Backyard Gardeners in Worcester

Backyard Gardeners in Worcester

July 2014
Sarah Dupere Ostro

Chandler Street, a major commercial corridor in Worcester, boasts diverse restaurants, shops and offices alongside a busy mix of vehicle and pedestrian traffic. There are also a fair number of residential buildings, from triple deckers to converted mixed use properties, such as Worcester Common Ground's 133 Chandler. When rehabbed in 2003, the property was fenced and landscaped, so that residents could have access to, and flexibility in the use of, a backyard green space.  

For the first few years of her tenancy, resident Jovita Padilla was excited to try to create a garden in the space; she used the back fence of the property to grow produce such as onions, eggplant and tomatoes. She attempted both in-ground direct seeding and transplanting, but struggled with plant damage as a result of the car wash run-off from the neighboring auto sales company. Frustrated with her limited success, she'd decided not to try again this year, until neighbor Arline Rosario, along with her two sons, moved into the building.

Arline, who grew up in Worcester, had just returned to Massachusetts from a stint in Philadelphia.  She and her family were members of the Point Breeze Gardens (at 1348-1350 Bouvier Street), where Arline says she learned a lot of what she knows about urban food production. Arline suggested to Jovita the whole building tackle gardening as a group, using raised beds. Although Jovita declined, Alrine was able to recruit WCG Property Manager Jeshenia Luyando, and tenant Lisandra Diaz to participate. The three women who comprise the group share watering and weeding responsibilities and the garden now has a healthy mix of flowers, herbs and vegetables, including peppers, Mexican Tarragon and squash.

Of the three raised beds, the tomato bed is thriving the most; it holds a special plant from a field trip Arline's son's class took to Community Harvest a couple of months ago.  Delano (Arline's son, seen in the photo above) is clearly delighted by the garden and showed off "his" tomato to recent visitors. 

The gardeners' biggest challenge to date is squirrels, who have made short work of sunflower seeds and squash plants alike. The scarecrow suggested by Delano has had some impact, but the women plan to infill with seedlings over the next couple of weeks (a new sunflower, slated for the garden, sits on Jeshenia's desk awaiting transplant).

So, why garden? The reasons are different for each of the women. Arline is excited by the idea of reintroducing a once-common practice; she says, "gardening is a lost way of life and it's making it's way back." Lisandra likes that the garden is a group effort. "It['s] neat to be a part of something in my community," she says, although she's equally interested in the produce to come; "cooking with the harvest will be the most enjoyable!" And although anyone that has ever met her knows her pure joy for flowers, for Jeshenia, there is a spiritual and metaphorical component to gardening as well. She loves the idea, she says, of "what goes on underground that you don't see." It is the work that you do beforehand (often unobserved) she notes, that determines the "fruits of your labor."