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Community Garden Plots, One Row at a Time

Restonians get a look at what's growing in RA's gardens.

For 40 years, cabbage and beans, basil and carrots have been growing in groups in four locations around Reston.

They are planted in Reston's Community Garden plots. On Saturday, Restonians got a tour through the crops and the history of the gardens.

environmentla resources manager, says the community gardens were established 40 years ago on easements for natural gas pipeline (which stretches from Texas  to New York). 

Nearly all of Reston’s 270 garden plots (at four locations) are organic. They are rented to Reston Association members for about 20 cents per square foot. Currently, there is a waiting list for a garden spot. 

“The demand for garden plots is great," said Thompson-Deahl. "It is estimated that the people on the list now would probably have a garden spot within two years."

The first stop was the 60-plot garden near the , known as the Lake Anne Garden. Here, the group met Pat Cochenour,  who grows award-winning daylilies.

She works daily in her garden spaces, early “before the bees and the heat,' nurturing her lilies. She hybridizes them to achieve certain traits or looks.  

Twenty years ago, she admired a cluster of day lilies on the side of the road and started to grow them. Cochenour has rented two plots at Lake Anne for nearly 20 years, both devoted to the daylilies that give ‘beauty for one day’.

She admits being a bit “addicted” now. She works with Meadowlark Gardens in Vienna to expand and enhance their daylily collection.

Noticing butteflies while in Cochenaur’s garden, Thompson-Deahl talked for a few minutes about the butterfly population.

“Overall, the butterfly population is in decline, because of the use of pesticides and the loss of habitat," she said. "However, at the last Reston Association butterfly count, there were more species represented than ever before."

She attributes that success to the community’s awareness of the importance of butterflies, the availability of habitat in Reston’s natural areas, and to the expertise of the counters.

A few spots over from Cochenaur’s flowering plots are the gardens of David and Kathleen Leatherwood, second-year gardeners.

“We are  ‘Master Amateurs’,” joked Kathleen Leatherwood as she checked on her corn plants, well over her head. The Leatherwoods will grow corn, tomatoes, basil and beans this year, all from seeds.

They use black cloth for weed control and organic solutions for pest control. Leatherwood mixed up vegetable oil, Dawn detergent and water to make her plants too slippery for the stink bugs who wanted to take hold of her corn. Stink bugs are annoyance in the home, but they can be an agricultural disaster.

Next “door” to the Leatherwoods' garden plot is the garden of Satasha and Chris Thompson. The Thompsons have row covers that they covered with “frost cloth” so they could plant in early April.

The Thompsons also practice companion planting to keep pests low and encourage the growth of the side-by-side plants.  Chris Thompson is experimenting with growing melons on a trellis, with the fruit wrapped in a nylon that will protect it as it grows.  He has a healthy row of okra and is looking forward to home-grown gumbo.

Compost bins are provided at each site, and are filled with leaves and green clippings from the county to start them off.

 “It is a lot of work to maintain a community compost bin” said Thompson-Deahl.  She said it is important that everyone using it knows what is needed and what is expected to keep the compost active.

The final stop on the Garden Plot tour was not to a garden. Rather, the group visited a vital addition to the Golf Course Island (as well as Hunters Woods) gardens -  beehives.  The group met with Todd Harding, a beekeeper who maintains several hives at both locations.

However, Harding’s hives are really “not for honey, not for pollination." He is keen on breeding bees that can thrive in Northern Virginia, that are gentle and disease resistant.

Thompson-Deahl said there was some fear from the community about bringing the bees into the area. But the hives are set away from living areas and are proving to be good neighbors.

Harding described several ways bee experts can tinker with the hives and produce more of the desirable queen bees. He also discussed swarms and how beekeepers can influence the movement of the bees who want to relocate.

On July 17, Reston Association will be conducting a Dragonflies can be used to make quick assessments of local water quality and their presence indicates a healthy ecosystem. Reston Association’s Kevin Munroe, who knows enough to write a book on the topic, will be leading the count. Volunteers are needed.

Dawn July 11, 2011 at 06:46 PM
I am interested in getting on the (LONG) waiting list for a plot in a community garden. How do I sign up? THanks!
Karen Goff July 11, 2011 at 07:14 PM
Hi - I would drop a note to Claudia Thompson-Deahl at Reston Association. Claudia@reston.org.
claudia thompson-deahl July 13, 2011 at 03:03 PM
To sign up for a garden plot please e-mail: liz@reston.org
PetElf July 14, 2011 at 02:01 AM
I loved reading about Harding's bees. If you want to attract more to your garden, plant some bee balm. I have it out front and the bumblebees are thick! Be warned, the bee balm grows like a weed and it can take over! Very pretty though, and the bees (and butterflies) love it.
BONNIE WHYTE July 14, 2011 at 08:27 PM
Thanks so much for your excellent coverage of the Reston Museum's tour of Community Garden Plots with Claudia Thompson-Deahl. Your well illustrated story is a delightful way to recall a fascinating afternoon and share the experience with others. We hope you'll visit our web site: RestonMuseum.org for regular updates on exhibits, walks, and programs. Bonnie Whyte, Reston Museum Volunteer
Ann H Csonka July 16, 2012 at 05:24 AM
Just ran across this..to expand a tiny bit: Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa, Monarda dydyma)) is a wonderful pollinator plant. It contains an oil that gives it a light scent in the garden and strong fragrance when crushed. You can tell the plant is in the mint family because it has square stems (rotate a stem between your fingers to feel this). It does "grow like a weed", so you might even want to plant it separate from other flowers, or with others in the mint family so they can fight it out themselves. Wherever you put it, it will multiply delightfully and you will want more!

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