If you’re reading this story in the print version of the Fenway Garden Society newsletter, it’s probably a block of text set in an elegant typeface and part of a four-color spread laid out by a computer program that follows the modular design principles of the Franco-Swiss modern-architect pioneer Le Corbusier. Pretty deluxe, right? But the FGS newsletter has not always been so snazzy. The FGS archives, in the care of the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) located at 1154 Boylston Street, trace the fascinating evolution of the official FGS publication. The oldest newsletter in the collection at MHS dates from 1983. Banged out single-spaced on a typewriter, the one-page mimeograph sheet looks more like a subpoena than a newsletter.
Its pages, though yellowed, aren’t crinkled and brittle like the newspaper clippings that live along side it in the same file at MHS. Dipping into the 1983 newsletter we find the obligatory story about that year’s FensFest, at which bargain hunters shopped at the white elephant table to the musical accompaniment of a string quartet. A story lamented, “Our main pest problem is rats. Attempts to control or eradicate have failed. Gardeners tried traps baited with lye or mothballs, plant cages, and noise-makers. Losses were heartbreaking and the race was on to see who harvested more vegetables — the rats or the gardeners.” Fast-forward 30 years and replace ‘rats’ with ‘rabbits’ and we can all still relate. The newsletter concludes by thanking the Boston Police Department for truckloads of manure and sawdust from the police stables.
Only five years later, the world had been revolutionized by desktop computing. Derek Whitcraft, the editor of the 1988 edition, proudly announced that all work on the publication was done on his Turbo-XT PC clone using MS-DOS FONTASY and a dot matrix printer! The newsletter had by now blossomed into an 11-page booklet. Most stories were accompanied by oversized, jagged-edged clip art pointing hands, garden trowels, and rakes — most sported a drop shadow — but no photographs as yet. Some curious and informative tidbits from the 1988 edition: Gardeners were invited to a talk on October 20th at the Morville House about “the most polluted waterway in Massachusetts — the Muddy River and the Back Bay Fens.” The Board of Directors thanked volunteers for their work in planning and maintaining the Gerald A. Flynn Botanical Gardens — a row of open gardens opposite present-day P-Row.
The project was abandoned and the Flynn has since reverted to river bank and phragmites. In the 1990s the newsletter became ‘The Fenway Garden Post’. Although still all black-and-white and far from slick, the newsletter began to feature photos and a wider variety of articles. Garden Society business was deemphasized: gardener profiles, recipes, and even poetry took center stage.
Senior VP of Administration