An innovative oasis in Longwood will relieve city stress

3 min read

It’s deep summer in Boston. Oppressive humidity slows you down. Sidewalks radiate heat. Droning insects and city traffic hum. Just across the courtyard from the Kresge Building of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, you happen upon a place of respite in your otherwise stressful day.

It is a place of cooling shade, lush-green, canopied by native trees. Settling in on a comfortable bench, you notice that something is missing—the nonstop urban soundtrack, thanks to the living willow fences and sound-absorbing walls.

You turn to admire the murals painted by members of the local Mission Hill community and check out the handiwork of volunteer gardeners whose plantings foretell a crisp salad later in the week. Your gaze wanders over to the fresh produce at the farm stand, and you begin to envision a succulent plant-based evening meal. You notice a class by the herb beds and wonder if the students are learning about herbal medicinal treatments past and present.

It’s then that you realize the stress of the day has slipped away. Spirits lifted, you text your friends to meet you at the Countway CoLab.

The brainchild of five budding garden designers from across the University, the Countway CoLab doesn’t exist yet except on paper. But with Erika Eitland’s passion and determination, what is currently the small, hidden Countway Community Garden will someday be a flourishing multiuse community space conceived by Harvard students.

Eitland, S.D. ’20, a doctoral candidate in environmental health and president of the School’s Built Environment & Health Student Consortium, first learned about the community garden soon after arriving at the Harvard Chan School. Now she is leading the effort to make the Countway CoLab — or some version of it — come to fruition.

Tucked away alongside Countway Library, behind the bicycle cage and above the rare-book stacks in the library’s Center for the History of Medicine, the current Countway Community Garden was created in 2012 by staff and faculty from Harvard Chan School and Harvard Medical School (HMS).

Bounded by the library and by concrete walls, the garden features 17 raised wooden beds of various heights. Since the garden sits on pavement above the subbasement of the Countway Library, there is no soil beneath it.

During spring and summer, volunteers from the three Longwood schools tend to beds of their own vegetables, herbs, and flowers. A large bed of medicinal herbs for teaching, two strawberry beds, and pots containing tomatoes, mint, chamomile, and basil are communally managed. But fecund as it may be, it’s a city garden cut off from its city—and from most of the Longwood community.

In spring 2016, Eitland and her classmates discovered that the bike cage adjacent to the garden was to be moved to accommodate a new ramp connecting HMS with the Chan School—one of several projects to bring the Harvard Longwood Campus into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. “….We started focusing on the need to preserve the garden area … We realized we could harness students’ perspectives and knowledge in shaping its future.”