The Richard D. Parker Memorial Victory Gardens
Backstory and Context
In response to civilian food shortages during World War II, the Roosevelt Administration instituted the idea of victory gardens.1 These gardens, which existed on both private and public lands, helped to increase food production and allowed farmers to send more food supplies overseas to troops. Although food production during the war was actually higher than during the previous years, there was a food shortage amongst civilians because the U.S. army was using a large allocation of the nation’s food sources to feed the troops.4 In order to encourage participation in victory garden planting across the country, the U.S. government helped fund farmers and planters that participated in cultivating the gardens. By the end of 1942, millions of victory gardens had sprouted up across the country. While some of these gardens, such as the Fenway Victory Garden, occupied multiple acres of land in the busy city, other gardens were modest in size and were maintained in backyards. Scholars estimate that during World War II, victory gardens in the United States accounted for almost half of all the vegetables that were harvested.3
Both Boston Common and Boston’s Public Garden were used as locations for victory gardens after Roosevelt’s call to action, but the Back Bay Fens was deemed an ideal place for a Victory Garden because it was not wooded and the land was already nearly suitable for planting. The use of the Back Bay Fens land as a space for an urban garden was largely uncontested until the end of World War II. The end of World War II was significant because it marked the end of federal funding for community victory gardens. The loss of federal funding for the Fenway Victory Gardens was devastating to proponents of maintaining the garden because it was symbolic of the city’s changing priorities. Boston was a rapidly growing city shortly after the war, and developers were eager to get their hands on this precious tract of land. There were many efforts to rid the Back Bay Fens of the Fenway Victory Gardens. Tentative plans for development included the construction of a hospital, school, or parking lot. Ultimately all of these plans were put to rest by Richard D. Parker, who had his name memorialized as a part of the Fenway Victory Gardens after helping to save them. Parker helped rally the Fenway community together to fight for the survival of the gardens, and also helped in creating the Fenway Garden Society which has overseen the Fenway Gardens ever since their establishment.4
The Fenway Victory Gardens are located near some of the busiest streets in the city of Boston. Just west of the gardens, and constantly filled with foot traffic, sits Boylston Street. Boylston Street runs into Park Drive which then wraps all the way around the west side of the gardens and through the campus of Simmons College, which is only a short block away from Fenway Park stadium, home of Boston’s beloved baseball team, the Red Sox. The Back Bay Fens, which is a parkland by definition, is an area which has been greatly transformed over time. The land within the Back Bay Fens, which is home to the Fenway Victory Gardens, used to be nothing more than an ancient salt-water marsh. Frederick Law Olmsted, a landscape architect, recognized the sanitary and aesthetic issues that were plaguing the Back Bay Fens during the 1910s. To solve both of these problems, Olmstead designed a massive landfill operation which would create additional usable land for the city of Boston while eliminating many of the health issues that pollution had created in the Back Bay. This land fill operation began in the 1820s and continued on into the early 20th century. Several designs for the landscape were utilized throughout the 20th century until the start of World War II, during which part of the land was officially designated as the Fenway Victory Gardens.4
The Fenway Victory Gardens are intended to be a public space which encourages city residents and tourists to take refuge from the busy city streets in the serene confinements of the gardens. In order to actually inhabit your own plot of land in the Fenway Victory Gardens, however, there are a series of requirements and steps to fulfill. First of all, one must be a resident of a Boston neighborhood. If they are a resident, they must then complete an application, which will reserve them a spot on the waiting list. Once they reach the top of the waiting list, have attended two community events sponsored by the Fenway Garden Society, and have paid the annual fee of 40 dollars, they are given a small plot of land in the gardens (generally around 25 square feet). The many requirements for membership do not stop tourists and Boston residents from frequently visiting the gardens, which are open from dusk until dawn. While the paths within the gardens are not nearly as busy as surrounding streets like Boylston or Brookline, it is unusual to go more than a few moments of walking on a sunny day without seeing a gardener or visitor. While daytime visitors are welcomed by local authorities, visiting at night is prohibited and has become enforced more often in recent years. This spike in security is attributed to unwanted visitors that may be using the tall vegetation in the garden to hide drug use, public acts of sex, or other forbidden activities.
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2. Dolish, Richard J. "Back to the Garden." Parks and Recreation;
Arlington. Parks and Recreation; Arlington. ,
3. Our History. Fenway Victory Gardens. Accessed September 23,
4. Schons, Mary. "Fenway Victory Gardens: Oldest surviving victory
garden in the United States." National Geographic. National
Geographic November 30, 2011.