The “Fenway Victory Gardens”, lie within sight of the Green monster and are America’s oldest original World War II victory gardens still in operation.
Imagine walking down a narrow outdoor path, bordered high on both sides by lush gardens. It leads to another path, then another, each winding through climbing rosebushes and past tidy vegetable beds , while bees and butterflies flit overhead. The sun is warm, and the heady aroma of blossoms and fresh soil fills the air–and then, a moment later, so does the unmistakable sound of the crowd at Fenway Park.No, you’re not in the country–you’re smack in the middle of Boston, and the emerald glade through which you’re strolling is the Richard D. Parker Memorial Victory Gardens, known simply as the “Fenway Victory Gardens.”
What makes this place unique is not just its location but its survival. Established during World War II in response to the nationwide appeal for families and communities to plant “victory gardens” for food, the Fenway, with seven acres just steps from the ballpark, was one of 49 spaces in and around Boston that answered the call. When the war ended in 1945, the Fenway gardens (along with Minneapolis’ Dowling Community Garden) soldiered on while others disbanded.
But that’s not to say the road wasn’t rocky. The Fenway gardens, tilled since 1942, survived largely because of Richard D. Parker and a “sturdy group” of fellow gardeners, who formed the Fenway Garden Society (FGS) in 1944 and fought for decades to thwart attempts to develop the parkland for residential or commercial use. In 1979, the gardens were officially renamed in his honor, and today, the landmark Prudential building, just a few blocks east, towers over the Fenway’s more than 500 plots.
Right after the war, the gardens were almost exclusively floral, but in recent years roughly a quarter of them have harkened back to their roots (so to speak), growing herbs, fruits, and vegetables. Gardeners range from old to young, seasoned to novice, but all meet the core member requirements: They’re Boston residents, pay just $30 a year per plot, and promise to take good care of it.
“It’s a great time to be here at the gardens and doing what we love to do,” says Mike Mennonno, 2012 Fenway Garden Society Executive Board president. “For a lot of our gardeners, this is their only yard, and it’s a joy to see them bringing their excitement and energy to the gardens and building this amazing community.”
Inclusivity is important, so the gardens feature an area outfitted with ADA-compliant raised beds. There’s a teaching garden, as well, plus workshops for new gardeners and community participation days that foster camaraderie and cleanup. Gardeners also partner with the Greater Boston Food Bank to provide local soup kitchens with surplus produce; the acreage is also home to a plot managed by Boston University’s gastronomy students.
The Fenway might have begun as a way for the local community to contribute to a patriotic wartime goal, but today, community itself is the main objective, along with cultivating a passion for gardening. “The gardens don’t work without a dedicated and involved community to keep them going,” Mennonno notes–and as the lovingly tended landscape and a long membership waiting list show, both the gardens and their community will continue to bring beauty to the Fenway area for decades to come.
Richard D. Parker Memorial Victory Gardens. Open to visitors year-round. Jct. Park Drive and Boylston St., Boston, MA. 857-244-0262; fenwayvictorygardens.com