Martha H. Mauzy — a co-chair of the Cambridge Plant and Garden Club Committee of Garden History and Design — says that the garden club is so much more than just “ladies in white gloves arranging peonies.” The more than 130-year-old nonprofit organization is a community that both shares a love for gardening and advocates for conservation in the Cambridge area. For example, they have spent decades protecting the sycamore trees by the Charles River from being cut down to make way for infrastructure.
Mauzy stresses that the club is “very active about protecting open space.” She adds: “We’re a small little club, but we’ve always had a public-facing mission, which is to try to make things nice in Cambridge for those of us who live here.”
One of their most recent projects encompassing these goals is the “Cambridge Community Gardens Today” book, produced by the club’s Garden History and Design committee. This publication showcases Cambridge’s 14 community gardens — their histories, plot layouts, gardeners, and plants. These community gardens are open to all Cambridge residents who rank their top three plot choices in an application.
Compiling the book took two years. The club worked closely with Jennifer K. Letourneau, the Cambridge Community Gardens project coordinator, who met with the team every month for over a year and helped them reach out to individual gardeners. The book also draws from the work of Catherine M. Fleming, a former Harvard graduate student whose 1996 research paper proved useful in telling the early history of these gardens. Her work explains how people moving from industrial England to a crowded Cambridge wanted to continue the English tradition of community gardens with individual plots.
One of the club members biked across town, taking pictures of all 14 gardens on her iPad. The club also hired a drone photographer to take overhead photos to show how the gardens fit into the larger surrounding community.
But for Mauzy, the people behind the plots are what ultimately make the read so compelling. “What makes this book is the gardeners,” Mauzy says. She adds: “The point of the book is to show the diversity and the skill and the love that these different people all throughout Cambridge have in these little plots.”
Through the gardeners, the garden club also got to know about the variety of plants grown in the community gardens themselves. Mauzy says one of her favorite parts of the book is seeing so many different cultures represented in these gardens.
“People will plant vegetables or fruits that are from their own cultures, like from India or from Bangladesh or from South America,” she says. “So there’s different kinds of styles and different produce that's grown that reflects the culture of the gardeners, and we wanted to really highlight that.”
In creating this book, the club hopes to bring awareness to and advocate for this unique resource that the city of Cambridge has for its residents. They also want to continue securing funding for the gardens, because many of the gardens are on public land and need resources like water and soil. “There’s always a competition for services and dollars,” Mauzy says. “So we just wanted to make sure these [gardens] were getting their fair share of attention.”
The book will be featured in the Community of Gardens section of the Smithsonian’s archives, which hopes to bring awareness to local gardening efforts. Something special to Mauzy about the community gardening scene is the ability for people to learn from each other. She describes how grandparents bring their grandchildren to share their love of gardening, maintaining a generational tradition that will keep Cambridge’s plots alive for years to come.
Reflecting on this project, Mauzy says, “We just wanted to make sure that with all the different priorities that the city has [and that] people have in their lives, that these gardens were recognized for that treasure that they are. I mean, it sounds trite, but it really is true. And they were even more amazing than we ever imagined.”
Magazine writer Katie L. Sevier can be reached at email@example.com.