The garden I’m reporting on today began with three neighbors hatching a plan over coffee more than 40 years ago. It’s located right in the heart of the village of Canton, surrounded by houses, but when you are in this garden, you feel like you must have blinked your eyes and been transported to the country. There are mature fruit trees, berry bushes, and long rows of many different kinds of vegetables. You can sit here and feel removed from the bustle of nearby streets.
When John Hall moved to Church St. in the late 1960s, he discovered that his neighbors Don Peckham and Don Huddleston were avid gardeners. They decided to share equipment. Soon, their adjoining lots blended to form one big garden across three backyards. As John explains it, this was not so much by design as an outcome of spending a lot of time out there together: “That evolved. We all worked together, liked each other, and helped each other.” Betty Peckham recalls, “They had some great conversation in the yard, solving the problems of the world.”
Needing more space, John negotiated in the 1970s to purchase a piece of land stretching behind the three backyards. The parcel had been rented to store concrete vaults and mortuary equipment; John spent years improving the soil. Further down Church St., neighbor Jack Klemens also had a garden and joined the annual neighborhood competition to grow the first ripe tomato of the year. The prize was a six-pack of beer.
For many years, the men happily grew and processed fruits and vegetables from their Church St. gardens. Their wives were supportive, but not interested in gardening themselves. Betty remembers that even though she didn’t garden, her life revolved around the garden: “We couldn’t go out of town in the spring until the plants were in, and we couldn’t leave later in the summer when the raspberries were ripe. I was always very aware of what was happening out there.” John’s wife Dotty has been known to support her husband’s work by blasting her trumpet at a woodchuck to scare it out of the garden.
In 1995, Anne Mamary moved into the house where the Huddlestons lived. Though she loves her house, the communal garden was a major factor in her decision to purchase the property. She was attracted to the obvious care that went into building and maintaining the gardens over time: “You have all the convenience of the village out front and paradise in the back yard.” Don Peckham and John welcomed her into their garden community. Anne’s garden produces a consistently impressive harvest of currants, thanks in part to the pruning her mother does.
Don Peckham gardened until his death in 2009. Since then, younger neighbors have helped Betty keep Don’s garden cultivated. John still spends long summer days working amongst his plants. Anne freely invites friends to come pick produce during the long periods she is out of town for work.