A History of the Berkeley Garden


The half block that is now home to Berkeley Gardens was once brick row houses, like those seen in the rest of the South End. Those houses and residents succumbed to the Urban Renewal trend that swept through Boston in the 50's and 60's. During Urban Renewal, in various parts of the South End brick row houses were torn down in order to renew and 'modernize' Boston. The east end of the South End was particularly hard hit. Houses were torn down to erect Castle Square (other side of E. Berkeley st.). The "New York Streets" were torn down for industrial use, hosting businesses like the Boston Herald and Grey Line pipe (re-zoned again and now home to the Ink Block).

Where Berkeley Gardens and Peters Park now stand, homes were also torn down, although it is unclear if the BCG location was torn down to build housing or to widen East berkeley street into a boulevard. (Contrary to rumors, the BCG site was not torn down to make a highway - the highway was to be built where Melnia Cass blvd. now runs) After the block was leveled and cleared, opposition to Urban Renewal took hold throughout the city. The bulldozers stopped, but so did the building. The Berkeley block sat idle.


The citizens of Boston had stopped the urban renewal bulldozer, and started to take back their communities. In Boston and in other cities, some open lots became areas where residents started planting. Berkeley's birth began the same way. This corner of the south end (being close to Chinatown) had a large Asian population. The Chinese community began guerrilla gardening - planting gardens on the empty land where the buildings has been torn down. In order to protect their plots, they often cut branches off the Olive trees along Berkeley to build make-shift fencing around their gardens. These are thorny branches that would serve to protect their garden spaces from theft. (See image to the left)


As the 80's went on, Cities started to come alive again, and people started to build on all the lots that had remained open and abandoned for the previous 10-20 years. While all cities need to grow, this put all the community gardens into jeopardy. Many community garden lots were city or private land parcels, with the gardens having no legal rites to the property.

In 1991, the South End Lower Roxbury Open Space Land Trust (SELROSLT) was created, with the intention of preserving community gardens and open spaces in the South End. SELROSLT became stewards the Berkeley Street parcel from the BRA, Thus officially creating Berkeley Street Community Garden. SELROSLT held the land for Berkeley Gardens, as well as 17 other gardens and parks, in trust, preserving the land will be in the community's hands forever and protected from development.

At this same time, through grants, donations, and city help, money was put into the site. Truckloads of fresh topsoil were brought in. Water was run to the site and spigots placed throughout the garden. The earlier built plots were rebuilt as the fence and timber plots you can see in the garden today. Through hard work and community support the local community garden was transformed from a vacant lot into the gardens you see today.

The Future

Berkeley Gardens continue to change and grow as the neighborhood and the gardeners change and grow. In the early 2000's, SELROSLT began a capital improvement plan to bring further improvements to the site. In 2002-2003 the main path down the center of the garden was re-done to become a granite lined pathway. In 2009-2010 the chain link fence along the Tremont/East Berkeley/Dwight edges of the garden was replaced with a nicer designed fence, which provides architectural interest to the garden as well as greater security to the garden for after hours. The ground adjacent to the fencing was planted with a variety of plants and shrubs which will give the garden color year round. Fund raising is under way to raise money to replace the fencing on the Dwight street alley (PA 705) edge of the garden.

In 2012, SELROSLT, the holder of the Berkeley Garden land (in trust) voted to merger with Boston Natural Areas Network (BNAN). Berkeley Garden joined the many community gardens, urban farms and orchards, and open spaces that were under the BNAN umbrella. The deed for BCG was re-written and transferred to BNAN, ensuring the space will remain a community garden in perpetuity. In 2015 The Trustees of Reservations (The Trustees) acquired BNAN and all their properties, and continues to hold all Boston's community gardens in trust, protecting them into the future..

Berkeley Community Gardens is a living and thriving community, and will continue to grow and change as time goes on. Please visit this site often for the latest garden news and happenings!