Another long-time Southwest landmark, the Water Street Garden, will close on June 1 with a farewell program at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church. The garden, located at 6th and Water St. SW, was established in 1990 with the support of the Rev. Rena Karefa-Smart, the parish’s priest-in-charge at that time, and GROW, Garden Resources of Washington. Parishioners and some of the area residents participated in drawing up plans for the garden to accommodate 10’ x 10′ plots for 12 gardeners, an herb garden, and an area for compost.

Pat Bennett, a resident of Riverside Condominium and an original gardener in Southwest, remembers the transformation of the garden site from the corner lot that the church donated into an actual growing site well. GROW had contacted the agricultural resources for the city, located at the University of the District of Columbia, because it was a land grant college. Consequently, a backhoe arrived to dig the site, and then two truckloads of compost were delivered. The gardeners-to-be had to dig into the soil twice, one for each load. GROW also provided funds for the fence.

Jim Early, also one of the original members and who was an avid gardener at the site until he moved to Martha’s Vineyard, planted the pine tree that still stands at the entrance to the driveway. Jim died last year.

When the Rev. John Talbott arrived in 1992, church members complained that the garden was becoming an eyesore and wanted to close out the relationship between St. Augustine’s and the Water Street Garden. After the gardeners were apprised of the problem, several decided to take on the responsibility of enhancing the whole area of the church property next to and near the garden. They planted flowerbeds around the outside of the fence, picked up trash along the sidewalk, added a bird bath, held a leaf raking day in the fall, and participated in some of the community activities of the church.

Members agreed to share in the care (weeding and watering) of the flowers in the new beds planted on the 6th St. side of the church property and along the fence. Some of the gardeners with handyman skills helped with tasks such as repairing the gate, fence, and tool chest as needed. Each participant was responsible for his/her assigned plot as well as the pathway in front of it. The plot was to be kept neat and clean, weeded, with dead plants removed and no plastic bags left.

From the outset, residents of the area, tourists walking to the cruise ships, and, later, people waiting for the Circulator at the bus stop, frequently stopped to talk about the garden. They wanted to know who owned it, who the gardeners were, and what was done with the harvest.

Change is inevitable. In 1990, the tree on the corner was a sapling, but it has grown so much that its shade and roots prohibit the use of several plots. The beautiful big oaks on the north and  east sides of the garden grew bigger and offered more shade, thus limiting the growing of most vegetables. The cute squirrels became more numerous and pesky, plucking the largest tomato just before the gardener planned to harvest it. Lastly, the cruel winter killed the beautiful rosemary bush that had been planted at least 20 years before by an early gardener.

Now, the final change comes with the Wharf development project and the developer’s plans for a new church and housing on the corner of 6th and Water St. SW.

The Water Street Garden Closing Ceremony will be held at 11:30 am on Sunday, June 1. The Rev. Martha Clark, St. Augustine’s Rector, will officiate on the west side of the church. The program will celebrate the history of the garden and the gardeners on the waterfront site and thank everyone for their stewardship of the earth. She will close with a prayer and a blessing. A small outdoor reception will follow.

Residents of the Southwest community, and especially former gardeners, are invited to attend.

By: Camille Cook

Water Street Gardener

For questions, call 202-554-3728

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