Plot owners at the Berkeley Community Gardens gathered on April 9 for an annual spring cleanup and potluck, where they shared food and each other’s company.
Many gardeners were out and about in their plots on Saturday afternoon, cleaning out from the winter and preparing for the spring and summer growing season. The garden common area was also abuzz with activity as people enjoyed a potluck lunch while chatting with fellow gardeners.
The garden, which is located on E. Berkeley St. between Tremont St. and Shawmut Ave., features 145 plots of varying sizes, and gardeners grow everything from beans and tomatoes to fresh flowers and figure out creative ways to keep animals away from the crops.
In 1965, the city razed a block of row houses to use the land for Urban Renewal, but immigrants from China and Lebanon began using the land for gardening, and Berkeley Community Gardens was founded in 1974 through the city’s Revival Program.
In 2009, a new fence was installed around three sides of the garden, which earned the garden the National Night Out Community Service Award from the Boston Police Department.
In 2014, the garden became protected indefinitely due to a takeover by the Trustees of the Reservation. According to a sign in the garden,“Gardeners continue planting Chinese plants that have been successfully cultivated since the 1960s: bitter melon, yard-long bean, and winter melon, to name a few.”
Many gardeners today speak Cantonese and Mandarin, so meetings and documents are translated into Chinese, and gardeners pitch in to keep the grounds maintained.
The Sun spoke with several gardeners including Dorothy Kelley, who said her daughter obtained a plot in 2017, and she now shares it with her after moving to the South End from Des Moines in 2018.
“Until last summer, we did mostly vegetables,” she said, but this year the goal is to grow flowers and strawberries.
She said that while there are not many challenges with having a plot in this community garden, not having a car can prove to be a little bit of a challenge depending on what supplies are needed.
“If we need dirt and they’re not bringing a load in,” she said, “it’s handier for me to have a car.”
Kelley said that “It’s the most unusual community garden I think in the city because of the creative ways people who started this many, many years ago have framed their little enclosures. It’s charming.”
Kelley pointed out that the plots do range in size and shape—“some are double wide,” she said, and people use creative items like refrigerator shelving and ceramic plates to help grow certain crops or keep animals out.
This year, it costs $70 to have a plot at the gardens, and a person can keep it indefinitely as long as it is being used. She said if the garden is not being used by June 1, “you have to give it up,” and only about seven or eight plots are open each year.
Kelley also said that the Berkeley Community Gardens now has a “resident birder”—someone who pays dues to get a key and walk around to take note of all the birds and email gardeners about her findings.
Sarah Hutt has had a plot at the gardens for about 25 years.
“I do things that I can pick and eat,” she said. “I call it a salad garden—anything I can eat raw and feel like I’ve accomplished something when I come over in the morning.”
John McLachlan grows a number of vegetables and edibles as well, including Swiss chard, peppers, tomatoes, basil cucumbers, beans, peas, and garlic. He said he doesn’t “need more than one or two of each plant,” because it’s only him.
This is Len’s third year with a plot, and he said he enjoys growing “all different color” heirloom tomatoes, as well as cucumbers, basil, yellow beans, and radishes. He said he enjoys sharing his harvest with his friends. “They love it,” he said.
Goldberg said his favorite thing about being part of the garden is “the people. It gets me out of the house,” he said. “I live so close. It’s just fascinating to see what people have grown.”
Hutt added, “it’s the only community group that doesn’t fight.”
Gardeners have faced some challenges with rabbits and rodents in their gardens, they said.
“We’ve had a pretty persistent challenge with rabbits,” said Kim Vermeer, who has had a plot for about 15 years. She said that when she came to her plot a few weeks ago to do some cleaning, she found a dead rabbit and a “dead rodent of some sort.”
She also said that theft from gardens has been an issue in community gardens across the city, and Berkeley Community Garden “used to be a lot more relaxed about leaving the doors open during the day, especially during the pandemic years,” but “I personally haven’t had trouble,” she said.
For more information about the Berkeley Community Garden, visit berkeleygardens.org. or the Berkeley Community Garden Facebook page.