Overcoming Challenges, Creating New Possibilities

By Molly McCullagh and Katie Lautar

What’s it take to manage a community garden or pocket park? Baltimore Green Space has a front-row view. Accompany us on a virtual tour of 9 sites we preserve, totaling 1.4 acres of garden beds, shaded paths, and a horseshoe pit, as we visit them at the height of the growing season.

Every year, community leaders recruit members, prepare garden plots, clear paths, turn compost, remove litter, plan work days, mow lawns, and pull weeks. It’s enough to keep a small team of people very busy throughout the growing season.

Baltimore Green Space’s role is to support the site managers with the tools and resources they need to manage their sites. For example, we’ve been able to arrange for volunteers to help site managers who are facing illness, and we’ve provided advice on how to get more neighbors involved. In addition, we help our site managers navigate unexpected problems that can take up their valuable time, like improper water bills or a pile of concrete rubble dumped at their garden.

Once a year we make extra time for annual site check-ins, where one or two site leaders join us as we visit each preserved site. We learn what’s new, what’s going well, what support folks need, and to see if the site meets the agreed upon site guidelines. We hold the check-in visits in August so we can see the sites when they’re the most productive and busy, which gives us a realistic picture of how they are functioning.

We’d love to share a few highlights from this summer’s visits to inspire you in your community. We’ll also share some challenges that our gardeners face to express solidarity with those of you facing difficult conditions in your own green spaces and neighborhoods. We believe that creating beautiful green spaces moves people to overcome challenges and create new possibilities.

Safety continues to be an issue across Baltimore this year, and 2 of 9 sites have been experiencing crime and violence nearby their gardens. In a community garden, lights can make all the difference to the safety of neighbors. Last year we worked with BGE to get a light at Halcott Square fixed. This year we learned that a few people were assaulted near an unlit streetlight adjacent to one of our community gardens. This kind of event can hurt participation in a garden, but it hasn’t stopped this garden from going strong. We have already put in the call to BGE about the light and hope to be able to report a successful repair and decrease in incidents in the future.

Even amid struggles, all of our sites are producing food, flowers, or fun for all the community members involved. We’re happy to share some tips from our gardens that help them thrive.

Upper Fell’s Improvement Association Community Garden turned their attention to increasing the number of pollinators in Baltimore and beyond, with great success! They’re hosting an annual Honey Happy Hour to educate their gardeners about the importance of bees and they have encouraged members to plant flowers throughout their plots.

(photo courtesy of Jan Mooney)

Remington Village Green has transformed its garden beds from individual plots to communal plots – a model that can work well for gardens with many casual members, but one that requires clear communication. The garden includes signage that spells out what’s in each plot. They’ve also taken advantage of their proximity to the Remington Wine Company to host weekly gardening happy hours, combining a cold drink with informal work projects in the garden. Weekly posts over social media bring a rotating group of interested neighbors out each Friday evening.

(photos from Instagram.com/remingtonvillagegreen)

Victorine Q. Adams Organic Community Garden is named for the first African-American woman to serve on Baltimore City Council, in the 1960s. However, she is not the only notable Baltimorean featured at the garden. The site managers created banners with images and information about past noteworthy African American residents who have made a difference in Baltimore. They are featured in the garden’s gathering area, where neighbors can take a seat to relax while absorbing a bit of history.

We’re inspired by the work of our gardeners who dedicate their time and labor to making Baltimore beautiful, block by block. Gardens are wonderful vehicles for transforming our city and ourselves, as they provide so many opportunities to engage, to reinvent, and to refresh. With each new season, gardeners learn from the past and plant anew. We’d love to hear how your green space is doing this year! What successes have you had? What challenges are you facing? What gardens in the city inspire you?

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