The Garden had many origins. First: I’d been hearing about guerrilla gardens and thinking how cool they sounded. Second: thinking, “Is this something I could do?” And this led to sort of looking around, keeping an eye out for possible places–places no one seemed to care about or notice where I might conceivably escape notice myself.
The Somerville Bike Path, or Community Path–it has lots of names–is one of the few almost woodsy places in this densely populated city. Five years ago, the section between Willow and Cedar was beautifully shaded with older trees, and largely covered with undergrowth and weeds. Sadly, the City has been clearing out the undergrowth, leaving vast barren patches in the shade under the trees. But this hadn’t entirely happened yet when I started.
The patch I’d had my eye on was a sea of weeds, but sunny. It was also slightly sloped, back down toward the ugly chain link fence that separated it from the housing development across the way. There was an old, half-dead bush at the top of this slight slope that I hoped would disguise my beginning efforts, which would, I was sure, not exceed about two square feet.
But I needed a special push to actually start. It came in the form of a lengthy Boston heatwave, where temperatures got up into the three digits, and I didn’t go out of my apartment for many days, which had a terrible effect on my mental state. Lethargic and apathetic doesn’t begin to say it. As the temperatures began to fall, I thought: I can’t do this to myself again. I have to have something that will force me to go out, no matter how horrible it is.
And so: I took my houseplant trowel–I’d had lots of experience with houseplants if none with gardens–and went out there to . . . to what? I’d heard that gardeners were supposed to “turn the earth”. OK. I could turn the earth. I thought. That’s when I learned first, that Massachusetts soil is known for its rockiness and second–well, I’d known this before, but hadn’t really thought–the Bike Path was built on top of a railway line. They’d just dumped gravel and rocks and all kinds of stuff, and then covered it, stingily, with a little low-grade topsoil.
Luckily I didn’t really catch on to how bad it was. And actually, using a trowel was maybe a good way to begin–you scoop rather than dig . . .