May 9, 2007
My spring started out on a low note with the news that the Longfellow Garden will be closed for the next two years. The free, outdoor sanctuary was a favorite lunchtime destination those of us who work within walking distance.
The Congress Street corridor, which serves as the spine of the city, is pretty much a concrete jungle without much green space. Hence, the Longfellow Garden is a welcome retreat in the warmer months. Located off Congress Street, this gem of privacy is tucked behind the boyhood home of Henry Longfellow and next to the Maine Historical Society Research Library. You pass through a gate and are funneled down a narrow path lined with flowers. This opens up to a seating area of benches and side tables, surrounded by more flowers, trees and a fountain. While this is not truly Longfellow's garden in the sense that the plants are not original, the proximity is poetic. It is a zone of tranquility in downtown and you quickly forget that you are in a city.
From May to October I would head there as many times as I could get away from my desk for lunch. Considering the amount of people who work downtown, I was amazed to always find one of the 12 seats available. Other people using the space include artists sketching the botanical life, a language class practicing French, the occasional tourist and those downtown folks in the know. Many Portlanders have never been.
The Maine Historical Society Research Library is getting renovated which means the staging needs to go in the garden. So the plants are being uprooted, literally, and sold off by the Longfellow Garden Club. All greenery must be removed and what is not sold by May 15 will be available for purchase at the club's annual sale. The garden will reopen in 2009.
While there are other options for bagged lunches with blades of grass, none are as graceful and secluded. So where to go for the downtown denizens seeking a bit of greenery within walking distance of major employers on the peninsula?
* First Parish Church garden on Congress Street: A few flowers and a bench. Simple, small, sweet.
* Pleasant Street Playground: Several benches, one picnic table a basketball court and a playground. Bonus points for getting takeout from Artemesia CafA½ next door. The park lives up to its name - pleasant.
* Tommy's Park: Smack dab in the middle of the Old Port, across from Post Office Park, this barely qualifies as the green space is about the size of a postage stamp.
* Deering Oaks Park: Can anyone really walk there, eat lunch and make it back to work in an hour?
* Lincoln Park on Congress Street : Maybe it is just me, but this fenced in park located across from the courthouse always feels like a holding pen.
* Long Wharf: OK, so technically, there is no green space on this pier leading to DiMillo's, but still, it's a lovely spot on the water to bring your lunch. It's about to get even better as Black Tie is taking over the old market a few doors down on Commercial Street.Jessica Tomlinson is the director of public relations at Maine College of Art. She lives in the West End of Portland with her husband, artist Henry Wolyniec and their 4-year-old son, Otto. She thinks Portland is the bee's knees.