Backyard Bloggers: Building our Newest Garden Site

With the start of 2018, we'll be featuring blog posts from our team about our gardens, our gardeners, and their experiences at BYG.  Follow along to get an inside look at what it's like to dig, teach, grow, and cook with us at Backyard Growers.

Planting Seeds and Growing Gardens

by Mackenzie Sains

There is something to be said about fall on the North Shore; a certain magical light that seems to hover throughout Gloucester. The sun caresses the shores all through the day, and boastfully displays a grand finale each evening with staggering hues of magenta and vermillion imitating that of our foliage. This fall, however, I felt there to be an extra dose of charm on this little cape. Perhaps it was our unexpectedly warm weather that led to extra weeks of popping cherry tomatoes and eggplant parmesan, or the radiant illumination that every tree seemed to glow with. But I’d like to believe that perhaps it was the neighborhood kids at Willowood community garden that opened my eyes to wonder this autumn.

The garden site as of September 2017

The garden site as of September 2017

Willowood Gardens neighborhood is a low- income housing development through the city of Gloucester and is Backyard Growers newest community garden site. This site has been in the works for over a year now and come October, we were finally ready to build!

But what is fall without a few dark rain filled days? The plot of land was dramatically overgrown with webs of shrubbery, broken toys, a colony of the invasive and ever present Japanese knotweed. Although eager to work outside before temperatures dropped, the site of our soon-to-be garden was still an urban forest. I checked daily to see if the space had been cleared yet. Perhaps today? No luck. More days passed and still thorny brambles weaved along the fence and whoknowswhat loomed in the back corners. A week later as I stopped by on my way home from work, my heart jolted when I saw a man in a bulldozer beginning to make a space for gardens. Spastically, I video called my supervisor to show her the land as I shouted and sang that it was  garden time. The following week, I returned to take measurements of the space and my enthusiasm deflated as I realize we were working with different definitions of a cleared plot.


The ground was left uneven, rocky, glass shattered, prickled with persistent weeds. Invasive species still loitering along the fence.

The next day I arrived with gloves and clippers. Overwhelmed, I thought how will I be able to get this site ready for spring? The weeds and trash and bricks and glass and potholes and thorns outnumbered me; but, I commenced. Not more than an hour after I began pulling the formidable weeds, a child walked out to the site. She recognized our van and wanted to help garden. I explained that right now we’re clearing the area in hopes that one day soon it would be a suitable growing space.


"Can I help?" 

Another hour passed and I found myself amidst a whole posse of neighborhood kids hands covered with miniature gloves working together for gardens.


Can I help? Another hour passed and I found myself amidst a whole posse of neighborhood kids hands covered with miniature gloves working together for gardens. “Alright, we’ve got to work really hard so we can get gardening as soon as possible!”, an older brother instructed his siblings. As the days passed, it would take less than 10 minutes after I’d parked the van,  before my new friends would arrive enthused for the work that needed to be done. They all know Backyard Growers from our school programs and as we worked together we dreamed and schemed what types of lettuce we want to grow, our favorite beets, the importance of recycling, why we love the earth, and the joy of harvesting potatoes.

As the month began its conclusion, we faced the garden marvelled at its transformation. With the help of these neighborhood kids, in four weeks we clipped, pulled, shovelled, raked, collected trash, laid landscape fabric, laid the landscape fabric again (courtesy of a major storm), built beds, filled beds, and moved stone dust. This fall as the world around us began to retreat, I watched a garden sprout from the ground and a tribe of young gardeners proudly take ownership of it. At Willowood there is now a garden (a reality that at one point seemed improbable) and there is a crew of young gardeners eager to bring forth life where junk once dwelled dormant.

“Are we going to garden today?” a young boy asked me with hope one 30 degree afternoon in November. I laughed to myself and explained to him that it’s too cold these days for food to grow, but that I’ll be back in the spring to plant seeds. But the seeds have already been planted and the garden is already growing. I do believe that there is something glorious about the light here on Cape Ann; but I think this awe-filled season has less to do with the horizon and more about the light swirling inside these young people who are so enthusiastic about having their own garden.

The garden site as of November 2017

The garden site as of November 2017

The Willowood Community Garden is made possible with funding from the WholeCities Foundation and the City of Gloucester.

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Written by Mackenzie Sains.