This fall, the Guerilla Gardeners brought back to life two triangle pocket parks near Potomac Gardens and Hopkins Apartments. These are located at 12th and K Streets SE and 1430 L Street SE, respectively. The two parks had received city funds two years ago to fix up the hardscape, and the city installed a splash pad. Sadly, the city ran out of money before it got to the landscaping. The Potomac Gardens and Hopkins communities felt that they had been abandoned, once again.
Yet, this is a story of how the community can step in to help with one good turn leading to another. In September 2019, the Hill Rag wrote about Jim Guckert who had taken over the neglected space by the underpass on 8th Street SE and the Marine Barracks and established a beautiful seasonal garden. After that article appeared, a number of people reached out to Jim, and, with that support, he created a nonprofit called the Guerilla Gardeners of Washington DC. The group ‘s mission is to bring communities together to transform misused, unused and neglected plots. While the group doesn’t always wait for bureaucratic permission to start planting, they are finding they are sometimes called upon for assistance, as is the case of the Potomac-Hopkins pocket parks.
Jim is especially excited about the pocket park project and the opportunities it creates to mentor new gardeners; connect neighbors to the space, and to make the neighborhoods look better. Gardens can lift the spirits of those who live nearby, or who pass them on their way to school or work. Beautiful gardens create an environment of peace and calm, and for those in apartment spaces, they may offer the best chance to enjoy the outdoors.
Bringing the Community Together
The pocket park project has received help from a number of organizations and businesses. Gingko Gardens, a nearby garden center at 911 11th St. SE, provided a lot of the plant material. “Sometimes we have to order from larger garden nurseries that specialize in large volumes of plants, to lower the price of the plants,” Jim says, “because we want to make sure we use the money from donors in the best way possible. But Gingko Gardens has been terrific.” $3,000 of the project fund came from Dila Construction Company that is located at 1200 Potomac Avenue, SE, (www.dilaconstruction.com). So far, donors have contributed more than $8,000 for the park improvement project.
Councilman Charles Allen, ANC6B Commissioner Kelly Ward, Aquarius Vann-Gharsi (the President of the Potomac Gardens Family Community), and Frank Muhammad from the Brotha’s Huddle Community group have all been involved in bringing the project to life. Fifty volunteers came to help clean out the overgrown weeds on two weekends in September, and Jim is planning another volunteer weekend before it gets too cold. Volunteers will be planting spring bulbs in the coming weeks. Jim hopes to keep the parks filled with seasonal plants.
Flowers that Thrive in Parks
One of the great advantages of calling on the Guerrilla Gardening group is that Jim and his colleagues have years of experience in planning and maintaining public spaces. The first job is to clear spaces of debris and overgrown plants.
This project was fortunate not to be plagued with rats, but the pesky mosquitoes were definitely a problem. Even in late October, the mosquitoes were swarming in the shadier spots.
Second, the garden team has to determine how to improve the soil. Sometimes, Jim rents a rototiller to turn over the garden plots. “It is just too hard with the clay packed plots to use a shovel and rake,” Jim says. Once the ground is turned over, the volunteers shovel in new topsoil and get the area ready to plant. Eventually, the plots get covered in shredded mulch to help keep moisture in and weeds out.
Jim has some standard go-to plants he uses in his work. He will be planting daffodils and tulips for early color in the spring. Asian lilies are another bulb that is used for the summer. “We will use some annual flowers in the summer as well,” Jim notes. For the small square spaces, coleus and hostas have been planted to provide reds and greens. They thrive in the shady spots. Some new crape myrtle trees have been planted, and they will be shaped as they grow to provide a nice round canopy in the parks.
Both of the pocket parks have the benefit of water being available, solving one of the problems often run into by small parks and gardens. The Hopkins Park was renovated to be a splash park, before COVID hit. And in the Potomac Gardens park, there will be access to water, but for now a neighbor is providing the water and the volunteers use a 150-foot hose to keep the plants watered. A wet fall and winter would be welcome.
How to help
The Hill is lucky to have people like Jim Guckert and so many others who are willing to abandoned spaces and transform them into beautiful parks. And, as gardeners know, a garden is never really finished.
The Guerrilla Gardeners have made a five-year commitment to these public spaces. “We want to help the neighborhood reclaim these parks, by making them attractive, safer, and greenify the space,” says Jim. He and his group hope to work with young folks to teach them gardening skills, and will even sponsor them to be certified in the University of DC’s Master Gardening program. The parks have the potential to host art shows, and Jim envisions jazz concerts being held in the summer. “This is the biggest project the Guerilla Gardeners have undertaken,” Jim says, “and we are very excited about how it has already brought the community together, and what the future holds for it.”
There will be ongoing volunteer opportunities to get involved, and information can be found on the Guerrilla Gardeners website (Guerrillagardenersdc.org). Financial donations are tax deductible, and can be made through a secure link on the website. Local business sponsorships are also welcomed. A big thanks to all who have taken part in this endeavor because now more than ever, we need beauty and the great outdoors. Hats off to the Guerrilla Gardeners.
Rindy O’Brien is a long time garden writer and loves the community efforts of so many neighbors. She can be contacted at [email protected]