Arboretum May Take Community Garden Land

Five Year Plan for Harvard's Arnold Arboretum Includes Building New Education Center

Gardeners in Jamaica Plain are protesting the proposed construction of a new education center for Harvard's Arnold Arboretum which could displace the nine-year-old South Street Community Garden.

The 2.5-acre garden is part of a parcel of land next to the Arboretum owned by the State Laboratory for Disease Control. It contains more than 3,000 plots cultivated by local residents and lab employees, according to garden coordinators.

The land is considered a prime location for the Arboretum's new education center--part of a five-year improvement plan for the plant research center--because it is across the street from the Orange Line Forest Hills T station.

If the Arboretum does decide to build on the plot, it would either lease the land or purchase it outright from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the garden would have to be moved.

"There's always been a view that the community garden would probably be have to be relocated [if the site was chosen]," Director of the Arnold Arboretum Bob E. Cook '68 said yesterday.


Ralph Timperi, director of the State Laboratory for Disease Control, says that the state lab would provide an alternate location if a move becomes necessary.

"We've made a commitment to having the garden space here," he said last week.

But community gardeners oppose the possible shift. Relocation will not be a simple affair, according to Charles A. Murn, co-coordinator of the South Street Community Garden.

"As a gardener, I don't see a suitable site on [the state lab's] land," Murn said. The buildings of the lab and tall trees of the Arboretum will block a great deal of sunlight; and even though the Lab will do soil preparation before the move, Murn said he believes the new site will be inferior to the old.

"I feel like ten years of filtering, [removing debris and fertilizing] is not going to be replaced," Murn said

Furthermore, he said, "[the Arboretum has] another site [for the visitors' center] available that they have yet to consider at all if anything, it's better."

But Cook disagrees. He said that the land in question does not have ready access to the Arboretum and "there are all sorts of environmental considerations because [that site] is a wetland. It would probably be very hard to get permits."

The Harvard administered Arboretum, which is also part of the Boston Park System, is not the only organization interested in expanding onto a neighbor's land. The state Lab is also interested in using an Arboretum building for visitor training and living space.

Cook said that a trade of sorts "has been one of the " Since there will probably not be an exchange of land ownership, "it's more a question of [working out a suitable] leasing arrangement."

But nothing is certain "It's really very early in the process, he said

Earlier this year the State Lab discaded plans to replace the garden with office and lab space.

"I'd give credit [for the change in plans] to State Representative John McDonough," Murn said. "He essentially said the garden would not be eliminated."

Whatever happens to the Arboretum plans, McDonough, chair of the Public Health Committee, said that the gardeners have nothing to fear.

"[The garden will] definitely be staying. I'm not going to let them take it away," McDonough said