Learning about urban gardening at Rooting D.C.

Freshly dug garden plot
Rooting D.C. 2 began at 10 a.m. last Saturday with the invocation of a Chinese proverb: “If you want to be happy for three hours, get a bottle of wine. If you want to be happy for three months, fall in love. If you want to be happy for a lifetime, plant a garden.” After that introduction and a few more words from one of the organizers, we were free to move on to our workshop sessions.

At first, all I could do was mill around the front hall of the gorgeous Carnegie Library building in Mount Vernon Square in a daze. Who was this crowd of people of all ages and backgrounds who all wanted to garden, or were already raising produce out of concrete? How had we all stumbled into this forum where we could learn about everything from herbs to compost to harvesting rainwater, all for free? What karmic forces had conspired to let me and the dozens of other walk-ins actually get a spot?

I finally found my way to “The Joy of Growing and Using Herbs,” in the elegant first floor auditorium. Fannie Hamilton, a graduate of the Master Gardening program at UDC, led the workshop. Perhaps in her 50s, Fannie strolled up and down a table of specimens and books as people filled the audience. Some of the herbs on display were dried, and some had been fresh cut and made into sachets. Others were alive and still growing, adorned with signs urging workshop attendees to “Rub the leaves and smell your fingers.”

As everyone settled down, Fannie looked up and said, conversationally, that she enjoyed trying new things. In fact, she’d tried many many things over her 28 years of gardening in D.C. Then this African American woman with long braids, Fannie cocked her head and looked at us from behind wire-rimmed glasses with a half smile. “I even grew cotton,” she said.

I quickly realized this was the kind of woman you want to sit down with – perhaps over a cup of chocolate mint tea, or a lemon balm infusion – and talk to about growing delicious things all afternoon. But alas, we only had a little over an hour with her.

A few things I learned:

Dried comfrey is great for your compost, or as a fertilizing spray when the powder is mixed with water.

The praying mantis is your friend, and you need all the friends you can get when it comes to organic gardening (which Fannie calls “gardening in balance”)

To plant herbs inside, combine potting soil with the right ratio of peat, vermiculite, and compost to form a very light mix.

Don’t use soil that you dug up outside for container gardening.

Don’t bother mail ordering coyote urine to get rid of your squirrel problem. It won’t work.

Don’t bother getting your husband to pee outside to deter the varmints, either. That also won’t work.

You can make sugared rose petals by brushing them with superfine sugar and egg white and letting them dry.

You can grow ginger from ginger root you buy in the store.

Which workshop awaited me next? Stay tuned.

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2 thoughts on “Learning about urban gardening at Rooting D.C.

  1. I’m assuming that if you yourself pee instead of foisting it on some unsuspecting coyote or significant other then it will, in fact, work and deter varmits.

  2. I think it depends on the hormones of the second person to whom you are referring. Lady pee apparently isn’t as effective. And I’m guessing Frannie gets a good chuckle out of watching the whole process… wouldn’t be nearly as much fun to do it herself.

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