Tales Of An Urban Gardener

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Katey Parker

Katey Parker › Katey's first food memory involves herself hands deep and covered in Gregg's famous chocolate cake, resulting ...

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I’ve always been caught somewhere in the middle of a country girl and a city girl. Long summers and boring winters spent in Rhode Island and rural Maine as a child made me ache for urban excitement. Once it came time for college, I sunk myself into the heart of Boston, only to find that I craved my quiet country homestead amidst the honking cars and miles of concrete.

So when I stumbled upon a community garden about half a mile from my tiny, cramped apartment, my dreams came true. For once, I imagined, I could have the best of both worlds. Plunge my hands into the dirt, grow my own food, listen to the birds chirp, right underneath the shadow of the Prudential Tower. After some research and a $30 price tag, I found myself with a 15ft by 30ft plot of earth in the heart of the city.

Plot #Y32 turned out to be less of an idyllic patch of dirt, and more of an overgrown nightmare. I recruited my mom (on Mother’s Day, no less!) to bond over some shoveling. Before long, we unearthed three raised vegetable beds, two flower beds along the perimeter, and even a little patio area with room for a lawn gnome or two. It was perfect, and it was mine.

One thing I noticed early on was that I was the youngest gardener around, and by a long shot. Many of my neighbors were veterans, having had their plots for decades, which resembled perfectly manicured oases. Soon enough, I made friends and was regularly offered their time-tested tips. Sharon, for example, suggested spraying peppermint oil on my plants when I started to acquire unruly rodents. Overhearing our conversation, Dennis shared that human hair was the only solution, and insisted I immediately make a visit to my local barbershop and distribute the “clippings” around the garden’s perimeter. I settled on the former.

It seems that you always learn a lesson or two from projects like these. Despite the garden manager’s instructions, I had failed to replace the run-down fence surrounding my garden, a costly expense I couldn’t afford as a college student. The consequences started out small, occasionally finding pieces of garbage or cigarette butts scattered amongst my tomatoes and peppers. More obvious signs of intrusion came when parts of my fence were bent, and my gate was broken off one of its hinges, but this too, I ignored. It was when these unwelcome guests decided to actually move in a piece of their own furniture, and squash my summer squash, that I threw up my gardening gloves.

How naïve could I have been? How could I think that no one would want to share in my perfect urban oasis?

I harvested my remaining vegetables, turned over the soil, packed up my tools, and left.

To this day, I don’t regret the blood, sweat and tears I put into Y32. There was no better reward than making a salad for friends with my homegrown greens, or popping the first red cherry tomato, warm from the sun, into my mouth. Many memories remain of the times I recruited friends to join me for a weeding session, and I’ll never forget my roommate’s face when she bit into a hot pepper. The discoveries I made in that small piece of land, my own piece of land, continue to stick with me to this day.

For now, I settle on growing herbs in the window, volunteering every so often on a farm, or giving my mom’s garden the attention she gave mine. After all, it doesn’t matter how you get your hands dirty.  As long as you get them dirty.

Photo Credit: Katey Parker