MGNV Gardeners Help Create the Plant Hope Garden

By Christa Watters, Extension Master Gardener

The Plant Hope Garden

There’s a beautiful and peaceful new garden space at Arlington’s Courthouse Square thanks to a collaboration between volunteers from the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia, the Arlington group of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, and Arlington County Parks and Recreation.

Moms Demand Action, a national gun violence prevention organization, honors victims and survivors of gun violence the first weekend of June. Beth Fine and Celia Slater, Arlington Local Group Co-Leads, wanted to create something visible to memorialize lives lost and damaged, and a place for solace and hope. Eventually they settled on the idea of a garden, a calm, serene place for meditation and reflection, where there would be space for memorial stones dedicated to those lost to gun violence.

The project began in the spring of 2019, when two Moms Demand Action members separately approached their friend, MGNV volunteer Kate Donohue, for assistance in planning such a garden. Arlington County Board Member Christian Dorsey had helped find a space on Courthouse Square at the corner of North Courthouse Road and 15th Road North near some large shade trees and benches. The space was to be dedicated June 7, leaving the volunteers little time. Kate enlisted the help of her Extension Master Gardener (EMG) friends Celia Denton, Alex Dickman, and Jane Longan in the project, and they designed a simple U-shaped bed with basic plantings. Orange is the official color of National Gun Violence Awareness Day, so the garden included flowers such as Rudbeckia, salvia, and cosmos, as well as room for placing memorial stones. Moms Demand Action volunteers did much of the work, and kept the little garden watered through the season with jugs they carried from home. Visitors came to the dedication, which included a memorial stone painting event, and later, from DC and the region and across the country. Over time, visitors added to the collection of memorial stones, with colorful art as well as names to commemorate victims.

The long-range plan was to create a larger garden filled with colorful pollinator-attracting flowers and shrubs. By this spring, the EMGs and Moms Demand Action had settled on one of Alex Dickman’s design suggestions and made a plan to turn it into reality. Kevin Stalica, Landscape Manager, and Marco Antonio Paredes, Landscape Team Leader, of the Arlington Parks and Recreation Department’s Parks and Natural Resources Division agreed to remove the turf and rototill mulch and topsoil into the proposed garden area. The Department also permitted the group to put on site a large cistern donated by local business TRG, and regularly provides water to it so that the volunteers can nurture the new plants, especially important while they are establishing themselves. Jane Longan noted that Alex’s husband, Doug Dickman (a Tree Steward), did a lot of the hard labor in laying out the garden as well as building the pad for and installing the cistern.

Just as the group finished preparing the soil this spring, the pandemic hit. Finding themselves in lockdown the EMGs moved ahead with potting up plants from their own gardens and the Sunny Demonstration Garden – and waited.

Meanwhile, Moms Demand Action raised funds, the Tree Stewards of Arlington and Alexandria donated a specimen tree, early blooming Cornus mas (Cornelian cherry dogwood), and the local Mount Vernon Sierra Club Group donated funds for shrubs. Finances handled, the collaborators donned masks and gloves and ventured to Merrifield on a cold drizzly day to purchase the tree, shrubs and most of the perennials needed in the design. Then the four EMGs, masked and socially distanced, turned the soil once more after those weeks of waiting, and were on hand when Merrifield delivered the tree and shrubs. With those in the ground, Moms Demand Action organized a perennial planting party a few days later. The event was, Alex said, “a great success,” with people working at safe distances and in carefully timed shifts. Adds Jane: “All told, volunteers put in about 125 plants.”

Again, orange is the dominant color – in flowers, in the Orange Goblin winterberries, and in fall foliage. The great majority of plants are native species that attract pollinators. Among the plants in the shrub category are Hydrangea quercifolia (oakleaf hydrangea ‘Alice’), Fothergilla ‘Mount Airy,’ Itea virginica ‘Scentlandia'(Virginia sweetspire), the stunning Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Ginger Wine’ (Ninebark), as well as Ilex verticillata ‘Little Goblin®Orange (winter berry). The perennials include Asclepius tuberosa (butterfly weed), Leucanthemum x superbum ‘Becky’ (Shasta daisy), Rudbeckia fulgida (black-eyed Susan or orange coneflower), Echinacea purpurea (purple coneflower), Salvia guaranitica (anise sage), Amsonia ‘Blue Ice'(blue star), Panicum virgatum (switchgrass), Asters, Coreopsis ‘Jethro Tull’ (tickseed), peach drift roses, and others.

The MGNV gardeners provided horticultural knowledge and plans, while Moms Demand Action provided funding, labor, and the motivating spirit for the garden. All are looking forward to seeing how the garden settles in, and the gardeners will make adjustments to the plantings as necessary, said Kate, adding, “We know we want to add some spring bulbs, and are considering adding an entry arch that could support a vine such as Lonicera sempervirens ‘Major Wheeler’ (coral or trumpet honeysuckle).

Volunteers from Moms Demand Action continue to refurbish the memorial stones and work in the garden. They invite all to visit.

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