Gardening From England to Florida, Now Finally in Williamstown

By Jonathan Miller, Director of Libraries and Community Garden Steering Committee Chair

The Community Garden under construction in January 2021.

My father taught me how to garden. My earliest memories are in gardens. First on a dirt pile behind the first house my parents owned in Sheffield. Then the rabbit hutch under the flowering currant bushes in the next house in Borough Green, and eventually my own plot that my father gave me next to the compost heap in the big vegetable garden when we moved to Tunbridge Wells. In my mind’s eye it was always hot. He was always stripped to the waist and smoking a cigarette. Wherever I have lived I have cultivated a garden. Before coming to Williams I lived in central Florida with seventeen different fruit trees in my garden and vegetable varieties from the Caribbean, West Africa, and Southeast Asia that could stand the heat and humidity.

Jonathan’s Florida garden in 2017.

It was quite a shock to come to Williamstown and find myself owning a condo with no place to garden. So I was delighted when Mike Evans invited me to an early meeting to gauge interest in starting a community garden at the College. It took some time, the keen interest of a group of students, staff, faculty, and community volunteers, and lots of work by our colleagues in Facilities and Planning, Design, & Construction, but this year we inaugurated the Williams College Community Garden near Poker Flats. The garden is self-governing with a steering committee elected by the gardeners. It consists of thirty raised beds, each about four by eight feet, filled with a rich loamy topsoil mixture. There is a shed to house a variety of common tools and a standpipe for water, all surrounded by a deer fence. Unfortunately the pandemic meant that we were not able to open the garden to non-Williams gardeners in 2021, but we got more than thirty applicants from the campus community and with the kind cooperation of the Williams Student Garden Club were able to assign a plot for everyone. If you go by the garden today you will see some keen gardeners are already beginning to plant hardier plants. On our active Google Group email list people are swapping tips about seeds and advice about starting seedlings indoors awaiting warmer weather and warmer soil to plant tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers.

Jonathan’s rhubarb plants in his plot in April 2021.

The goal of the garden is to grow vegetables and community, and it looks as though we are off to a good start on both counts. As for my plot, my lifelong urge to get my hands dirty and plant something continues. But instead of seventeen subtropical fruits, I have decided to just plant rhubarb. Some of my American fellow gardeners are mystified by my love of this sour, fleshy, perennial, but to me it was another mainstay of my father’s garden. My mum would give me a bowl of sugar and a stick of rhubarb and I would sit in the sun on the back step watching my father; in the garden, stripped to the waist, smoking a cigarette.