Portland’s Libbytown neighborhood is hoping a planned community garden will help breathe new life into the area, which lost its vibrancy when Interstate 295 and an interchange were built in its midst 40 years ago.

The city is pursuing plans for a 42-plot garden at 165 Douglass St., in a triangle of open space at the northern tip of Dougherty Field. The project will whittle down the city’s 200-person waiting list for a community garden plot while reconnecting a neighborhood that has no public schools or churches and little park space, say its proponents.

“We proposed the garden be built there to make a gathering space and a space for people to feel connected and positive about Libbytown,” said Nikki Anderson, president of the Libbytown Neighborhood Association, which led the project.

The garden will include 4-by-15-foot plots, a tool shed, an irrigation system, bike racks, fencing and a picnic table area. It will be paid for through a $13,500 federal Community Development Block Grant and donations from local businesses and residents. Anderson said City Councilor Ed Suslovic helped secure the grant.

Volunteers will do much of the construction at a work party from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 15. Anderson said all volunteers are welcome to join the party.

The Clark Street Community Garden is one of nine already established in Portland, and another one with 42 plots is planned for Libbytown. The nine gardens contain 380 plots overall, each about 10 by 15 feet, and 200 people are on a waiting list for a garden plot. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The Clark Street Community Garden is one of nine already established in Portland. Another one with 42 plots is planned for Libbytown. The nine gardens contain 380 plots overall, each about 10 by 15 feet, and 200 people are on a waiting list for plots. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

It’s possible that gardeners will be able to do some late planting this fall, but the garden will not be fully functional until next spring, Anderson said.

“Folks may be able to do some planting of bulbs like garlic or flowers this winter and then the majority of planting can take place next spring if we are done before the ground freezes,” she said.

Cultivating Community, a Portland nonprofit that oversees all of Portland’s community gardens, has been training Libbytown residents Margaret Gaertner and Chris Dixon to be the garden’s leaders.

“We’ve been discussing and planning this project since the winter of 2014 and are thrilled it’s finally coming to fruition,” Anderson said.

Libbytown has been the focus of city revitalization efforts aimed at restoring and reconnecting a neighborhood split down the middle by highway construction in the 1970s. The neighborhood, which includes the Park Avenue and Congress Street area bordered by Sewall and Gilman streets and the Fore River, is named after Irish immigrant George Libby, who established three businesses in the area in the mid-19th century.

The Libbytown garden will be the city’s 10th community garden. During the past two decades the city has created nine community gardens, including one on Peaks Island. There are 380 10-by-15-foot plots overall.

Each garden has its own character. On Saturday, Lauren Parker was weeding and pruning in her plot at Casco Bay Community Garden, which opened in July 2015 on the Eastern Promenade.

Watering cans are set out at the North Street Community Garden. Community garden members have access to tools, water and compost. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer


Parker spent two years on a waiting list before she got a spot and doesn’t foresee giving up her plot anytime soon.

Parker works in her garden, a 10-minute walk from her home, about two or three times a week.

“Growing up, my parents had a garden in their backyard, which was convenient,” Parker said.

She said the garden has kept her in fresh vegetables through the summer and is worth the $50 annual fee and money she spent on seeds and seedlings.

Garden members can use the garden tools in the shed, and have access to water and compost.

“I absolutely got my money’s worth,” Parker said.

Members look out for one another, Parker said, watering others’ plots and swapping tips. Garden leaders keep members informed of any happenings.

Members have to observe the rules. After three infractions, such as failing to keep the pathways clear or failing to use the plot, a member could lose his or her plot.

The sun begins to set at the North Street Community Garden on Saturday. The garden on Munjoy Hill offers views of Back Cove and even Mount Washington on clear days. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The sun begins to set at the North Street Community Garden on Saturday. The garden on Munjoy Hill offers views of Back Cove and even Mount Washington on clear days.
Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Megan Connolly and her family have been gardening at the North Street Community Garden on North Street for 17 years.

With a view of the Back Cove and Mount Washington on clear days, the garden competes for best view with the Casco Bay Community Garden, which has sweeping marine vistas.

Lately the North Street garden has been experiencing a pilferage problem, said Connolly.

One year her son Andrew Johannen, 14, spent the summer coddling a watermelon, but it was stolen before he could harvest it.

Signs asking people not to touch the plants have been put up, and a webcam triggered by movement has been installed to discourage pilferage.

But Connolly, who was covering up her cantaloupes with bird netting to keep them hidden from garden thieves, said it could be that people see the sign “community garden” and mistakenly take that to mean the produce is for the general public.

“It’s been a major concern,” she said.