Our interview with Elaine takes place in the Gate City Community Gardens’ beds along Nashua’s Heritage Rail Trail. On this particular afternoon, Elaine is accompanied by Scooter, her pet guinea pig and official mascot of Gate City Community Gardens. While we chat, Scooter is content to bask in the sunshine and occasionally munch on stray blades of grass: his contribution, we decide, to the maintenance of the garden’s common space. Elaine has maintained a plot with Gate City Community Gardens since the community garden bed project came to fruition, but her history with gardening extends back to her childhood. “We lived next door to my grandparents in Lowell,” she explains, smiling as she recalls her grandfather tilling and weeding the soil. “If you were hungry, well, there was a garden out back.” Elaine’s appreciation for the practicality of gardening is evident in her selection of crops and the way in which they are organized: A canopy of tall tomatoes provide shelter to smaller plants below, a spare piece of old wire fencing has been carefully transformed into a cucumber trellis, and the thriving romaine lettuce was actually started from a head of lettuce with roots purchased from the grocery store. Other crops include green beans, kale, carrots, watermelon, strawberries, and herbs. Though her raised bed space is only 8×4 feet, Elaine’s plants are arranged with care so that everything has space to grow without getting cramped. An angel statue keeps a watchful eye over the promising harvest.
Though her plants are healthy and productive, Elaine feels that gardening provides her with more than just tomatoes and carrots. “It does offer a little peace, I think.” She also relates the story of how teaching her great-nephew to garden has provided them with a way to spend time together. “Instead of saying ‘no,’ to kids,” she offers, “get them involved and let them get their hands dirty.” To help children get interested in gardening, Elaine recommends planting a vegetable or fruit that the child likes to eat. Playing games, like worm hunting in the garden, can make tasks like weeding more enjoyable. Finally, she suggests checking the outdoor section of stores like The Christmas Tree Shop for inexpensive trowels, scratchers, and gloves so that children can have their own set of garden tools (although her grand-nephew, Connor, usually prefers to use Elaine’s tools).
Elaine states that though she likes the quiet time that gardening can offer, she also enjoys the sense of community it can foster. Gardening can be a way to connect with family and strangers alike. As if to illustrate Elaine’s point, a woman coming down the Rail Trail with an empty flower pot walks up to us in the middle of the interview to ask for help with caring for a struggling indoor plant. “Do you have any coffee filters?” Elaine asks her. She explains that by layering small stones on the bottom of the pot, followed by a coffee filter and then soil, excess water will be able to drain from the pot without taking all of the soil with it. The young woman walks away with a smile, a mission, and – perhaps just like me – a sense of happiness that comes along with sharing a common bond with a new friend.
Interview and Photography by Erin O’Malley, GCCG Volunteer