In Fenway: On Location With People Who Plant In America’s Oldest Victory Garden

For over 70 years, since the advent of World War II, the Fenway victory gardens of Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood have provided land for local residents to grow food, flowers and a wide variety of plants. There are 500 plots over 7 acres and it is the single surviving victory garden of the original 20 million victory gardens that were founded by the Roosevelt administration to fuel the war effort. 

These gardens are in the heart of the city and though they deal with the very real aspects of urban life and the challenges that come with a busy neighborhood, they thrive by serving the needs of gardeners who represent all ages, nationalities and backgrounds.

Open to all residents of the city of Boston, President Kristen Mobilia says, “Its an urban myth that there is a 10 year waiting list.” With 91 new gardeners this year, the Fenway Victory Gardens seem a perfect place for PITH + VIGOR to find like-minded people to chat with for our inaugural issue.

Who are modern gardeners? We are people who hope to grow food that we can feel sure of and we need a calm place to enjoy a few quiet minutes of lush green leafiness every once in a while. A garden is our haven where digging, watering and weeding are not just meditative, but much needed exercise. Our horticultural successes and the endlessly surprising beauty of our gardens amaze us, and we are undeterred by our flops and failures. We are not so different than those that came before us. We are People who Plant and in every issue we will share some of our conversations.

Meet the Gardeners at The Fenway Victory Garden…

People who Plant At Fenway Victory Gardens in boston

“I am a former physician and I never used my hands on the ground. And I come here and I look around and thought, I am going to be really smart. I will find out the garden under the big tree, and whatever they will say to me, I will say “sorry, it’s a root system, we can’t destroy [it],” and I will just grow a table and two chairs. I was so happy with this, it was like a second outdoor room for me. I would read there and I would eat lunch there but people thought I didn’t have any money [forplants]. They started to stop by and say ‘would you like some flowers?’ ‘Would you like this…it is green?’… and I felt embarrassed. They would say take it and so I would put it here and I would put it there. And things were growing and so I developed a taste for gardening. The people pushed me.”

– Olga

People who Plant At Fenway Victory Gardens

“I grew up on a farm near Lowell and Billerica. That was a long, long time ago and a completely different environment with planes flying over with chemicals. We go organic now; we have rules about it here…
We had an owl come down over there. It’s not the first time but, uh, it had a mouse and the assumption is that the mouse was poisoned. It’s a whole chain of events. There is no other reason for the owls to come down.“

Owen: “You should see the s*** we found in this plot when we first excavated.”

Mackenzie: “There was all kinds of like, car keys buried. Like somebody stole a bunch of cars or something – I don’t know it was really weird … There were six or seven sets of car keys.

Why would you be burying car keys? It seemed really sketchy. “

Owen: “There was something weird going on here … but they were really old looking.”

– Owen and Mackenzie

People who plant at fenway victory gardens boston

“We have a lot of gardeners who are older; who gave a lot earlier — they saved the gardens actually a number of times. Like Phyllis — unfortunately she’s in the hospital right now, she’s 94 and she has a double plot right up off the center. She was around when the Red Sox were trying to pave this for a parking lot. What the gardeners did was they pretended that there were more gardeners. So they all took double plots and made it look like it was more active. It was a rough period around here then…in the 60s and 70s.”
(President Fenway Gardens)

image by Kelly Fitzsimmons

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