I live in the end townhouse in a cohousing community in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Because it’s the end townhouse, I have a small strip of land around three sides of the building that is mine to garden. I do mean small – it’s about 8 feet wide around the front and side (pictured above), with a slightly bigger area at the northwest corner, big enough for a small patio. We also have a deck on the third floor, where we have a container garden. Once I got comfortable with the plants in these spaces, I started to expand into neglected areas around our building – the strip between the driveway and sidewalk next to the Zipcars, and the boxes around the city trees in the sidewalk out front.
I’ve gardened in different ways at different times in my life. This garden is my first foray into perennial gardening; it was planted with many perennials when I got it, and I’ve kept it that way. Like almost all urban plots, the dirt is of uncertain origin: We are close to the big clay pits in North Cambridge, that were used to make the red bricks throughout Cambridge, and we know that this plot of land used to have a pottery works on it. (I often find old pottery shards and bricks when I dig.) It was also vacant and unmonitored for many years, making it a dumping ground for whoever had something to get rid of, and there seems to be construction fill in some parts, too. All of this makes it a poor choice for growing food. Since we have a large community vegetable garden at the other end of our property, I don’t miss it.
Soon after I started gardening here, I started reading about native plants and now favor native plants whenever possible. I realized at some point that I had stopped gardening just for beauty, and started gardening to create habitats – for plants, insects, birds, small animals, and my family. It delights me to see several species of bees out among my flowers on a sunny afternoon, or birds swooping through the alley between our townhouses, landing on trees that seem to be perfectly placed to give them visibility and access to berries and seeds. I still use some non-native plants, because they are favorites of someone in my family or serve a particular need, but less so as time goes on.
I started this as a place to keep a garden journal, with pictures of my garden throughout the year. Whether I have the energy and time to maintain it, only time will tell. I wish I had started it in 2006, when I first took over these spaces, and had a record of how much it’s changed. That’s my biggest motivator for recording how the gardens look today!
You can reach me via email at cindycarpenter1 (at) gmail dot com.