Local Gardens that Yield Educational and Healthy Results

By Vivian Siempos Haidas

We got the ‘dirt’ on two gardens that benefit the community: a children’s garden in Brewster and Pizza Barbone’s rooftop garden in Hyannis

Lower Cape Children’s Garden: A Place to Explore, Learn and Grow

Photographs by Meryl Gartside/Blue Lobster Flower Farm

Down a quiet, tree-lined street in Brewster that runs parallel to Route 6A is an enchanting place where children and their adult mentors mix together dirt, seeds, curiosity and dedication to create something out of nothing—the Lower Cape Children’s Garden.

Founded in 2006 and tucked in a corner of the Brewster Community Garden, the Children’s Garden sits on land granted by the Brewster Conservation Society. Here, children 8 to 12 dedicate 1-1/2 hours every Tuesday afternoon from May to August to learn how to grow something from seed to harvest. Each child is paired with a volunteer mentor from the Master Gardener Association of Cape Cod, which runs the program.

On their first day, students design and paint name plates for their garden beds. They choose what they want to plant—from vegetables to flowers. Their mentors teach them how to cultivate their garden beds, tend to each variety of plant and when to harvest. During the first week, the Master Gardeners give short lessons on several topics, including seeds, soil and composting. Throughout the season, guest speakers present talks on subjects ranging from bees to worm farming. 

When vegetables and other plants are ready to harvest, the students pick the fruits of their labor and take them home to share with their families. The goal is to foster an understanding of where food comes from and a respect for the land. These children enter the program with wonder and an eagerness to learn, and they leave with knowledge and pride from working hard that will serve them throughout their lives.

The Lower Cape Children’s Garden is the only garden/farm to donate fresh flowers to Flower Angels, a nonprofit organization that delivers bouquets to the elderly and disabled of Cape Cod.

If your child is interested in joining the Lower Cape Children’s Garden, contact coordinator Lynn Lalor at lynnlalor263@gmail.com. You can also visit capecodextension.org/aghort/mastergardener/ (click on community outreach and education).

Pizza Barbone’s Garden: Up on the Rooftop

“The garden goes hand in hand with everything we do, including making things from scratch and using whole and fresh ingredients,” says Ali O’Toole, co-owner of Pizza Barbone on Main Street, Hyannis.

You won’t see the garden in question where you would usually expect one. It’s on the roof—typical in cities where space is limited, but not so common on the Cape. But when Ali and her husband, Jason O’Toole, decided five years ago that they wanted a garden, the only way to go was up.

Jason built eight wooden raised planting beds and added 30 self-watering plastic containers while a crane lifted 18,000 pounds of organic soil onto the roof to begin their growing adventure. “It’s definitely been a learning curve. We have learned by doing,” says Ali.

For example, they discovered early on that tomatoes didn’t thrive on the roof due to extreme heat and hungry seagulls. Eventually, they added hoop houses to the roof to prevent pesky birds from snagging fresh produce. Their garden’s yield and variety has increased considerably year to year, and last season, they began composting—an eco-friendly way to nourish their garden.

During the April to October growing season, a variety of tomatoes, potatoes, beans, beets, carrots, onions, peppers, parsley, cucumbers and fresh herbs flourish, as well as edible flowers. Much of their harvested vegetables can be found in the restaurant’s daily specials, where Jason creates dishes based on what’s in season.

Pizza Barbone’s rooftop garden can be spotted at the back of the building, above Morgan Stanley. Look closely in the spring and summer and you’ll see several plants peeking out above—a little green above the brick and asphalt. 

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