In 1924 the Burpee Company advertised a contest asking customers to write in about “What Burpee’s Seeds Have Done for Me.” Roughly 4,000 contest letters, as well as many accompanying photographs, are part of the W. Atlee Burpee & Company Collection at the Archives of American Gardens. Cecilia Auge of Mendota, Minnesota, a self-described “19 year old farmette,” is pictured here. She grew onions from Burpee seeds, then used the money she earned selling onions to buy an incubator and chickens. 

This letter and many more are now in the Smithsonian Transcription Center. Celebrate garden history by helping us transcribe the letters or by contributing your own garden memories to the Community of Gardens digital archive. 

The Works: Center for History, Art, and Technology has a story as vibrant as this purple kohlrabi grown in their very own Green Thumbs Garden. They are the first museum to submit a story to our Community of Gardens digital archive & we couldn’t be more excited. We invite any museum (or individual) with a garden to share their story! You can read more about the museum garden at the Works here

“Art makes the place. From the beginning, Big Daddy’s Complete Rejuvenating Community Garden has used art as an integral way to anchor its location.  The garden’s rounded triangular shape puts its garden plots and artworks in full view from many directions and works as a strong entry marker for our city.” -Vickie Jo Sowell, founder of Big Daddy’s Complete Rejuvenating Community Garden

We are crowdsourcing stories about art & community gardens for our Community of Gardens project. Big Daddy’s Complete Rejuvenating Community Garden in Emeryville, California shared their story of a former gas station turned community garden and gathering space with us. Do you have a story to share? Read the story of Big Daddy’s & contribute your story to our digital archive.

Just a few weeks ago we wrapped up our Community of Gardens collaboration with Paul International High School in Washington, D.C. and said goodbye to the teens for the summer. On a gray day the weather cooperated long enough for the students to finish implementing some of the projects they designed to improve the school garden and make it a more welcoming place for both students and staff.  The old picnic tables were painted vibrant blue and signs were made to identify the plants in the garden for those not as in-the-know as Ms. Fiero’s Global Health class. Looking forward to seeing the garden continue to grow over the next year!

We are excited to announce that the first story from Alaska to be added to the Community of Gardens digital archive comes from the Fairbanks Garden Club. They are on a quest to preserve the rare ‘Pier Bugnet’ rose brought to the Fairbanks area over sixty years ago:

John Holms, who was one of our city’s pioneer gardeners, brought this rose here from Eastern Canada in the 1950s. At this time there is no commercial nursery in either country that carries this hybrid rose, and there has not been one in over forty years. It was decided that our club was going to save this delicate gem for our whole community to enjoy.

Do you have a garden story about conservation or preservation? Be the first from your state to share.

Image credit: Fairbanks Garden Club.

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Six new stories from the PPCS students are now published on the Community of Gardens website! Here is an excerpt from an interview with Maria and Oscar, two students who were involved with the renovation of the PPCS blacktop garden:

“The students said they wanted to eat more healthy, natural foods and maybe let other people have the opportunity to eat healthy so we are not the only ones benefiting from the garden. The other thing they said was that their inspiration is to have a place that is beautiful, good-looking, smelling of flowers, where you can hang out with your friends and do other things… The garden has had a positive impact in the life of some young people in their neighborhood. Instead of going out and doing bad, they spend that time in the gardens.”

Head over to the Community of Gardens website to read the rest of this interview, as well as 5 other student-led interviews with local gardeners around the Washington, DC area. 

Las Parcelas, a community garden in the Norris Square neighborhood of Philadelphia, began with brushes and paint, rather than shovels and seeds. Plans for the space began in the 1980s. It was not until a summer day in 1992, however, that a “massive multi-agency, anti-drug raid” in “The Badlands” (so called because of the area’s reputation for drugs and violence) enabled this vision of a revitalized urban space to begin. That same day vacant lots were cleared of debris and a mural started. The “colors and spirit of Puerto Rico” were used as “a way to provoke the neighborhood people to see something other than drugs and trash.” Las Parcelas was born.

Artworks in community gardens, such as the murals at Las Parcelas, can tell us so much about the unique culture and history of local communities. We are currently conducting research about the use of art in community gardens, and would like to hear your stories! If you know of a community garden with beautiful and interesting works of art, submit your story to the Community of Gardens website.

The PPCS students are finalizing their garden improvement designs and creating supply lists. It’s full STEAM (a.k.a. Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) ahead as they embrace project-based learning as a way to create solutions that have a real impact on their school community. We can’t wait to see the final products!

Last week at Paul Public Charter School the students brainstormed ideas for improvements to their school garden, including birdhouses, painting the benches and picnic tables, and building outdoor games. They were also kind enough to share some of their observations from our neighborhood walk around the school a few of weeks ago:

"There are many unused areas around the neighborhood."

"We have a lot of space for a garden [at the school]."

"A lot of things need to be done."

"There is a lot of green spaces around the neighborhood that is not being used."

"Sometimes we just go to our destination, but when we were walking and our purpose was to look around, we noticed things we never noticed before."

What can you learn by strolling through your neighborhood and taking a closer look?

Recently we went on a walk through the Brightwood neighborhood of Washington, D.C. with the students from Paul Public Charter School. As we walked through the urban area, students mapped community resources, businesses, housing, and green spaces. They also noted problems they encountered, such as unsafe intersections or empty lots. Some of their observations:

"There’s a lot of green space unoccupied."

"Almost everyone seems to have plants and flowers growing."

"I see lots of trash on the ground."

"I saw a community garden and was very surprised."

This week the students will turn their powers of observation to their own school garden as they prototype design projects to improve the space for community use.