Grubb’s Pharmacy’s Garden: A Gift to the Neighborhood

Grubb’s Pharmacy is the oldest community pharmacy in Washington, D.C., having been founded in 1867, and is currently doing COVID rapid testing, and administering vaccinations.

Spring has been remarkably beautiful in 2021.  A few warm days mixed with the cooler and wetter weather have created a perfect condition for the blooming trees and early spring flowers.  Some seasons the flowers seem to bloom one set at a time, but this year the tulips, daffodils, dogwoods, redbuds, phlox, and wisteria all are arriving simultaneously.  The result is like walking into a colorful painting.

No doubt, our appreciation of this spring is enhanced by the fact that, slowly but surely, we are finally emerging from the long COVID pandemic. We can now be tested and receive vaccinations. Grubbs Pharmacy located at 326 East Capitol Street, S.E. is home to one local testing and vaccinating site. The longest operating community pharmacy in DC, this business has been an integral part of the Hill neighborhood for over 150 years.

Joan Kim and her husband, Dr. Michael Kim, have owned the pharmacy for almost 20 years.  In 2006, they renovated the interior of the store and, in 2011, they decided to transform the very tired looking outdoor area into a nice formal garden.  “It required excavating all the old soil and layers of wear and tear, basically starting over,” says Joan.

Creating A Garden Haven
The garden itself is divided into two parts, separated by the walkway to the main entrance. On the left hand side sits a very large oak tree, and in the neighboring yard a large holly tree.

This side of the garden doesn’t receive much sun. Wisely, two large Victorian black urns have been planted with heuchera plants that do better in shady and cool spots.  The plants are perennials, but often are used more as annuals when planted in the ground. Pansies in the front of the garden add just the right amount of color.

Joan Kim, co-owner of Grubb’s Pharmacy in the formal garden at the corner of 4th and East Capitol Streets, S.E.

Joan says the more formal garden on the right, bounded by boxwoods, has been a little bit of a challenge to keep going. “We have had to replant them several times in the last few years,” she said.

One of the issues with the shrubs is that this side of the garden does not quite drain properly and the beautiful fountain in the middle also makes the garden a little damp.  Boxwoods are used to create flowerbeds and hedges because they are dense, and slower growing. Too much water or dampness can be deadly. Often it takes three to four years for the plant to reach its mature height.  Boxwoods like sun, but do well in light shade.  In the Grubbs’ garden they create a maze around the fountain and make little spaces for a variety of annual plants.

Joan says they first started out with neighbors volunteering to help with the planting and maintenance of the garden, but to keep the garden thriving they have hired a landscape gardener, Antonio Ayala. “He helps keep the garden looking good with every season, switching out annual plants to keep the color,” she said.

For spring, there were colorful pansies featuring yellows, pinks, and purples.  The phlox has spread over the years, creating a lovely patch of purple, that is duplicated down the righthand side. Additionally, there are tulips, daffodils of different kinds, and knock-out roses that will bring summer color to the garden.

The formal garden has three benches that encourage customers and Grubb’s employees to sit and spend a contemplative moment.

A Place to Sit
“We really wanted to bring some life and beauty to the neighborhood,” Joan says, ”and to make a nice place for our employees to enjoy as well.”

Being a good neighbor is important to the Kims, she notes. “We like that our neighbors as well as our customers can take a seat and find a quiet place for meditation.”

Three benches make the border of the formal garden, surrounded by the boxwoods.

Grubb’s is administering COVID tests and vaccinations, once the J&J vaccine is available again. So the garden is a great place for people to sit while waiting rapid test results in fifteen minutes, or resting after being vaccinated.  That’s just one of the ways that the garden is playing its part in helping us get back to normal.

There is an old saying: “Never underestimate the healing power of a quiet moment in the garden.” The Grubb’s Pharmacy garden is a living example of this and a wonderful model for what it takes to be a good neighbor.

Thank you Michael and Joan Kim for your commitment to Capitol Hill, and brightening our neighborhood through your garden and good work.

Rindy O’Brien is thankful for businesses, like Grubb’s, that invest in
the beauty of the Hill.  Contact Rindy at