Contest winner put tropical twist on his urban garden hide-away

By 
Brianna Macgregor, Special to the Reporter
Aug. 8, 2013

Sumner Street success: Alex Galan says his Sumner Street garden— which has just garnered mayoral honors as Boston’s best in the medium yard division— has helped him to better connect to Dorchester, his home of six years. Photo by Brianna MacgregorSumner Street success: Alex Galan says his Sumner Street garden— which has just garnered mayoral honors as Boston’s best in the medium yard division— has helped him to better connect to Dorchester, his home of six years. Photo by Brianna Macgregor

For Alex Galan, gardening is more than a hobby.

“I’ve been gardening my whole life. I’ve always been considered the crazy gardener in the family,” he said, laughing.

Galan’s grandmother got him started with a climbing rose bush, and ever since, he’s been hooked.

Galan’s Sumner Street garden transforms an average-sized urban backyard into a tropical oasis. He enjoys mixing perennials with tropicals, despite the extra effort; during the winter, he takes many of the tropical plants indoors to ensure their survival.

“It took me awhile to get used to winters here,” said Galan, who moved to Dorchester from the Northwest. “The tropical plants were a kind of remedy for me.”

When Galan first moved to Dorchester about six years ago and started his garden, he experienced trouble with people destroying and stealing his plants. However, he noted that crime has since tapered off.

“They’ve accepted me as ‘the gardener’ this year,” he said.

The neighborhood isn’t the only place where Galan is recognized as a superb gardener. This year, he won first place in the Medium Yard Garden division of the Mayor’s 2013 Garden Contest. Galan said he is honored that his hard work is being recognized.

Urban gardeners face many difficulties, but Galan has maximized his planting space with a wooden fence, creative use of materials like concrete blocks and piping units, and columns with hanging plants. “Being an urban gardener, I use every little space I have,” he said. Despite the challenges of urban gardening, Galan said he would rather live in a city, where he can share his garden with neighbors, than a more rural area. “For me, gardening is a way of reaching out,” he said, explaining that he has met many of his neighbors and fellow urban gardeners through his garden. “Plants have a way of connecting people.”

Galan loves showing his garden to neighbors, and now hosts an annual summer garden party for friends, neighbors, and other gardeners. Galan said that his garden has helped him find his place in Dorchester.

“I’m out here in my little corner everyday. I see people going off to work, and they’ll honk and wave,” he said. “It’s good to know your neighbors. It makes you feel like you’re home.”

According to Jacquelyn Goddard, director of marketing, communication, and external affairs for the City of Boston Parks and Recreation Department, there were over 130 entries across all of the divisions for this year’s garden contest. Entries were judged by a panel of community activists with an interest in gardening, as well as some people from the Parks and Recreation Department.

The garden contest began 17 years ago as part of Mayor Menino’s citywide beautification initiative, and Goddard said that Parks and Recreation anticipates the continuation of the contest following Menino’s departure from office. She added that the garden contest acts as impetus for more community pride and involvement.

“[The garden contest] encourages people to beautify their property, and it brings neighbors together,” said Goddard.

Other winners from the area include: Elizabeth Mullaney of Dorchester, who won third place in the Small Yard Garden division; William Ryan of Dorchester, who won third place in the Medium Yard Garden division; Dale Malone and Mark Landin of Dorchester, who won third place in the Porch, Balcony, Deck or Window Box Garden division; The Boston Home, Inc., which won third place in the Vegetable or Herb Garden division; and Gerald Brown of Dorchester, who won second place in the Senior Garden division.

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