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  • Writer's pictureDC EcoWomen

Growing Healthy Gardens & Communities

Updated: Apr 2

Thanks to everyone who joined us for the Growing Healthy Gardens & Communities event on Thursday, March 21,2024 at Teaism Penn Quarter. The attendees included newcomers to the DC area and women who have lived here for decades. We heard from four presenters who shared how they got involved with gardening, ways to get involved with their organizations and gardening tips. 


Carrie Vaughn

Carrie Vaughn

Carrie previously worked at Clagett Farm and now works as the Farm Director at Building Bridges Across the River teaching youth about vegetable gardening. She explained that the program aims to provide access to healthy produce to residents who live east of the Anacostia River, where there is only one grocery store for 70,000 residents of Ward 8. THEARC is an exciting initiative because residents can come to one place to access different types of services. One of the projects they are working on is building a pedestrian bridge across the river. She invited everyone to check out upcoming workshops at the farm, including one on April 20 on How to Start Your Garden. You can also sign up to volunteer with Building Bridges Across the River.

Carrie's favorite vegetable to grow is garlic because you plant it in the Fall and forget about it till the summer, so it doesn’t require much effort. Her top tip for gardeners is to get a soil test before you get started because there could be lead and other harmful substances in your soil. You can mail a soil sample to get it tested through the University of Massachusetts Amherst. 

Kathy Jentz

Kathy grew up not enjoying gardening because she had to help haul water to their gardens at her parent’s community garden plot.. As she got older, she developed a passion for gardening. She had a small balcony garden and then expanded into a common area of her condo building. She eventually decided to get her own house with a yard and helped create a community garden across the street. Besides gardening in her own space, she edits the Washington Gardener Magazine, which was in print and is now a digital publication, and writes gardening books. Her two most recent books include: Groundcover Revolution and The Urban Garden: 101 Ways to Grow Food and Beauty in the City. She also organizes Seed Exchanges at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Maryland, and Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria, Virginia. She also organizes an annual Garden Photo contest.

She is a big advocate for community gardens. She said there is always a waiting list for community gardens, but instead of community gardens, oftentimes soccer fields and sports fields are given a priority. Land is a scarce resource in DC, so there are partnerships to grow on roofs or in undeveloped lots while building permits are being applied for. Besides gardening, Kathy is also a strong advocate for Metro and public transportation. She said that if Metro is not funded, they may reduce their hours. Kathy's favorite vegetable to grow is okra. It’s a beautiful plant and easy to grow from seed. She said the hardest part about growing okra is picking them while they are still small. Once they are big, they get woody, but these can be saved for seed. If you are hesitant to try okra because you think it’s slimy, she explained that fresh off the plant young okra is not slimy. Her top tip for gardeners is start small and add on each year - whether that is adding one in-ground bed or one big container each growing season - don’t try to tackle everything all at once.

Willa Pohlman

Deputy Director, City Blossoms

Willa first started gardening as a kid when weeding her family’s garden was one of her chores. When she was younger weeding often felt tedious, but she loved snacking on sun gold tomatoes and snap peas as she worked. As she got older, she grew to love gardening and has spent the last 12 years working at City Blossoms.

Founded by native Washingtonians, City Blossoms is a nonprofit that cultivates the well-being of our communities through creative programming in kid-driven gardens. Since 2008, City Blossoms has designed, developed, collaborated on, and provided programming or trainings for over 100 projects throughout Washington, DC and nationwide. City Blossoms works with Black, Latino, and children of immigrant backgrounds, ages 2-19. Their programming is centered in neighborhoods where children and youth may not otherwise have access to safe, community-led green space.

Through their six program areas City Blossoms works with kids and youth to explore the outdoors, express themselves, and cultivate their community. These interactive gardens are meant to be learning and play areas that demonstrate concepts like pollination, water catchment, composting, community-created art, plant cycles, edible organic gardening, entrepreneurship, and environmental and racial justice. Each year thousands of participants, from toddlers through teens, engage as cultivators using their creativity, intellect, and energy to shape their communities through fantastic and functional gardens. City Blossoms invites you to join them in the garden through garden workdays, open times and other opportunities to volunteer throughout the year. If you’re interested in a deeper connection to City Blossoms, consider joining the Garden Stewards program. For those looking to find local seedlings this spring, keep an eye out for seedling sales run by Mighty Greens, a youth-led business that grew out of City Blossoms’ Youth Entrepreneurship Program.

Willa loves growing sweet potatoes and getting to dig them up alongside kids in the Fall. Her top tip is to embrace the growing space you have and figure out what its superpowers are and don’t forget to mulch your growing areas to keep weeds back and help with water retention.

Roshani Kothari

Local Gardener & Photographer

Roshani has been gardening for over 20 years. She was introduced to gardening by her grandfather and father, who loved gardening and growing vegetables from India. She volunteered at Clagett Farm many years ago where she learned about growing and harvesting different types of vegetables. When she bought her home in Petworth, she took out the lawn in her backyard and planted a vegetable garden, raspberry canes and fruit trees. She also took out the grass from her little front yard and planted a Gerardi Dwarf Mulberry tree. She also removed the grass from next to the sidewalk in front of her home and planted sunflowers there. Now this area has a cherry tree, butterfly bush and an elderberry bush. She recommends interspersing flowers like zinnias, cosmos and nasturtiums with vegetable plants to attract pollinators to the garden. If you are just starting out and have limited space, she suggested planting easy to grow herbs like basil, oregano, rosemary and mint.

Her top tip is to get starter vegetable plants from farmers markets, so you get a head start in terms of growing. Some things like okra, kale and peas are easy to grow directly sowing the seeds into the garden, but trying to grow tomatoes and peppers from seed can be tedious since they require a good indoor light source and hardening off depending on when you start them. Roshani's favorite vegetable to grow is Sungold tomatoes. They are so sweet and easy to grow. Her favorite fruits to grow in the area are Fuyu Asian persimmons, golden raspberries and cherries. She has a Benton sweet cherry variety, which is a semi-dwarf self pollinating variety. She explained that it’s important to check with fruit trees if they are self pollinating or require another variety to produce fruit. Fig trees are also easy to grow in the area, but be sure to plant a variety of fig that has delicious fruit. Figs can easily grow from cuttings, so see if any of your neighbors have fig trees and see if you can get a cutting and plant it directly in the soil. Be sure to keep the fig tree away from the house because it has a large root system, so could affect the foundation. She has combined her love for gardening with photography. You can see her Plant Journeys exhibit at Artomatic on the 4th floor in room 4081C till April  28.


Here are some gardening resources. Feel free to comment below to suggest other resources.


Get Involved
Seeds, Plants, Soil & More


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