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  • Betsy Larkin

It’s Spring in our Not-so-Secret Garden - Come Explore!

He began to walk about, looking up in the trees and at the walls and bushes with a thoughtful expression.

“I wouldn’t want to make it look like a gardener’s garden, all clipped an' spick an' span, would you?" he said. "It’s nicer like this with things runnin’ wild, an’ swingin’ an’ catchin’ hold of each other.”

“Don’t let us make it tidy,” said Mary anxiously. “It wouldn’t seem like a secret garden if it was tidy.”

Dickon stood rubbing his rusty-red head with a rather puzzled look.

“It’s a secret garden sure enough.”

from The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett



Like the fictional Secret Garden, the Growing Center prides itself on what one might call its slightly unkempt aesthetic. The lawn is green in season (when we’re blessed with rain) and the walkways are clear; it is still a safe space to walk around and explore. But what makes it so special is how different it is from its park “kin” in other places. Rather than focusing on symmetry, order and tidiness, the Growing Center’s stewards have long believed in the concepts of “leave the leaves,”“No Mow May,” and “resisting spring fever,” among other related mantras. Why? To keep the focus on the health and life of the plants, microorganisms and animals that call the garden home and help make it such a magical place.

That’s why you’ll notice the dry leaves and dead branches sticking out of our Native Pollinator Garden at this time of year. It’s not because nobody’s had the time to weed it yet; it’s because there are insects still wintering in all those nooks and crannies and our Garden Team thought it wise to let them continue to sleep for now!

And not only is this kind of garden maintenance

regimen beneficial for the long-term health of the wildlife that call 22 Vinal Avenue home - the plants, insects and pollinators, and the squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks and various bird species. Unstructured “nature play” - offered in a non-manicured, wild space like the Growing Center - is crucial to the growing minds and bodies of our youngest citizens. An alternative and complement to playgrounds, green spaces like this give children (and adults!) the opportunity to literally run wild in the wild - to climb trees, play in the mud and dirt, find worms, and chase butterflies and other little critters. And - like Mary and Dickon in The Secret Garden - to learn how to maintain and care for all the growing things.

Take in a Visit During Open Hours!

And unstructured nature play is exactly what the Growing Center offers to all residents of Somerville through our Open Garden Hours. We strive to have the space open to the public and accessible to everyone in the community, and one of the best ways is by simply opening the space up to the public several times a week. Open Hours offer everyone a chance to come to the space to relax, contemplate, play, picnic, explore, or just be in nature.

Open Hours this spring are as follows:

Thursdays, 4:30-6:30 pm

Saturdays, 10:00 am - 12:00 pm

Sundays, 12:00-2:00 pm

(And we're always looking for hosts! See below for more information!)

We Are Recruiting New Volunteers Right Now!

Would you like to get involved in this magical green space? There are a myriad of opportunities for volunteers of all stripes! And spring is the perfect time to dive in!

Volunteer Orientations

Volunteer Orientations are a great way to start. They are held the second Saturday (@ 9:30 am) and fourth Tuesday (@ 5:30 pm) of the month at the Growing Center, 22 Vinal Ave, Somerville.

Orientations give new volunteers a general history of the space and detailed instructions on stewardship and volunteer "jobs." Newly oriented volunteers come away with loads of information, with follow-up packets emailed after the fact, at which points you can choose which teams to join. (And that can always change around!) They last about 80 minutes. Learn more about attending one and see the full schedule here - or just show up at the appointed time! You won’t be turned away, and we’re glad to have you! You can always email our Volunteer Coordinator with questions or issues:

Photo of our newest volunteers at their Volunteer Orientation, with Lisa Brukilacchio (in pink), from April 25, 2023.

Top Volunteer “Jobs” this Spring

Open Hours & Event Hosts - These wonderful stewards open up the garden for Open Hours and events, set up welcome table, greet performers and guests, and track and report attendance. Requires showing up generally 30 minutes prior and staying to wrap up after.

The Raised Bed Growing Team - This team is currently putting together a crop plan; all knowledge levels welcome. This team works at times independently as well as together.

Watering Angels - We are in need of a few additional folks to join the Watering Angels Team. These are a dedicated group of hard workers who regularly water areas in the entire garden all season long. The task is usually one day a week and takes 1-2 hours each visit. Training is included.

Flyering Team - Want to get involved with the Growing Center but don't have a ton of time? Join our Flyering Team! We need help putting up promotional flyers all over town! We'll give you a neighborhood and a list and around 20-25 fliers, and you can post at your leisure!

Communications Team members - We are very much in need of new people to help write blog posts, newsletter tidbits and web copy, or design fliers and digital content!

Children in Nature Initiative volunteers - We’d love to build out this team to support the Children in Nature Initiative by helping with maintenance and setting up of play provocations in the nature play area, hosting Community Read Alouds and more!

Access and Inclusion Signage Team - Help create more welcoming and informative signage in the garden in English, Spanish and other languages!

Volunteer Orientation in Spanish - We’re looking for volunteers to work with a board member/staff member to provide a monthly volunteer orientation in Spanish and English.

More information on how volunteering at the Growing Center works can be found on our Volunteer Teams page.

And read more about these current opportunities on our Get Involved page.


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