Boston gardeners work long hours, including early mornings and holidays, at a dirty job — quietly, patiently creating areas of beauty in our city. Now it’s payback time.
This past week judges of the Mayor’s Annual Garden Contest have been fanning out throughout the city, struggling to locate street numbers and follow Googlemap’s directions through Boston’s unique spiderweb of streets, on a mission to find and view gardens of every description, from planters at a marina to a rooftop garden, from an elegant storefront to community garden vegetables, from a streetside windowbox to a formal garden. They are viewing the garden work of the finalists in the 2011 Mayor’s Annual Garden Contest. These are the five top contestants in the city in each of the 11 categories in this year’s competition.
Among the gardeners to be listed as finalists are JP’s Jamie Day, whose porch plantings on the second floor of a triple decker off Perkins Street are visible from all over the neighborhood, and John Walsh, who lives in JP but gardens at the Saranac Garden in the Southwest Corridor, where he has created a classic garden in the French tradition.
Jamie and his wife Deidre bought their JP condo from friends three years ago, and in the process took over the plantings that were part of the charm of the condo. Jamie comes from a family of gardeners in Asheville, N.C., so working with plants was not new to him, but it took a year or two to get the porch plantings just right. Jamie and Deidre spend a lot of time on the porch, so it was important to get the mix of green privacy screen and colorful flowers right for their own enjoyment, but Jamie said that it is also important to him to give something to the neighborhood. The greenery on their porch — flowing waves of densely planted sweet potato vine topped by hanging ferns, fuchsia and supertunias, among other plants — stands out to anyone looking down Parkton Street.
While his wife may think it’s a little crazy that no matter how tired he is when he gets home, he goes out to water the plants every day, Jamie takes a lot of pleasure in observing the plants, seeing how they are growing and flowering. In fact, he says that the habit of observing the way things grow has been the greatest benefit of his gardening experience.
“It’s made me more aware of everything I see that is growing – when I’m in the Arboretum, looking at the flowering trees, or just walking by people’s gardens here in JP,” he said.
Jamie didn’t know anything about the Mayor’s contest until he stumbled across a mention of it while on the City of Boston website. The competition, now in its fifteenth year, is presented by the Boston and sponsors Comcast and the Boston Herald. The winners receive a variety of prizes related to gardening, ranging from two weeks’ delivery of seasonal vegetables from a local CSA to tickets to the Spring Flower Show to various gardening supplies.
The winner in each category wins the Mayor’s Golden Trowel. The category Jamie entered – Porch, Balcony, Deck, or Windowboxes -- is the most popular, with 20 contenders from across the city.
There are fifteen contenders in the Community Garden category, among them JP resident John Walsh, who is one of the five finalists. Counter to the usual image of a community garden plot being full of vegetables, John’s plot is a formal garden with specially chosen art objects among the carefully planned plantings. The plot was a blank slate when John took it over 13 years ago and began to create a formal garden in the French tradition. The aesthetic of that tradition rests on geometric designs created through strict restraint and direction of the vegetation. It takes careful planning and constant maintenance, including the practice of topiary – the clipping of foliage and twigs of trees and shrubs to develop clearly defined shapes.
John, a librarian, has always loved formal gardens, whether pictured in books or experienced through travel, and the rectangular shape of his plot in the Saranac Garden gave him the chance to create one of his own. He began with the path and a circular area as a focal point, started to invest in boxwoods, and continued to add plants and artwork as budget and inspiration have allowed. At this point the garden is complete, though there is always work to be done to maintain the design. While he uses local nurseries for some plant material, he has sought out special growers for some of the roses that fit his vision of the garden. He feels that the creation of the space is very much an artistic act.
Gardens in the Mayor Menino’s Garden Contest are being judged on general appeal, on the use of color, definition and neatness, the variety and quality of plant material, and on the garden hardware, furnishings and art incorporated into the garden. The winners in the various categories -- including window boxes, roof gardens and decks, front yard and back yard gardens, shade gardens, herb gardens, community gardens and more – will be announced at a ceremony late in August.
Jamie Day said that qualifying as a finalist and appearing in the Patch make him feel like a winner already!