Magdalena Siwek in the garden.

Magdalena Siwek gives a tour of the garden at the Center for Astrophysics.

Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

Campus & Community

Head in the stars, hands in the dirt

2 min read

With help from neighbors, CfA gardeners create a bountiful retreat open to all

It’s a small oasis in the middle of the cosmos, bursting with color.

The garden of the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian (CfA) provides an earthly haven for peaceful strolls or tucking into lunch (or adding to it). A fence guards against turkeys, but 6-foot sunflowers beckon to human passersby. Inside, the bounty includes tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, lettuce, cabbage, onions, rhubarb, strawberries, peppers, chilies, and herbs, along with pumpkins supported by hammocks that hang from the arched arbor. Look closer and you’ll see Eastern prickly pear cactuses, an endangered plant native to New England. There’s even a plan to grow pawpaws, mango-like fruits that were George Washington’s favorite.

The garden was started a year ago by Magdalena Siwek, a Ph.D. candidate in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. It soon became a group effort, and CfA gardeners now host daily lunches that are open to all. Cambridge residents have pitched in, watering while Siwek and others were on vacation and donating a collection of bean seeds that are being planted now.

With all this, what is Siwek’s favorite thing about the garden? In short, everything.

“I love the cucumbers, I love the arched path,” she said. “You walk through and you see a pumpkin above or a cucumber growing by your elbow. I love seeing how pollinators have returned to the area. This area was barren before … it’s been great to see the area transform.”