Urban Gardening Takes Root at GW
Food and foliage make campus plots more sustainable
A cornucopia of fruits, vegetables, and herbs is ripe for harvest in GW's new student-run gardens. Started by the Food Justice Alliance, two GroW Gardens—a productive food plot in Foggy Bottom and an ultra-native patch in Mount Vernon—have begun to produce and benefit local urban ecology.
Foggy Bottom's GroW Community Garden, on H Street between 23rd and 24th streets, has nine triangular raised bed planters filled with sweet and hot peppers, summer squash, zucchini, eggplant, collards, kale, a half-dozen varieties of tomatoes, and herbs such as sage, basil, lemon basil, and mint. Spring crops included sugar snap peas and Swiss chard. Flowers, such as marigolds and salvia, attract butterflies and other beneficial insects. The alliance also planted young fruit trees—fig, persimmon, pawpaw, serviceberry—that will produce fruit in future years.
A handful of students, overseen by garden fellow and GW rising senior Melissa Eddison, water and maintain the garden during the week. Each Saturday, more volunteers—including community members—join in for bigger garden projects and harvesting. Some 80 percent of the garden's harvest goes to the local nonprofit Miriam's Kitchen, which provides meals for the homeless.
GroW on the Vern is a more structured garden program that uses student volunteers from the eco-friendly Pelham Hall's Green Earth living and learning program—which teaches urban sustainability—as well as faculty and staff gardeners.
This garden has a twist: "More than 90 percent of plants in the Mount Vernon garden are native to the D.C. and Northern Virginia area," says Ms. Eddison, who describes this plot as a "smart garden" for its use of plants to naturally restore soil nutrients and ecological processes.
Many of the Vern garden's plants are unconventional: There's a native variety of plum tree, and a native variety of strawberries helps restructure the soil. Butterfly weed bears a fiery orange blossom that attracts its namesake insect. Adam's needle, a species of yucca, absorbs excess salt used on roadways in winter. Bayberry fixes nitrogen in the soil, making the nutrient more available for roots.
A native garden such as this resembles the garden that George and Martha Washington would have planted. "He knew the folklore of the time and what each plant was good for," Ms. Eddison says. That field of knowledge has gone by the wayside, she says, but some gardeners are beginning to realize the benefits of planting native varieties—from easier garden maintenance to a healthier local ecosystem.
"There's value to planting local, historic plants," Ms. Eddison says. "And it takes a lot of research to do it right."
—Carrie MadrenPhoto courtesy of William Atkins.