A children’s “art garden” in the heart of Washington, D.C.


There was food, art, and wonderful energy at the Girard Street Children's Garden on a recent sunny Sunday for their "Eat-In" (co-sponsored by Slow Food DC).  It was a celebration of the garden and the kids and community groups who make it happen, under the inspired direction of Lola
Bloom and Rebecca Lemos.  This is but one of 9 children's gardens they've created since launching their nonprofit Cityblossoms back in
2003, and I can report that bringing their love of art to the garden has made this one a pretty magical place.  (Lola teaches art at a bilingual charter school and both studied art in college.)  Other cool elements of the garden include
workshops about growing food, harvesting, and cooking, all coordinated with what the kids are learning in school.  But fun is key, so there's lots of singing while gardening.  

Now juxtapose this vision with the one painted by a local newspaper, whose reporter sees the garden only as a crime-fighting measure.  She writes that it's intended to "restore calm to this often deadly stretch of Columbia Heights," which she calls "one of the most
notorious crime areas of the city," then sprinkles her story with juicy news of recent killings in the area.  Makes me wonder if she ever ventures into the city at all.  (My friends just a block away love it there.)

GirardstreetLolaRebecca But let's get back to the garden, shall we, because the story of the how it came into being is pretty cool.  Lola and Rebecca
lobbied the developer-owner of what was for decades an unused patch of asphalt to donate the space for a garden
and – proving that even inner-city landlords have a heart and who could resist these inspiring young women? – he said yes.  AND paid to remove the asphalt and create raised the planters.  Then all sorts of neighborhood groups stepped up to do the planting, maintaining, and harvesting, proving once again that gardens grow not just plants but community.

I asked Lola and Rebecca if they had anything to say to GardenRant readers and yes, they sure do. 

Lola writes, "I think that it is important that we are integrating
gardening into children's lives in a way that is youth-empowering and not just
focused on one aspect of gardening.  We invite children into these spaces to
learn about the obvious themes of food production, become enviro-conscious, and
understand scientific concepts but also care for their communities and express
their playful personalities and curiosities through creating safe greenspaces
that everyone can enjoy and explore.  My favorite part of our
gardens is that children independently and enthusiastically participate and come
up with games as if they were playgrounds.  Although we always wish we had more
adult volunteers and that we could afford more staff, the fact that the spaces
are largely kid-made and maintained is super-important in sustaining them and
keeping them relevant to their particular communities."

And Rebecca adds, "We work predominantly with kids because we love to work with them but also
because we feel strongly that teaching kids to feel empowered enough to
physically change their environment will help them grow up into active citizens
willing and able to improve their surroundings."

Top photo includes Dionte Lewis, an almost constant presence in the garden and my guide that day. Lower photo: Rebecca Lemos on the left, Lola Bloom on the right. Click to enlarge.


  1. Lola and Rebecca are truly some of the brightest stars in our expanding garden firmament here in the District of Columbia. It’s amazing what has happened in just the last couple of years with urban food garden and school gardens. And now we have started a farm to school network as well. (D.C. School Garden Week, sponsored by D.C. Schoolyard Greening, is happening this week.) As if Lola and Rebecca hadn’t done enough already, they have broken ground on yet another garden closer to downtown in the Shaw neighborhood with none other than Elizabeth Falk, one of the founders of D.C.’s most famous urban farm, Common Good City Farm. The synergies are truly amazing. But I don’t think the concepts of children’s gardens and crime fighting are mutually exclusive. Gardens of whatever sort have a civilizing effect. They are part of the process of building a more wholesome community. Yes, I do live just a couple of blocks from the Girard Street Garden–for more than 20 years. When I first moved here, there was a huge drug market across the street. Shootings and homicides were a regular occurence. There still is a lot of crime in the area of the Girard Street garden. In fact, a woman who worked at the Dunkin’ Donuts just a block away was killed in the crossfire of a gang-related shootout not long ago. This weekend a 14-year-old girl was stabbed to death. The garden is an anchor for a better future for kids and adults alike.

  2. I do love the fact that they encourage play and fun. THAT’s the way to hook kids on gardening!

    Most, though not all, kids love to run around and do things outside. I used to spend almost every waking minute outside, even if I was just sitting under my favorite lilac bush reading a book.

  3. My initial reaction was “these women rock!” But somehow that isn’t really appropriate. These women take what most people consider to be unusable trash and turn it into something that contributes to the health and well-being of their community.

    These women compost!
    (But on a whole other scale than most of us.)

  4. This is a wonderful story. And it is wonderful that this is not the only great story about kids and gardens. I live way out in the country, but even here school gardens, and ‘clubs’ like the Seeds of Leadership garden at Seeds of Solidarity Farm in Orange, MA, make a big impact on the kids and the larger community. http://www.seedsofsolidarity.org I posted on my blog yesterday about their big Garlic and Arts Festival.

  5. Lola and Rebecca make it all look so easy and effortless, but they work their tails off and I find their ambitions and projects inspiring. Their “Growing Girls & Gardens” at Garrison Middle School in Baltimore, MD, is just one that blows my mind.

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