The Garden Spot
Our great Washington Heights neighborhood has many plusses, not the least of which is a wonderful collection of gardens. We get to see these on various tours, and even on walks through our neighborhood. But among this collection is one very special garden, our own Washington Heights Community Garden. Let’s take a look at it.
I had a nice visit with Jim Bolstad, who told me the story. He and his wife Joey together are the Gardeners in Charge. They guard it, help to maintain it, and supervise its operations. This is a natural arrangement, since where they live, on the northwest corner of 49th and Lloyd Streets, is right next door to the garden.
This lot had contained a decrepit, condemned house, full of big holes. After ongoing complaints from the neighbors, the City of Milwaukee finally tore it down, in one day, about seven years ago. Melissa Scanlan, who at the time lived across the alley on Hi Mount Blvd., suggested that this would be a good locatitn for a new Community Garden. (Our previous attempt, on an empty lot at 51st & Garfield, had recently been replaced by a new home.) Melissa approached Jim and Joey with this idea, and their combined efforts resulted in our garden being first planted in the spring of 2009, after its layout was planned by Jef Owens.
Now in 2015 our garden contains 24 four by eight-foot raised beds, built from re-cycled lumber by Jim and some helpers. There is a separate gardener for each bed, rented at $25 per year. There is no limit to the number of years a bed can be rented, and there is currently a waiting list of three would-be gardeners. But openings occur frequently enough; it’s not like waiting for a Packers season ticket!
So what grows in our garden? Jim reports that while the gardeners raise a few flowers, they concentrate on produce: radishes, carrots, peas, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, okra, and even some potatoes and corn.
There are also some communal areas along the garden borders, where you will find, supported by the large box elder tree, a hops vine that gets to be 15 feet tall, plus two cherry trees, two asparagus beds, raspberries, strawberries and rhubarb. Jim also maintains sunflowers and other flowers in a portion of the Bolstad’s yard adjacent to the garden.
The two benches and the arbor gracing our garden were partially donated by Samara Gifts. Two butterfly gardens also adorn the middle of the garden.
Of course it’s not just the garden, the gardeners and the gardening; yes, there’s the administration, too. From the beginning an association was formed with Milwaukee Urban Gardens – now known as Ground Works Milwaukee – through Melissa Scanlan’s connection with them. This group has provided guidelines, insurance, and fire hydrant permits from the City of Milwaukee. The cost to use the fire hydrant across 49th Street is about $105 per season. The City installs a non-threaded spigot on the hydrant, from which gardeners can fill up their buckets with water to use for their plots.
In addition to this association, Jim and Joey have a committee of about six people working together with them to coordinate gardening details, such as charges, finances, and communications. Harlan Ferstl has served as treasurer for the garden since its inception. Rental fees are kept in a bank account and used for expenses such as tools, fences, the tool shed, compost bins, etc. A communications director contacts gardeners as needed if any beds show neglect; all gardeners must supply their emails and phone numbers.
All gardeners are also expected to help with the communal garden areas by doing their part in weed control, mulching and composting. An annual communal activity is Garden Blitz Day, when all gardeners gather to plant their beds and get to know each other. That date this year is June 13, though it is often earlier in the season.
Does the garden come with any problems for the Bolstads? Jim had no real complaints, but mentioned the issue of failure to harvest one year when there was a great abundance of tomatoes. Now there is a flag system to warn gardeners that their beds need attention. Serious failure to comply can lead to forfeiture of one’s garden plot. There have also been some minor theft issues, mostly with tools. As far as animal predators are concerned, guardin’ the garden is a very welcome neighborhood cat who has them for lunch!
Do you want to get involved with our community garden? You can contact the Bolstads at 414.449.9070. At least stop by to view The Garden Spot of our neighborhood, and even if your thumb isn’t very green, why not surprise yourself with the joys of gardening!