Urban gardening in DC

I knew I had to meet Ed Bruske, a pretty well-known urban gardener here in Washington DC, when I read a short bio of him that said he was “in the process of turning his front yard into an edible landscape.” An edible landscape! Just what would that look like in the middle of the city?

This morning I had the pleasure of finding out. Since 2005, Ed has raised vegetables, herbs and flowers in his front yard. This summer’s crop includes beans, tomatoes, garlic, okra and kale. “You can grow just about anything in the city and that may come as a surprise to people,” he said. “The vegetables and fruits that we grow don’t know where they are. They don’t really care. As long as they’re getting enough sun and enough nutrients out of the soil, they’re perfectly happy.” Neighbors haven’t always been happy about his mini farm in the city (“embarrassing” and a “feeding ground” for rats are just two descriptions posted by a commenter on Ed’s blog in 2007). But he said sentiment has recently been more positive, especially since Michelle Obama planted a White House garden.

Ed said his garden was the catalyst for a lifestyle change for him, his wife and his nine-year-old daughter. The family recycles or composts almost everything. Ed even collects his neighbors’ grass clippings and fallen leaves for the compost pile. In one week the family sometimes doesn’t throw away enough refuse to fill a kitchen-size trash bag. “We’re deeply involved and conscious now of where the things that we consume go and changed our lifestyle accordingly.”

The garden and the lifestyle changes that have come with it remind Ed of his childhood in the suburbs of Chicago, where his father tended rhubarbs, strawberries and tomatoes in their backyard. “I have those actual memories of being a kid with a salt shaker, sitting in the tomato patch, eating tomatoes fresh off the vine. Those memories were kind of vivid to me and this [the garden] kind of brought it back.”

(An aside for the photographers/videographers out there reading this: Earlier in the morning, I was just pulling my cameras out of my bag and missed a shot of Ed eating tomatoes fresh off his own vines. He didn’t do it again the whole time I followed him before our formal interview. Then Ed told me this vignette about being a kid and eating tomatoes and I was even more bummed I missed the tomato shot. I only hoped it would happen again. In my last ten minutes with Ed, I shadowed him around the compost pile and through the garden and you can imagine how thrilled I felt when he reached out and ate a couple small tomatoes off his vine. This time I was ready with my video camera. The lesson? Patience, patience, patience; humans are repetitive beings. Especially when tasty tomatoes are involved.)

What a great morning! I’m definitely not a green thumb but I feel inspired to try growing a plant or two at home. A big thanks to Ed for sharing his time, his garden and his knowledge with me.