Connoisseur: Growing Trend

Digging into the community-garden craze.

GARDENING, IT’S SAFE TO SAY is having a moment. Ever since a wheelbarrow-wielding Michelle Obama sank her purple Chuck Taylors into the soil of the White House’s South Lawn, Americans have been coveting homegrown red peppers and green beans.

Life in the concrete jungle doesn’t mean you can’t cultivate your share of freshness. Boston boasts some 150 communally tended gardens, ranging from tiny squares to sprawling edens like Mattapan’s Clark-Cooper Community Garden, where more than 250 residents "own" and cultivate individual plots.

Local government is encouraging the trend: This month tons of yard waste collected by Boston municipal workers will be composted and turned into fertilizer for city plots. And Mayor Menino just announced the receipt of $12.5 million in federal stimulus money earmarked, in part, to build more of these green spaces. Most gardens fill up by March, but don’t worry: If you didn’t score an earthly oasis this year, there’s still opportunity to get your hands dirty.

GET SMART
Sign up for one of the free Seed, Sow, and Grow workshops offered by the Boston Natural Areas Network (BNAN). Scheduled spring through fall, the classes range from 90 minutes to three hours, and cover everything from vegetable garden basics to how to tell weeds from wild-flowers. If you don’t have access to your own patch of green, check out the upcoming course about planting veggies in containers. bostonnatural.org/seedsowgrow.htm.

Visit the famed Massachusetts Horticultural Society library, a remarkable collection stocked with botanical texts old and new, plus seed catalogs. Once you get started, take advantage of the master gardeners the society keeps on call to tackle tough questions. 617-933-4900, masshort.org.

Attend the annual Herb Plant Sale hosted by the New England unit of the Herb Society of America. Held at the Elm Bank Horticultural Center in Wellesley, it’s something of a cult favorite among gardeners – and offers a great chance to pick up everything from basil to miniature roses, plus planting tips. 5/8, neuhsa.org.

REACH OUT
Consider volunteering to weed, mulch, and tend flowers at the East Boston Greenway or the Neponset Greenway in Dorchester during May and June. You’ll get the same satisfaction and social interaction that come from tending a private garden, as well as a great learning experience. bostonnatural.org/participate.htm.

The Emerald Necklace Conservancy needs volunteers to weed and prune Tuesday evenings in the Kelleher Rose Garden. With 1,500 plants and more than 200 varieties of roses, the formal garden provides inspiration for any grower. 617-522-2700, emeraldnecklace.org.

Likewise, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is looking for volunteers to help in its greenhouses and central garden courtyard, a stunning tribute to its namesake’s love of flowers. 617-566-1401, gardnermuseum.org.

PLAN AHEAD
At this point in the year, most gardens already have waiting lists. But it wouldn’t hurt to add your name to a few of those lists – you may get lucky, and you’ll likely be admitted to at least one next year.