Canillas Community Garden, Lebanon, NH

By Helen Brody (August 15, 2012)

canillas garden
One could say that community gardens are a co-operative of mini-mini farms. In Lebanon, NH, the four year old Canillas Community Garden, managed by Upper Valley Localvore, Pat McGovern and her committee of five found what appeared to be the ideal spot for their project bordering the Mascoma River on land owned by Lebanon’s Carter Community Building Association (  However, after an extensive examination of the soil, problems emerged­­­­–– under the lush green grass.

Begun in the Spring of 2009, a group of volunteers spent a day clearing land only to find that below the surface lay a late 1800s’ dumping ground and all the glass and pottery shards, rusted metal, coal ash, and lead that come with such a discovery. It seemed the garden might be an impossible dream.

However, after soil testing, research, and discussion with a variety of co-operative extension representatives and other experts, the committee decided to answer the soil contamination problems by building raised beds and purchasing clean soil. Advisers had assured the group that any lead in the soil would more likely sink with rainfall rather than come to the surface in the beds. For extra protection, the gardeners lined the beds with a layer of landscape cloth and lime.

garden workers

Because of the delay caused by the research required to build the garden, the ideal planting time had passed by, but undaunted , the plot owners went ahead in constructing seven 4X16 foot  beds. To make paths, newspaper with soy based ink was placed down and covered with a layer of wood chips donated by a local firm.

The following year, the Hartford (VT) High School Resource Center class built an attractive light blue wooden shed to house tools, many of which were donated from the barns and garages of neighbors and friends.

By 2012, those original seven plots had burgeoned into 31 and the gardens showcase a variety of vegetables, flowers, and garden ornaments. A special feature is a spiral garden for children to enjoy and a tepee of sticks planted with pole beans in the spring by the Carter Community Building Center’s pre-school children. Come autumn, gardeners harvest the crop for home cooking. To enjoy the peaceful setting, the committee has provided chairs for neighbors and those walking along the river.

Many plots are tendered by experienced gardeners, but there is no shortage of those new to the joys of planting. In generating the next generation of gardeners, members also include families working with their children. Symbolic of an organic and a localvore garden, there is a permaculturist with a supply of worms that he feeds regularly with vegetable scraps.

Members have derived ingenious ways to control unruly plants, most particularly tomatoes. There are the usual cages and stakes, but more unique are the  twigs and branches gathered in a nearby woods and made into  intricate arrangements of plant supports; several gardeners use posts to hold up a screen of elaborately woven string on which the plants can climb; and then there are always those vines that seem to grow wild. Squash and cucumbers are allowed to travel aimlessly as long as they are kept within the confines of the garden plot.


The garden community has become a small United Nations of plot owners–– Russian, Spanish, French, Indian, American, Mexican, South American and South Korean. Of particular note in 2012 was a garden of wild sesame leaves, or perillla, which Suyeon Kan of South Korea uses as a wrap for her native Bulgogi, a dish of marinated beef or chicken wrapped in the leaves. (See Recipes section) Lettuce or any large leafy vegetable, maybe kale, could also be used for a Bulgogi feast.

And, finally, as with all gardens, the wild creatures have periodically indulged in the joys of the harvest. To date, a least one woodchuck, an opossum and a squirrel have been caught in the “have a heart trap” or seen romping through the area. Broccoli plants seemed to have been the vegetable of choice.

Photos by: Pat McGovern