiding by the social distance rules, and it has been a great way to get outside for some exercise.
“So far, this year, I have put down fresh soil and cleaned out weeds from last year,” he said. “I’ve noticed other gardeners working their plots, preparing the soil and planting seeds. Most have masks on. I will say that working the garden is the best exercise a person could get. By the time you get done weeding and cleaning, you have exercised muscles you didn’t know you had.”
That garden and many of the community gardens in Boston were founded a half-century ago to help residents who wanted to supplement their food sup-plies in the summer months. While that has become less of a problem in recent years, such uncertainty around food is also driving a new crop of gardeners to the Trustees – people who seem to be thinking it might be the only way to feed their families in the coming months.
“The numbers of plot requests we got has gone through the roof,” he said. “We are all excited, but we’re all kind of freaked out about that. Everyone has been to the grocery store. It’s a scary new world in a lot of respects and there’s not end date in sight. We hope for an end date, but we don’t know. Having safe, healthy food is really important and you have families that have lost their in-come and they’re looking at the garden to help. Access to gardens and food can supplement your budget and that may be as important as ever right now…We just don’t know where we’ll be in six months or so with this.”
For the gardening community, they have been very excited to get going, Bowne said. He said the annual Gardeners Gathering had to be done via Zoom for the spring meeting, and they had a huge number of garden coordinators log in for direction.
In addition, they have also done a number of garden workshops and seminars online to help new gardeners, and supplement the knowledge of existing gar-deners.
“You need to only look at how quickly everything has shut down and changed,” he said. “There’s always something therapeutic about being able to get one’s hands in the dirt. There’s a real sense of being able to stay grounded in a world that’s constantly changing.”