I met John early this spring when the snow piles were still enormous, as a few GCCG volunteers and I hung up posters to recruit new members for the community garden on the Rail Trail. John was waiting on his porch for a ride, and when he told us that he had a garden out back, I asked if he might be interested in being interviewed later in the summer. I was glad to finally make a return trip to see him! John lives in an apartment building in downtown Nashua near the transit station, where green space is lacking and backyards are tiny. John has been living in his place for 5 years, and his garden has been growing and expanding since 2012.
I cannot even begin to list the diversity in John’s garden! He has some herbs, vegetables and raspberries growing (which never make it to the kitchen, since they are eaten on site!), but mostly his garden is made up of an incredible mix of flowers. By late July I had missed many of the early blooms such as lilacs, iris with unusual looking variegated leaves and lily of the valley, but there was still plenty of color with sedum ready to pop, crimson pilot daylilies and roses, just to name a few. John said he has “always liked plants”, and it shows.
John grew up in Enfield, NH and his family had a vegetable garden growing up. He helped his grandparents in their garden and as a teen, John worked for a retired couple on their farm, growing vegetables and haying. I asked John if he had to get permission from his landlord to start his garden in the yard, since it was a shared space. He said he “just did it without permission”, but when his landlord saw the garden, he was fine with it. Besides the beauty it brings, it also means less lawn to mow!
Most of the plants in John’s garden came from friends (such as the tomato plant from his 98 year old friend!), family or are things he picked up while out and about at Market Basket or Ocean State Job Lot. To corral his garden, John has built it raised bed style, using bricks or tiles that he found or was given to create a border. He works on building up the garden with added bagged soil, vegetable matter such as tomatoes that are past their prime, and coffee grounds, which provide nitrogen. His low tech composting style means that he adds the grounds directly to the soil, which feeds the plants on site and eventually breaks down into the earth.
John says he keeps a garden because it helps reduce his stress. He also enjoys bird watching in his garden and at Mine Falls Park, where he frequently rides his bike. He noted that a pair of cardinals often come around to feed in the water bowl he keeps filled for birds and insects. John also has a feeder to draw more birds to the backyard, and all sorts of bees were flying around the raspberries while I was visiting!
The incredible diversity in John’s garden means something is always going on, whether it is harvesting yellow pear tomatoes or a lady bell pepper, admiring the morning glories, bleeding hearts, solomon’s seal, rose of sharon, bee balm, spiderwort, bugleweed, hens and chicks, black eyes susans, creeping onions, garlic chives, stonecrop, hostas, or any of the other varieties of plants. John also maintains a flower bed at the front of the house, and has plans to do more with that next year. John is an inspiration of working with what you have, and is humble yet glad to show what he has done! Thanks for letting us stop by!
Article and photography by Holly Klump, GCCG Board Member/Volunteer