The Capitol Hill Garden Club

The Hill Gardener

Bill Dean (left) and David Healy (right) assist with the annual Capitol Hill Garden Club bulb sale. This year, the bulb sale takes place at Eastern Market each weekend through the end of October, while supplies last. Photo: Ida Mae Mantel.

Started in the early 1950s, the Capitol Hill Garden Club (CHGC) is a group of about 100 dedicated members that brings beauty to our local public green spaces. They also schedule a range of educational programming at their general meetings (open to the public) – on topics like how to care for plants and flowers, the art of Ikebana or how to photograph gardens.

Carol Edwards, the CHGC president, has been a member for about five years. "Even before I owned a home, neighbors would suggest that I attend a meeting because I had an interest in gardening. Now, I'm particularly interested in encouraging people who are renting to join and in showing them how the garden club can be relevant to them."

Edwards notes that the garden club has had a substantial impact on Capitol Hill and beyond, "We're a conduit for many of the horticulturists in public gardens throughout the city to get the word out – education is part of their mission and as our meetings are free and open to the public, when they speak at our meetings, we can facilitate that mission." She adds, "When people join the club, they're also asked to complete a questionnaire that asks what sort of topics are of interest. We take those suggestions and really try to identify speakers on the topics."

Vira Sisolak, a past CHGC president, has lived on the Hill since 1974. “All of the members play a role in beautifying our neighborhood by caring for their own gardens and various public gardens throughout the Hill. We’ve worked to renovate public gardens and develop new ones, encouraging the broader community to assist us.”

Sisolak says she joined the CHGC because she wanted to learn more about gardening to improve her won home garden. Her personal projects include helping another club member in renovating and maintaining the extensive gardens around Peabody School (formerly the Peabody Early Childhood Center) and the establishment of a garden at 120 7th Street NE in front of a Verizon building. She notes that another club member established a garden in front of the Sherwood Recreation Center and that several members are assisting with Kim’s Garden at 8th and North Carolina, SE.

Adam Pyle of the US Botanic Garden was recently invited to speak about specifics relating to planting bulbs at a meeting of the Capitol Hill Garden Club. He says, "We've definitely seen a larger trend toward urban gardening – and garden clubs can help to spread the word, sharing experiences and tips."

Edwards also has seen an increased interest in "green" topics in general, and part of that interest includes gardens. "If you walk around Capitol Hill, you'll see many more people have included vegetables in with their flowers -- and almost all of the local schools have started gardens – and many of those gardens get assistance from Garden Club members (some being master gardeners)."

Partners Anthony Pontorno and Joseph Purdy have lived on Capitol Hill for nearly 30 years, and Pontorno’s great-grandmother and Purdy’s grandmother also resided in Capitol Hill homes.

Says Pontorno, “We’ve both been members of the club since the early 90’s and have enjoyed a lot of good times with neighbors and fellow gardeners. We’ve served on the board, attended lectures and demonstrations, and have taken several local tours with the club – including a fascinating boat trip up the Anacostia River.”

Purdy adds, “The meetings are an incredible learning experience with noted, knowledgeable and interesting speakers. It's hard to say what our favorite topics have been, some are basic, like annuals and perennials, etc., while others cover topics that are unexpectedly helpful, like dealing with the shade we have so much of, and how to utilize the available space in a small Hill garden. One that I probably can't use but really enjoyed was on bees, how many varieties there are on the Hill.”

They both agree that one of their favorite meetings each year involves Hill residents showcasing their own gardens. With pictures and diagrams, they describe how they planned and built it, and now how they keep it looking great. 

New member Keats Webb, a digital imaging specialist who just joined the CHGC, says, “I was encouraged to join by my friend Marissa Zapata who has been a member for a couple of years.”

Zapata is an enthusiastic supporter and states, “It’s a good place to be on a Tuesday night – the speakers are really good – from an orchid specialists to a person who gave great instruction on how to photograph plants.”

Both Webb and Zapata plan to work on the CHGC annual bulb sale, helping out at Eastern Market over the next month. The bulb sale, and annual event fundraiser over 40 years, is also seen as a service to the community since the bulbs beautify spaces both private and public such as tree boxes. This year, the bulb sale will run through the end of October (as long as supplies last) from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day at Eastern Market. Here, you’ll find many of tulips, daffodils, hyacinth, and crocuses – all to be planted during the fall, to bloom in the spring.

In the future, Edwards would also like to see the garden club undertake a community service project in which all members could participate – she imagines a project that does not rely on strength – maybe some members can't build a raised bed or hack invasive vines, but they can plant culinary herbs in a pot and deliver them to needy Capitol Hill seniors.

Pyle remarks, "Garden clubs have the ability to really bring people together." He's noticed throughout the years that it's hard to find anyone that doesn't appreciate plants, "Gardens are therapeutic, and they're wonderful in that they're open to everyone."

The Capitol Hill Garden Club meets at 7:30 p.m., the second Tuesday of each month from September to May. The regular meetings are free and open to the public at Church of the Brethren, corner of 4th St SE and North Carolina Ave. Membership dues are $25 for individuals and $45 for a couple. Visit capitolhillgardenclub.blogspot.com/ for membership information or contact Donna Brauth, dbrauth@gmail.com.


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