Marjorie Rachlin first checked in with the gardeners of the Melvin Hazen Community Garden a year ago. She figured it was time for another visit. Here are the people and the plants she found there.
Last week I stopped by the community garden on Sedgwick Street to see what’s growing. Tomato plants were everywhere, four feet high. No tomatoes yet, but gardeners have been enjoying the spring crops for weeks – asparagus, peas, chard, lettuce and other greens.
There are 104 gardeners from our neighborhood who have small plots at the Melvin Hazen Community Gardens. In World War II, the National Park Service set up several Victory Gardens on park land, and this is one of them.
As you can see from the photo above, Barbara is about to enjoy a robust picking of carrots, beets and radishes, which she planted in March. A teacher, she lives in a Connecticut Avenue apartment and likes “getting out in the dirt and the air.” She showed me her summer substitute for lettuce (which bolts in our hot summers) It’s a vine with green leaves called Malabar spinach. “I make a nice summer soup with chicken broth and these leaves.”
Looking it up on Wikipedia, I found that this is a tropical green grown all over Asia, possibly originating in India. I liked the idea and she gave me plants for my garden.
Not too far away I found Loretta, who is the treasurer of the Community Garden Association, the volunteer group in charge of the garden. She was disappointed in her latest harvest – garlic bulbs. She had planted bulblets from the grocery store last November, but they hadn’t grown to the nice fat bulbs that she had expected. But she had been eating six kinds of lettuce and was waiting for her favorite: “I love tomatoes.”
Walking on, I was surprised to see a neat square of strawberry plants – the European woodland strawberry that is so sweet and fragrant. “You can’t get them in the market.” Nina said, tending the vines of her English shelling peas. Like many of the gardeners, she began in March, planting peas, lettuce, chard, spinach and other cool weather crops.
The next time I visited, it began to rain, but I found Mark, unperturbed, weeding his plot. He just got his plot this spring, after four years on the waiting list. Like most new gardeners his plot is a shadier one, near the woods. Over time, as gardeners leave, others move up the list and get the sunnier plots.
“Gerry knows everything – you need to talk to her,” people have been telling me. Gerry has had a plot since l987, and she’s the go-to guru for advice. I was lucky to find her early on Sunday morning, watering her tomatoes. She grows six kinds from seed in her Van Ness apartment.
“What do people ask you?” I said.
“The new gardeners usually need a lot of advice,” she said. “When to plant, what to plant, what’s eating their plants, how much to water, the best varieties.” Over her 25 years in the garden, she has accumulated a lot of experience, not all of it good. “The flea beetles are a scourge here, particularly on eggplants, and the striped cucumber beetle can utterly destroy a plant.”
Gerry admitted she didn’t know a lot when she started, but she began to read articles and gardening books and now uses the Internet to keep up to date.
Dan and daughter Ruth, age 8, were watering their new plot, pleased with their first year in the garden. They live in a house nearby, but the yard is shady. Ruth showed me a luxuriant yellow squash plant. “We have had several squash already,” she said.
Joe was admiring his six-foot fennel plant. Why does he garden? “It’s a place to relax, with a different atmosphere from workdays.” He’s got fingerling potatoes, just dug, and banana peppers in that sack.
Like all the gardeners, when one vegetable is finished, he clears a space for another. He’s just cleared the lettuce and mustard greens, and is ready to plant black-eyed peas, which, he claims, aren’t troubled by beetles.
Many of the gardeners live in apartments along Connecticut Avenue. They relish the opportunity to be out in fresh air close to home – and to eat their own fresh vegetables.
If you wish to join them, there’s a waiting list, but for more information, call Karin Adams, president of the Melvin Hazen Community Garden Association 202-244-3140 or visit https://sites.google.com/ site/melvinhazengarden/how-do-i-get-a-plot-.