Gardening stories from across the United States, whether about 19th-century green spaces that enlivened vacant lots or community vegetable plots, are being collected and preserved through the Community of Gardens project. The digital archive from Smithsonian Gardens with the Archives of American Gardens was recently launched as a free mobile app, where you can navigate a map of over 80 gardens.
The stories, which include both historical narratives and first-person accounts, are also accessible online, where you can additionally find digital exhibitions. The Smithsonian notes that often “the important stories, designs, and memories embodied in our gardens go undocumented when these changes fade from memory.” Gardens can be ephemeral, and this initiative aims to preserve more of their lush legacies.
For instance, the Community of Gardens app has a Smithsonian Gardens volunteer’s recollections of her childhood in the 1940s, when she spent time working on a Victory Garden during World War II; elsewhere, a son recalls the gardening of his father, an Italian immigrant to Queens, who grew vegetables with the help of the basement boiler’s heat, and in the summer enjoyed the shade of grape vines. There are tales of gardening pioneers like Fannie Griscom Parsons, who led the transformation of a blighted patch of land in Manhattan into a children’s garden in the early 1900s, and the 19th-century mayor of Detroit, Hazen S. Pingree, who had the idea for unemployed citizens to cultivate potato patches on unused land.
More recent examples include the Please Touch Community Garden in San Francisco, established in a neglected lot with vegetables that can be grown and harvested by anyone who wants to participate, and Sunflower Village in Baltimore, which revitalized an abandoned space with a “Sunflower Mountain” and garden-themed murals. With thousands of gardens thriving around the United States, and plenty of fire escape herbs and windowsills of succulents in between, the Community of Gardens app is far from comprehensive, but you can share your own story to potentially be added to the flourishing collection.
The Community of Gardens app from the Smithsonian Institution is available to download for free in the iTunes store.
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