Eastland Gardens Flower Club

Eastland Gardens Flower Club members enjoy a picnic lunch after the National Arboretum tram tour. The event is the organization’s largest fundraiser. Photo: EGFC/Javier Barker

If you’ve ever traveled past Kenilworth Park or the entrance to Eastland Gardens, chances are you have seen the work of the Eastland Gardens Flower Club (EGFC). The club successfully lobbied to beautify the former dump site, owned by the National Park Service (NPS), and also won a $30,000 grant to do so. “We planted evergreens and conifers there,” said Althia Harris, an EGFC member who moved to Eastland Gardens 15 years ago. While the club has 16 regular members, it upholds a long tradition of community service. “We're a small group,” said Harris, “but we are powerful.”

History 

Eastland Gardens is a unique neighborhood. Bounded by Interstate 295 and the Watts Branch tributary, and neighbor to the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, the area is known for its plant life. It is also a neighborhood built by African-American architects, a point of pride during the 1930s to 1950s. The book “Images of America: Eastland Gardens” (2011) recounts the neighborhood's architectural and cultural history. “There is an overwhelming sense of renewal and endless possibility for spring gardening in Eastland Gardens,” it states. “In this haven, gardening conveys the message of stewardship and sustainability and a sense of control over the environment.”

The book later states that EGFC “was a natural outcome of neighbors meeting over fences or gathering during evening walks to discuss their gardens, plants, and yards.” Founded in 1956 by neighborhood activist Rhuedine Davis, the club was a social success and a civic one. In addition to participating (and winning awards) in flower show competitions, EGFC also sponsored community cleanups and neighborhood tours, as well as maintaining gardens at Kenilworth Elementary and senior homes. In a time when African Americans could not participate in flower clubs, EGFC became the first black flower club to join the National Capital Area Garden Clubs and to exhibit at the National Arboretum. For her efforts Davis was named Women's Doer of the Year in 1965 through Lady Bird Johnson's beautification program. 

EGFC Today

“In the past the club was a chance for neighbors to have tea and coffee and do fun things,” said Javier Barker, current president of EGFC. “It's totally different today. We are focusing on creating a safe community.” Gardening is still a focal point for the flower club. “Mrs. [Alethea] Jordan is our resident horticulturalist,” said six-year member Regina King. “I learned how to beautify my yard, although I haven't been able to do it as much.” EGFC remains civic-minded, participating in monthly cleanups, one of which is set to launch this April 25 as part of Earth Week. “We usually partner with area universities for the cleanups. Students from Caesar Chavez and members from DCPNI [DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative] come as well,” said Harris. “We want to make sure that the organization continues to keep the community beautiful.” 

EGFC has increased its outreach efforts in recent years. One major accomplishment is the aforementioned book on Eastland Gardens’ history. “I did a lot of research for the book,” said King. “I've been living in this community for over 20 years and I learned things I didn't know about it.” Another accomplishment was producing a brochure about the neighborhood’s architects and builders, which features facts about the flower club and prominent residents like Davis. Also EGFC supports multiple community organizations, including the Girl Scouts and the Friends of the Arboretum.

Fundraiser at the National Arboretum

For the last seven years (with the exception of 2013 and 2014) the EGFC's largest fundraiser has been a tram tour at the National Arboretum. This year's event will be held on May 9, just in time for Mother's Day weekend. “It's really an azalea tour,” said King. “The blooms don't stay long, but they’re almost as popular as cherry blossoms.” After the hour-long tour participants will be treated to a catered box lunch picnic as well as discussion and games. Space is limited as the tram can fit a max of 40 guests. All proceeds go toward cleanup materials, future events, and improving outreach. 

Why the Club Is Important

EGFC members agree that preserving the community's history and culture is an important part of their club. “This is an area where you can raise a child,” said Barker. “No yard is fenced off. We know each other by name because everyone is neighborly and friendly. This is the village feeling we want to preserve.” Harris agreed, calling Eastland Gardens “a nice hidden treasure.” She also sees EGFC’s work as a way to be environmentally responsible. “The nearby creeks are flooded with trash from 295,” Harris explained. “It keeps the neighborhood from being desirable.” King sees EGFC as a community-building organization. “It's a way for residents to get to know and protect one another,” she declared. “If someone needs something, we can help. It keeps the community unified.”

The Eastland Gardens Flower Club meets every second Saturday of the month at 1:00 p.m. For information, including future meeting locations, email webmaster@eastlandgardensdc.org or visit eastlandgardensdc.org. 

Eastland Gardens Flower Club members participate in their annual Earth Day Cleanup. Photo: EGFC/Javier Barker

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