Boston's famous Fenway Victory Gardens, located at the north end of the Back Bay Fens, date back to World War II when local residents grew vegetables in the plots to combat food shortages.
Now, flowers outnumber veggies, although you'll still see plenty of lettuce, luscious tomatoes, eggplants, strawberries, raspberries, and more as the growing season progresses.
Local residents still tend the 500 or so plots, which typically measure about 15' by 25' - roughly the size of a large living room - although a few are even larger.
Although the Back Bay Fens park is public, the fenced plots are private, with locked gates to protect the gardening tools, lawn furniture, sculpture, and other items tucked away in them.
Individuals pay a small annual fee (currently $15-$30) for the privilege of cultivating a plot - some have been here for decades.
What makes a visit to the Fenway Victory Gardens special is that each space reflects the interests, aesthetic vision, and energy and skills of its caretaker.
As you can see in the photos below, many overflow with blooming annuals, perennials, and even veggies, while others focus on socialization, with seating, tables, and even grills.
As you stroll around and peer into the individual enclosures, you can see small ponds, fountains, sculpture ranging from lovely to kitsch, welcoming benches and birdhouses, arbors and bowers, the occasional bee skep, and even a cluster of hives.
The Victory Gardens give you a glimpse into another world - or more accurately, 500 visions of paradise.
Even though the individual gardens are normally locked, you can see a lot exploring the gardens on your own and peering over the fences.
That's how I took the photos on this page, on a recent beautiful June morning when the intoxicating scent of roses and honeysuckle filled the air, and birds far outnumbered the few dozen gardeners and walkers scattered throughout the space.
Wide paths divide the gardens into 4 large sections, with narrow lanes (sort of like alleys) giving access to interior gardens. Once you're in the interior, you'll forget you're in the city.
Even better, plan to attend one of the free Open Gardens hosted by the gardeners, who literally unlock their gardens and invite you in for a close-up look.
Each month's event features a different section of the gardens. Not all gardeners in the featured section will be present with their gates open, but you'll find plenty to see.
Open Gardens take place on one Wednesday evening a month between June and October.
Dates vary a bit from year to year - so check Boston Discovery Guide's June events calendar to find the exact dates for all Open Gardens for the season.
Do keep in mind that while Open Gardens provide terrific opportunities to get an close-up view of these special spaces, you can still see a lot at other times.
Take a look at these photos to see the enchantment of Boston's Victory Gardens.
Boston Common and Public Garden photos, from left to right:
1) Roses such as these bloom in many of the Fenway Victory Gardens
2) More roses fill this VIctory Garden plot - they even cover the arbor, barely visible in the background
3) This white foxglove peeks out among irises.
4) A number of small Japanese maples such as this one dot the gardens and provide contrast with all the green foliage
5) Beehives, with plenty of residents
6) Whimsical sculptures and sculptural objects dot this garden
Boston Discovery Guide Tip: During World War II, the Fenway Victory Gardens, along with 20 million other victory gardens across the country, produced almost 40% the nation's vegetable and fruit supply during the war years. In Boston alone, 49 areas were devoted to this purpose, including large chunks of Boston Common and Copley Square. Now, the Fenway Victory Gardens are one of the remaining World War II-era victory gardens still in cultivation in the U.S.
If you're visiting the Victory Gardens, don't miss the stunningly beautiful Kelleher Rose Garden, also located in the Back Bay Fens. To get there from the Victory Gardens, go down Park Street - it's a 3-4 minute walk, and you'll see it on your right soon after you cross Agassiz Road.
The roses begin blooming in May, reach perfection in June, and continue to produce some blooms until frost.
The Fenway Victory Gardens are located in Boston's Back Bay Fens, a large park designed in the 1900s by Frederick Law Olmsted as part of his "Emerald Necklace," a series of linked parks circling Boston. The Victory Gardens' location - only a block from Fenway Park - is surrounded by Boylston Street, Park Street, and Muddy River, which runs through the Fens.
The easiest way to get to the Victory Gardens is to take the T (Boston's subway).
As you can see on the map below, the closest T stop is Green Line/Hynes Convention Center, about 2 blocks away. Exit the station, turn left on Mass Ave, and then right at the next intersection, which is Boylston Street. Walk down Boylston Street (away from downtown), and you'll be there in a couple of minutes.
If you're visiting the Museum of Fine Arts, go around to the back of the museum after you exit, and cross over to Fenway, the street along the park. Cross over Muddy River at Agassiz Road (the small lane that bisects the park). Walk right toward the Victory Gardens, or left toward the Kelleher Rose Garden.