Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Trust-worthy cause?

Have you ever seen those special license plates that tout a particular cause?  Quite a few have been spotted around our state; drivers who have bought them have paid an extra fee to support breast cancer, funding the United Way, or even building a miniature Fenway Park for kids.  There are several plates for which the fees go to the Massachusetts Environmental Trust, a funding source for organizations across the state that are interested in protecting water resources.

Today I as well as many other Massachusetts Audubon Society members received an email from Kylee Wilson from the Boston Nature Center introducing the "Land and Water" plate, which features, in addition to the name of the cause, an illustration of a tree that sort of looks like a cedar.  The plate costs $40, plus the $20 Registry of Motor Vehicles plate swap fee.  $28 is a tax-deductible contribution to the Massachusetts Environmental Trust.  But Wilson explained in the email that the Registry will only produce a special plate if 3,000 individuals send a check first.  "If we don't get the 3,000 orders, checks will eventually be returned, the opportunity will be lost, and more land will be paved."

Whoa!  I take it there's a sense of urgency here.  Funding must be tight for many of the grassroots organizations involved with monitoring and restoring natural areas including bodies of water and marshes, educating people about environmental preservation, and (near and dear to my heart) organizing community gardens, among other activities, especially as we enter a recession.  Not to mention that finances are tight for some of us individuals who (like myself) work less than full-time, and may have also gotten a $40 ticket this morning for parking on the wrong side of the street during street cleaning.

If someone from the Boston Nature Center is promoting this plate, I may just consider it, even if it means giving up my endangered discontinued plate with green letters (for example, see the second one here) that I've had for 15 years.  Like community gardens, the BNC is one of the best ways that neglected land in this area has been reclaimed in recent years.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Update on my plot

Just two months earlier, I couldn't see from one side of the MSG to the other; today, it looks almost as bare as it did last March.  Many folks have cleaned up their plots in anticipation of the deadline of November 30, as set in the garden rules.

Earlier last week, as I was turning over the soil in my plot and wedging another 2-by-4 as a temporary measure to rein in the strawberries, Jonathan, another gardener, showed up to dig up his rosemary and bring it inside for the winter.  He was curious about the red clover seeds I was spreading around where my vegetables and zinnias had grown.  I'm experimenting with a ground cover this winter, partly to enhance the soil, but mainly to see if it can combat the seeding and growth of weeds that would impact next year's growing season.

I came back today to snap these photos.  I had left half of my transplanted lettuce plants in an open spot in my perennials area.  Apparently the freezing temperatures we had at least one night the week before did not kill them off.  And though you can't see the thousands of tiny curly hairlike seedlings in this photo, the red clover is starting to germinate.  However, I may clear some of it to make way for some of the 20 bulbs I have just received.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Stony Brook Reservation: A secret for too long

Yesterday I could have continued putting my garden to bed; I've removed all of the dead annuals and started turning over the soil in preparation for planting a red clover ground cover. But I was drawn to another opportunity that the Boston Natural Areas Network (owner and promoter of our community garden) had to offer: a guided tour of the Stony Brook Reservation, the largest open space in the city of Boston. Located in the neighborhoods of West Roxbury and Hyde Park, it is also one of the city's least known and underutilized treasures.

The tour was led by Doug Mink, a member of the BNAN board who is also involved with the recently established Friends of Stony Brook, with help from Dave Furey, a ranger with the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), a Massachusetts state agency. As we entered through a trailhead off of Enneking Parkway, they pointed out a rare sight: the Stony Brook, flowing in full view. This is the same body of water that once coursed above ground through Jamaica Plain, but had to be diverted into underground sewers in the 1930s because of unhealthy living conditions caused by flooding and pollution. The Stony Brook Conduit runs under the Minton Stable Garden property and is the reason our part of Jamaica Plain is called "Stoneybrook."

One of the reasons that the Stony Brook Reservation was developed as a green space is that it sits on granite and puddingstone, so the land could not be farmed. The plants that do thrive include red and black oaks and white pine; the approximately 20 tour participants had to use caution on the walking trails and paved bike paths to avoid slipping on fallen wet leaves and needles. Unfortunately, previous fires have wiped out the blueberries. We did not cover all 12 miles of available trails, but we were exposed to the highlights, including Turtle Pond and Bold Knob, the latter offering a view of the Blue Hills.

Though I've driven through the Reservation on the Turtle Pond and Enneking Parkways for at least ten years, I've only walked or biked the trails a handful of times because of safety concerns. But to our guides' knowledge, there have been no assaults in recent history. Most incidents have involved illegal or accidental fires and drowning in the Turtle Pond, which is surprisingly deep for its size and has a craggy shoreline. And the park's reputation for being a popular spot for activities that are, shall we say, not of a family nature has resulted in the closing of most of the parking lots. But some of us on the tour seemed to agree that locking the gates has been a counter-productive measure, leaving the park more deserted and less inviting.

I hope to bring friends to the Reservation soon; to explore the other sections either on foot, or when the time comes, on cross-country skis.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Word play for the able

Every morning at around 5:00 am, sometimes earlier, John Carroll used to rise and put in several hours tending his gardens here at the site of the former Minton horse stable, then a city-owned vacant lot.  By the time the rest of the neighborhood passed by on their way to the subway, John had often already departed for one of his landscaping or other jobs, but not without leaving a few lines of verse on one of the blackboards nailed up at the two entrances.  In addition to his musings about nature and life, John was known for his love of words.  

The inspiration for a more permanent memorial to the first Minton Stable gardener came from some videotape shot on the day the old barn was razed, in which John contemplated the word "stable."  "Here was a stable," he started.  "Here is the table," he continued, then concluded his lexical dissection with "We are the able."  Each line has been etched into granite slabs that will form a sitting area between the gardens and the children's play area.

I interpret these words as an invitation for people to come together to "the table."  It is up to us to use our strength and unity to bring about positive changes, whether it be to to build a community garden for our neighborhood's enrichment or to elect new leaders who share our values and offer the best plans to address our country's many challenges.

About two months after they were ordered, the stones for the John Carroll memorial were finally delivered on Monday morning.  A group of us, including Jonathan Peet, a former Steering Committee member who worked with John's close friend Stephen McCarthy on the design, watched as a forklift operator lowered the three granite blocks to the ground near their designated spots.  Unfortunately, the operator did not have the appropriate straps that could be used to lower them into their permanent locations.  As he drove off, the people in our group scratched their heads over how best to maneuver the stones, the heaviest estimated to weigh nearly a ton, into the gravel-filled indentations.  One of the most popular ideas involved creating a system of rollers; to my knowledge no attempts have been made yet.

It was one year ago today that we lost a dear friend whose love of peace and gardening changed the landscape of this neighborhood and others in Jamaica Plain for the better.  It is a shame that he was not with us to witness the historic election that has just taken place in our country.  But I am comforted that his words have found a permanent home in the Minton Stable Garden, and will remain there to remind us what we can achieve when we all come to the table.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

No work shortage here

As the coordinator of yesterday's work day at the MSG, Jennifer from the Steering Committee had a variety of tasks to delegate to the participants, including some who were there to have another chance to finish their annual 4-hour work requirement.  An Excel spreadsheet documenting work hours that was sent to gardeners earlier last week revealed that over 20 plot holders have fallen short in their duties.  But there was no shortage of items on Jennifer's checklist.  Overflowing compost containers needed to be dealt with; some of them bore signs declaring that they were "closed," while volunteers were piling excess garden waste onto a tarp, I assume to be picked up with other yard waste on trash day or brought to some other location.  Last year around this time, the containers were so full, often a result of everyone pulling out their annual plants and weeds as they put their gardens to bed, that they were removed, and everyone had to carry out their garden waste.    

Some other workers were digging around trees that had been planted after the garden was rebuilt in 2004, because the roots were not at a healthy depth.  I agreed to mow the grass in the dog area; as pleasant as it was to work in the shade, I found out the hard way that not everyone had been cleaning up after their pets.

And, like at a previous work day, more native plants were put in.  In some cases, making room for them can be irritating.  Curtis was wearing thick rubber gloves to remove stinging nettles, which have making inroads from their usual location along the fences, where they are usually kept at bay through mowing.  That would not have been my first choice of work day task, but Curtis didn't mind, as he appreciates the plant's medicinal qualities.  I've spoken to a few gardeners over the years who swear by nettles, not for the medieval practice of whipping patients with paralysis, but for making a tea from the dried leaves to treat infections, pain, hay fever, and other conditions.

Over by the children's play area, on the way to the Williams Street entrance, holes were being dug and leveled with gravel to make way for a memorial to John Carroll, the first person to garden on the lot.  He passed away nearly one year ago, but not without having a chance to witness much of the work that had been put in to preserve the beauty and function of this area, for both gardeners and non-gardeners.