The Headquarters People's Garden is located at the corner of 12th Street and Jefferson Drive SW in Washington, DC 20250. 

USDA Headquarters People's Garden

On Lincoln’s 200th birthday, February 12, 2009, the first "People’s Garden" was started at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Headquarters in Washington, DC.  The garden includes the entire grounds of USDA’s Jamie L. Whitten Building and South Building, which extend east to west from 12th Street to 14th Street.  The northern and southern boundaries are Jefferson Drive and C Street. This prominently placed urban “outdoor museum” of sustainable gardening practices is on the National Mall, just steps away from the Washington Monument. It draws millions of visitors year round.  From May to October, visitors can shop at the adjacent USDA Farmers Market located at the corner of 12th Street and Independence Avenue, S.W.

The garden is a national model and demonstrates the many ways USDA fulfills its mission to provide a sustainable, safe, and nutritious food supply while working to protect and preserve the landscape where that food is produced. It also is the first and most visible People’s Garden in the world. 

 

Garden Features

The USDA Headquarters People's Garden demonstrates several simple, inexpensive, and environmentally friendly practices that both beginner and expert gardeners can use to make our communities healthier places to live, work and play.

The site includes a Three Sisters Garden, the People's Garden Apiary, three green roofs, a certified organic vegetable garden, a tool shed with a rain barrel and green roof, wildlife and pollinator-friendly landscaping, and a bat house. An assortment of sustainable gardening practices are on display, including gardening with native plant species, crop rotation and cover cropping, collecting storm water, use of reclaimed wood from local fallen trees, compost bins, a drip irrigation system, and hoop houses for season extension.

Three Sisters Garden

The Three Sisters Garden at the main entrance of the Jamie L. Whitten Building along Independence Avenue preserves an important method of gardening, passed down by Tribal communities from generation to generation. For centuries, Native Americans have shared stories, ceremonies, and songs about the Three Sisters referring to a tradition of interplanting corn, beans and squash in the same mound. It is a sophisticated, sustainable planting system that provided long-term soil fertility and a healthy diet to generations of Native Americans.

Corn is the oldest sister. She stands tall in the center and provides strength and protection to her sisters below. She is not a lone plant, as she grows with a handful of corn sisters. Beans are the second sister. She surrounds Sister Corn and reaches to the sun, climbing up the corn stalks. Sister Bean’s role is to keep the soil fertile by converting the sun's energy into nitrogen filled nodules that grow on her roots. As she grows, she shares and uses the stored nitrogen as food. Squash is the third sister. Her vines trail over the mound, her leaves protect the sisters from weeds and shade the soil from the sun, and her beautiful blooms invite the bees to pollinate the Sisters while keeping the ground cool and moist. Sister Squash’s prickly stems help deter pests and rodents from eating the nutritious produce.

The People’s Garden Apiary

 

The People's Garden Apiary is located on the roof of the Jamie L. Whitten Building and is home to approximately 80,000 Italian honey bees.

The first beehive was installed on Earth Day in 2010 and a second hive was added in 2011. USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Bee Research Lab in Beltsville, Maryland, helps keep these colonies of bees strong and healthy so they can pollinate crops growing in the Headquarters People's Garden and neighboring landscapes. An added bonus is the delicious honey. About 25 gallons of honey have been extracted from the hives since 2010.

The beehives are wooden box-like sections stacked on top of each other. Each box (or super) holds 8-10 wooden frames which include a thin sheet of wax foundation in each frame. The bees build their combs on these foundations.

Honey is stored in the combs in the upper parts of the hive. When the bees have filled the combs in the upper section with honey and covered them with wax caps, the beekeeper takes them away to extract the honey.

Honey bees are not native to the United States. The scientific name for honey bee is Apis mellifera. Since humans first began keeping honey bees, their principal aim has been the harvest of honey. Beekeepers select the appropriate type of honey bee based on temperament, physical characteristics, disease resistance, and productivity.

Italian honey bees were selected for the People's Garden Apiary because they are most often used in commercial beekeeping in the United States. These bees have a relatively gentle disposition and are good honey producers. They are not the most resistant to disease, but they excel in most other areas.

There have been some queen survivorship issues in both of the People's Garden colonies, which actually mirrors what's going on in the rest of the country. Queen health is an issue for everyone who buys queens, commercial or hobbyist. The exact underlying reasons for poor queen survivorship is unknown, but the ARS lab is actively researching this problem.

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Certified Organic Vegetable Garden

 

The organic vegetable garden located on the corner of Jefferson Drive and 12th Street, S.W. is certified organic (a 3-year process) and educates the public about sustainable food production practices. The garden showcases food grown in containers for small urban spaces, raised beds for community plots and larger field plots for schools, institutions and farms.

The garden also features cool and warm season crops, culinary and medicinal herbs and pollinator friendly plants. Because the garden is an educational demonstration, some unique vegetables and fruits are grown, such as horseradish, asparagus, mushrooms, rhubarb, and blueberries, to raise public awareness about specialty crops.

In early spring, cool weather crops like peas, kale, collards, radishes, cilantro, parsley, carrots, lettuces, beets, chard and spinach are planted. Other organic crops are planted in late spring and late summer. Cover crops are planted mid-fall to improve soil fertility, provide food and cover for wildlife, control water and wind erosion, suppress weeds and retain moisture through winter. Cover crops are grasses, legumes (peas or beans) or small grains grown between regular crop production periods for the purpose of protecting and improving the soil. 

Bat House

Bats occupy almost every habitat in the world. There are over 1,300 species of bats worldwide. Most people can't imagine that attracting bats to your garden would be a good idea, but it is! Bats are one of the most misunderstood animals. People imagine them to be blood-sucking, rabies-ridden, hair-tangling, night-stalking, loathsome creatures. The truth is, very few bats (less than 1 percent) carry rabies. Even fewer bats are bold enough to come near people, much less dive-bomb a hairdo or suck your blood. Others are listed as endangered. It's bugs that bats are after, and they've got insatiable appetites when it comes to eating those bugs. Bats reportedly eat as many as 600 insects in an hour. By putting up a bat house, you provide a safe place for bats to live and you may notice fewer mosquitoes and insects around your home or in your garden.

Bats devour tons of insects nightly, pollinate flowers, and spread seeds that grow new plants and trees. They are our most important natural predators of night-flying insects, consuming mosquitoes, moths, beetles, crickets, leafhoppers and chinch bugs, among others. Many of these insects are serious crop or forest pests, while others spread disease to humans or livestock. Every year, bats save us billions of dollars in pest control by simply eating insects.

Bat houses are easy to build. The narrow slats in the bat house give bats a safe dark place to crawl in and sleep during the day. It often takes 2 years for bats to occupy a new bat house because bats don’t relocate often. Bats are loyal to a roost site, so unless it’s destroyed or overcrowded bats won’t move to another location. Even if only about 15 percent of bat houses are occupied at any time, by building one and putting it up in the right place, you're doing your part to help and encourage bats in rural, suburban, and urban areas.

Urban Wood Planks, Planters and the VanRose Benches

 

 

The raised planters and stepping planks featured throughout the certified organic vegetable garden are made of urban wood. Through a partnership with the District of Columbia’s Urban Forestry Administration, trees – mostly locust and oak – felled by storms or old age were milled and used to make these planters and planks.

Two sugar maple trees uprooted from Cornell University to make way for construction found a second life -- as the raw material for a set of benches that have become the focal point of the organic vegetable garden. Jack Elliott, an associate professor of design and environmental analysis at Cornell, salvaged the trees, roots and all, and worked with a group of students to craft them into benches. It took nearly a semester for the group to scrub the dirt, clay and rocks from the roots, laying bare the wood to be sculpted. From there, they used hand and power tools to cut, shape and smooth the wood. The resulting benches, about 500 pounds each, preserve the lower portions of the trunk and root ball -- parts that would normally be scrapped.

The VanRose benches are named in honor of Martha Van Rensselaer and Flora Rose, founding co-directors of the College of Home Economics (now the College of Human Ecology) at Cornell University and were dedicated April 22, 2009, as part of the USDA Earth Day celebration.

 

 

Tool Shed

 

The tool shed in the organic vegetable garden is used to store equipment, and also to demonstrate stormwater management techniques that can be used by gardeners and homeowners.

This shed features different species of urban timber, open and airy construction, and a green roof. The door is white oak that came from fallen and removed urban trees from the District of Columbia. Red oak and poplar were used for the siding. The floor rim joists are naturally insect resistant black locust. The shed has a green roof and rain barrel attachment. The soil and plants on the roof add an extra 1500 pounds, so the structure was designed to hold more weight than a normal shed. Posts and ceiling joists made from fir trees hold up the plywood roof. The green roof on this shed is planted with a combination of sedums that form a colorful carpet.

A rain barrel sits next to the shed to collect and store rainwater that would otherwise pour from the roof and rush off to storm drains and streams. The water collected in the rain barrel is a cost-free way to irrigate the garden.

  • Dig In » to an interview with our tool shed designer about the importance of using reclaimed materials.
  • Learn More » about the environmental benefits of adding a green roof and rain barrel to our tool shed.