Contrasting Community Gardens


A 21-year-old community garden in the heart of Washington, D.C. was recently shut down indefinitely.  The owner of the property, the Scottish Rite Masonic Temple, took the wildly unpopular action to clear the 1/4-acre space as a staging area for their upcoming renovation, which is predicted to last 5 to 20 years.


Everyone is devastated,” said Kerry Kemp, who has gardened at Temple Garden for 15 years. “It’s an urban oasis, a place for refuge.” This article goes on:

The garden, which opened in 1990, was never just a place to plant seedlings. Families held barbecues. A neighbor who’s an art teacher takes students there to paint.  “There’s a lot more to it than just growing things,” says the Temple Garden association’s president, David Rosner, who became a member in 2006, after four years on the waiting list. “This is part of people’s lives.”


Indeed it sure looked like a wonderful place when I visited last summer. 

Of course there was a campaign to convince/pressure the Temple to find some other solution, one that wouldn't destroy the garden.  One gardener I talked to wondered why the big honking lawn next to the garden – also owned by the Temple and just as close to it – couldn't have been use for construction staging instead.  

The Temple's "big honking lawn".

Once a garden, always a garden?

With all the agita and bad publicity the Temple has had to deal with over the closing of this garden, I bet there's some who regret having agreed to the garden in the first place.  And I bet it gives other landlords pause when gardeners ask to put their unused land to use.  Is there a better way?


Another community garden, not my favorite

I can't help but compare the fabulous Temple Garden to another D.C. garden that I'll show you but won't name.  When I visited two years ago I found the grand entrance in this horrible condition, plus unkempt paths and worse – unused plots!  Most gardens in D.C. have waiting lists but this one isn't even used to its capacity.  And no wonder, with its lack of upkeep and worse – a coordinator who won't allow his contact information to be made public (I did that once and was scolded).  The garden is under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, by the way.


  1. How do you get away calling yourself a “coordinator” if you’re not willing to coordinate, which kinda demands that you be reachable.

  2. In Austin, before the Texas Book Festival became a reality, the organizers were request to hold it at the State Capitol building were denied repeatedly, that is, until Laura Bush gave voice to it. I wonder if Michelle Obama, our pro-gardening First Lady, knew about this DC garden, perhaps better oversight would follow. It is sad to see.

  3. Isn’t this always a danger when your gardening under uncertain terms? Did the garden organizers have any sort of contract? Their inability to prevent this would seem to indicate they did not. Its a cautionary tale, either make sure there is some formal agreement with the landlord of your garden, or know that its a temporary privilege that can be revoked at any time.

  4. I live way out in the country, but the biggest nearby town recently bought land that used to be the town poor farm and a piece of that land is going to be used for community gardens, and for supplying the local food pantries.

  5. To evict people from a community garden always looks bad, even if the landlord is completely within their rights and the group has neglected the garden. It’s the underdog vs. the evil landlord, right? In this case, it rankles because the use to which the Temple wants to put the land seems frivolous compared to a garden. But if I were those people, I would strongly consider being very gracious and extending a warm thank you for the years of use–and then (having established that I was a grateful tenant) seeking out property for the next garden. Unless you’re willing/able to purchase a property (or maybe sign a 100 year lease or some such), you have to assume there will come a time to leave.

    Planning departments could take this idea and run with it, establishing derelict properties as “community use zones” perhaps, used in perpetuity for things like gardens. Just a thought.

  6. If they couldn’t use another area for construction, why don’t they give the gardeners a chunk of the lawn? Looks like more than enough space.

  7. In summary, the gardeners had been given a community garden space on Masonic Temple property. The original agreement was extended at least twice and it has been gardened for a good run of 20 years. Now, the Temple wants the space back to stage construction renovations for their 100+ year old building. They have given the gardeners seven months notice and they will be able to garden through this November on the site. The Temple has also held out the possibility they can return to garden on the space at some undetermined time in the future (depending on how extensive the renovation needs turn out to be).

    My full take back when the decision was announced:

  8. I agree with Anne. It’s a shame these gardeners are losing their beloved gardens but it’s the Temple’s property. I hope this will be an incentive to find public land that can be made into community gardens permanently.

    As for the other garden–wow. What a bad advertisement for community gardens. It does show, however, that transparency is always best because it holds individuals responsible for their actions. This is something we need to champion in every aspect of our culture.

  9. Maybe the wonderful Gardeners who have been displaced can go work their magic on the other pitiful garden. If they are both in DC they can’t be too far apart.

  10. I’ve seen more articles than I can count on community gardeners raising havoc when their plot is taken away. It simply makes landowners more reluctant to allow community gardens in the first place. Best in the long run to not get too attached, say “thank you” and move on when the land is no longer available. No garden is forever.

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