Downtown View:Hunting for Spring

By Karen Cord Taylor

About this time of year, everyone gets antsy. When will winter really end?

A few warm days help make everyone feel better. But it is when the magnolias bloom along Back Bay’s streets and when the beds in the Boston Public Garden fill with blooms that it really seems like spring. The Greenway has also gotten into the act of presenting us with gardens.

While those blossoms are the most dramatic, pockets of the city have been filling in nicely with their own displays. You might have to look a little further to see them.

A dramatic change occurred after the Boston Marathon bombing when Charlestown resident Diane Valle started the Marathon Daffodils movement. Hundreds of people planted thousands of daffodil bulbs along the marathon route as well as throughout the city. Volunteers also distribute pots of daffodils on the Friday before the marathon, which this year is Good Friday. It’s nice to have those daffodils to celebrate Easter as well as the Marathon. Look for daffodil pots around Boylston and Newbury streets as well as Charles Street. Look also at the north end of the Greenway for the 13,000 daffodils North End volunteers planted there.

Another dense daffodil display is at the Paul Revere Park between the Washington Street Bridge and the Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge on the Charlestown side of the Charles River. As long as you are in Charlestown, you might as well go over to the Gardens for Charlestown at the intersection of Main and Bunker Hill streets. This hillside garden is now mature, always well kept, and a true community endeavor.

The Old North Church’s garden is undergoing archeological investigations in preparation for a new design in conjunction with renovation and restoration of Old North’s building and grounds. But another church has a garden offering that might surprise you and  make a good visit.

Old West Church on Cambridge Street has been planting edibles in their mostly sunny front yard. Church members planted apple and cherry trees a couple of years ago and then a mulberry tree and a kiwi vine. Later they arranged a spiral of potted herbs on the front steps, said Old West’s pastor, Sara Garrard. Raised beds on the right of the walkway leading to the church’s front door are built at different levels so children, adults and those in wheel chairs, or those who just want to sit in a chair while they garden, can all take part.

On the left side of the main walkway is a raised bed built under a principle called hugelkultur, in which a trench filled with wooden branches, leaves, mulch, soil, compost and even cardboard, forms the basis for a productive and healthy garden.

Sara said such a structure helps in an urban plot whose surroundings might be contaminated with lead. Last summer that bed produced four different kinds of peppers, lavender, cilantro and other herbs.

Her congregation has been helped by the Boston Food Forest Coalition, which helps communities create “edible public parks” and also by more than 300 Northeastern students who for two years have helped cultivate, plant, weed and harvest.

Sara and her team will begin working in those gardens about the same time as the Boston Marathon if the weather holds. She said neighbors have come to help, and everyone is welcome to help and share in the bounty.

The front yard of the church is open to the public and there have been thefts of whole plants. But Sara has that belief in the goodness of people to help with the task, take what they need and leave plenty for others.

In its third summer, the garden’s purpose is not just to grow food, but also  to build relationships and community.

Mass General, just down the street from Old West Church, is another gardening oasis. Its lawn, between the Ether Dome, the Wang addition and its buildings along Blossom Street, is one of the few extensive grassy areas in that part of town. Between the Yawkey building and the Liberty Hotel, MGH maintains a beautiful round garden of mostly perennials.

Such pockets of horticulture decorate our city for seven months of the year. But in the spring we appreciate them the most.

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