Formerly vacant lot transformed into Bogarden by downtown neighborhood

With its mast and boom formed by branches and its sail of twine, this whimsical sailboat — and planter — at the edge of Bogarden gives climbing plants room to grow. The community garden is at the corner of Rutledge Avenue and Bogard Street downtown.

As tomatoes grow slowly in their beds and basil leaves glisten in the sunlight, traffic buzzes by just a sidewalk away.

This is the Bogarden. What formerly was a vacant lot at Bogard Street and Rutledge Avenue is now a thriving agricultural project in the Cannonborough- Elliotsborough neighborhood in the heart of downtown Charleston.

The lot's owners, who include Charleston lawyer Jonathan Altman and developers George Reavis and Craig Comer, purchased the property in October 2009. After developing some condominiums just up the street, they decided not to build anything on the lot because of the slow housing market.

Then, in January, Fritz Stine of the group C of C for Urban Agriculture, approached Altman about the possibility of using the space as a garden instead. Altman was supportive of the idea, and leased the property to the group for a penny.

"We thought it would be a great addition to the community," Altman said.

C of C for Urban Agriculture, whose mission focuses on growing local, organic produce, seized upon the opportunity to use the property.

With the financial support of the Student Government Association at the College of Charleston and the help of environmentally- minded friends, the group cleared the lot and built beds for the plants.

They invited the community to contribute by watering plants and sewing seeds of their own.

The hard work paid off. A variety of crops, ranging from tomatoes to watermelons to collard greens, are growing well in the space.

"The enthusiasm for the project has been stupendous," said Adrian Barry, president of C of C for Urban Agriculture.

Ben D'Allesandro, who owns D'Allesandro's Pizza at the other end of Bogard Street, has lived across the lot for 10 years and is happy to see it put to use. He grows basil used to make pesto in his restaurant, although he notes that what he gets from the Bogarden is hardly enough for what the restaurant uses. He said he just wanted to plant something in the garden.

"It's very therapeutic, watering the plants," he said.

He planted other crops in the garden, but said the communal nature of the project means they are often gone before he can get to them. He doesn't mind.

Eating the fruits of one's own labor is refreshing to Sylvia Nicks, who keeps a small plot in the Bogarden. After 50 years of living in New York City, she said growing her own food reminds her of her childhood on a farm.

She said the fruits and vegetables she grows are fresher and better-tasting than what she used to buy at local grocery stores.

Altman said the arrangement is not permanent. He has not ruled out the possibility of developing the property when the housing market picks up.

Tentative plans are in place should that possibility come to fruition. Stine said the group will simply break down the beds and give the plants away.

Nicks said she would be sad to see the Bogarden uprooted.

"I would miss it," she said