Green Seed Garden Growing Up

The water shed at the garden holds a large barrel for watering the garden, and has been given the nickname of the Taj Mahal of Hill East.

Fall is a bittersweet time of year for gardeners. The tomatoes are dwindling on the vines, and the fresh vegetables enjoyed in salads, tarts, and soups are gone. Visits to the garden that became such a big part of our summer routine are now less frequent. If lucky, the squash, pumpkins, and gourds are coming into their own and will be ready for Halloween. 

For many Hill gardeners, their summer gardens were not steps out of their backdoors, but a few blocks walk to a community garden. Some gardeners may have tended their gardens for a decade and for others it may have been the first time they tried planting seeds and tending growing vegetables through all the different stages. Some of the fun of community gardens is in the diversity found in the gardeners and the enthusiasm that each gardener brings to his or her plot.

According to DC’s Field to Fork Network, Ward 6 has ten community gardens, more than any other ward in the city. The gardens can be found alongside public parks or tucked in alleys between blocks. Gardens like the Hilton Community Garden and King’s Court Community Garden have been around for many years. Others like Hill East Community Garden and the Green Seed Community Garden are newer and building on the success of the older ones. Community gardens fill a very important need by providing places for people to produce their own food and teach their children the fundamentals of caring for plants and enjoying their produce.  They are also a place for urban residents to spend time outdoors and build community.

The New Kid of the Block

The Green Seed Garden is located between 17th, 18th, E Street, and D Street, SE. It is one of the newest community gardens in Ward 6. It is also the biggest one. The garden has developed in different stages. It was first created in 2008, and was known as Green East. Neighbors decided that the empty lot behind their houses could be so much more than weeds and abandoned boats. The garden was designed to include space for families to picnic and children to play and over time the garden won over reluctant neighbors. By 2010, the second half of the alley space became available to develop a second garden, and the Green Seed Garden was born.

The garden now has 75 plots and has gardeners that can just stroll out their back steps to tend their plants and others who come from all over the city to enjoy the garden. Dan Fitzgerald, the President of the Green Seed Garden, says that many of the gardeners involve their children in tending one of the 4x12 foot raised beds. “We don’t have specific programs for children,” Dan went on to say, “but by having such a large space, we have been able to design the gardens with gathering spaces. Green Seed Garden is probably the only community garden around that has room for an inflatable Moon Bounce in the community garden space. Many garden families plan their kids’ birthday parties at the garden. And we are informal enough to be able to deal with the impact of kids in the garden.” 

Maintaining the Garden

Dan has been President of the Green Seed garden for three years and says while no one seeks out this job, he has found the longer he does it, the easier it gets. The Green Seed Garden is a 501C-3 organization, which means it owns and operates the garden, itself. “We havefive Board members and right now we spend a lot of our time working on our long-term goals. This fall the garden board is finalizing steps to purchase the land under city foreclosure procedures that the non-profit has been pursuing for several years. We are very hopeful that we will have raised the necessary funds to finish this important goal by the end of this year,” Dan noted. 

Other gardens are part of DC’s Department of Parks and Recreation, or part of the Capitol Hill Community Garden Land Trust, whose mission is to create, acquire, own, preserve, manage and sustain community garden areas, principally on Capitol Hill. The Trust currently holds leases to or owns three of DC’s community gardens, and helps managers of Capitol Hill gardens coordinate their efforts.

Green Seed Garden charges gardeners fifty dollars a year to rent one of the plots, which is a little more than other gardens charge.  The funds help cover the cost of water, pays for hoses and mulch for the walkways between the plots, and helps build a reserve for future projects. One project the Green Seed Garden has completed is the building of a shed that contains a very large barrel to hold water that is then distributed to the plots through an intricate hose system around the garden. Dan laughs, “The water shed is the envy of many other Hill gardens, and we know some gardeners call it the Taj Mahal of Hill East.” In the future, beyond finishing the process of purchasing the land, the garden would like to have a water meter put in, which would cost up to $15,000.

Gardeners Line Up

Even with ten community gardens on the Hill, there are waiting lines to get one of the plots. There are urban legends of people waiting a lifetime to get a plot, but big gardens like Green Seed Garden turn over plots yearly. 

Submitting your name to your favorite garden is your first step to becoming a community gardener. Fall is a good time to do this. Green Seed Garden actually has a process that gives an advantage to its neighbors. It prepares two lists of interested gardeners that distinguishes those who live within several blocks of the gardenfrom those farther away. It alternates between the two lists as plots become available. “As time goes on, it seems that gardeners who live near the garden use it more than others who have to take time getting here,” Dan says, “so we think over time the gardeners will come even more from the Hill East neighborhood.” Building community is important, and the garden hosts Easter Egg hunts, Halloween parties, and chili bake offs over the course of the year to keep growing the community as gardeners wait for the spring thaw. 

If you are interested in helping the Green Seed Garden reach its funding goals this year to make the final purchase of land, or want to put your name on the list for next year’s season, contact Dan Fitzgerald at dbfitzgerald@yahoo.com

The Green Seed Community Garden is an interior gem of space between 17th and 18th Streets, SE.
Dan Fitzgerald is President of the Green Seed Garden finding that the garden gives his family more than just healthy vegetables.
Even cats enjoy the serenity of the Green Seed Garden.

Rindy O’Brien is a photographer and community gardener. She can be reached at rindyobrien@gmail.com