Community gardeners in the neighborhood will surely be familiar with the Twin Oaks Community Garden located at 14th and Taylor Streets, NW. It’s currently configured with half of the garden to the north and half of the garden to the south of Taylor Street. Interestingly, the bisected nature of Twin Oaks dates to 1920, when the site was officially established as a community playground. As part of the Powell School modernization and expansion project, the northern garden area will eventually be relocated on the hill above the turf soccer field in the Upshur Recreation Center as the school expansion calls for the garden space to become a surface parking lot for the school. None-the-less, the southern garden area will continue as a community garden along with the new Upshur Recreation location.
I’ve been intrigued by Twin Oaks for some time now. The field house on the site, built in 1934, first attracted my attention as it is a design similar to Park View’s field house, now listed on the National Register. However, when I started to look into the historic nature of Twin Oaks, I quickly learned that the gardens there have their own interesting and important history.
The Washington Youth Garden program began in a modest way at the Twin Oaks Playground in the spring of 1962 by two volunteers at the playground – Mrs. Harold Marsh and Mrs. Martin Vogel. The Department of Recreation supported the gardens and quickly expanded the program – with Twin Oaks designated as the demonstration center and headquarters – to provide an opportunity for inner city children to grow flowers and vegetables and learn from the experience. The youth garden program was co-sponsored by the D.C. Department of Recreation and the volunteer based Washington Youth Garden Council. By 1966 the Twin Oaks center was enlarged to include the abandoned tennis courts on the north side of Taylor Street. By 1977 the program had grown to include three centers and vegetable garden plots at 40 playgrounds throughout the city. The youth gardens that took root throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s transformed communities and the individual participants.
(Undated Washington Youth Gardens brochure, featuring the Twin Oaks Demonstration Center. Image from Washington Youth Garden Web site.)
The goal of the Youth Gardens was to teach elementary school students in D.C. horticultural skills and life skills such as team building, cooperation, personal responsibility, self-confidence and environmental stewardship. After a successful garden program at the Twin Oaks Playground in 1962, plans were made by the Youth Gardens Council to develop some 200 plots in over 90 playgrounds in addition to developing gardens in other lots, yards, and encouraging small projects such as window boxes and potted plants at the beginning of 1963. While the program began under the direction of recreation department horticulturist Frank L. Ford, horticulturist William C. Hash quickly became the Recreation Department’s youth program director. From the beginning, the Twin Oaks Garden Center served as the training center for volunteers and as a demonstration area for the various types of garden projects. The field house was prepared with office space in 1963 to support the administrative and training needs of the Youth Garden program.
The Twin Oaks garden demonstration program was open to children between the ages of 8 and 16. In 1967, about 75 children participated in the program at Twin Oaks – many of whom had never visited a farm. Some children grew enough produce to take home or sell. By 1968, about 800 to 1,000 Washington children were participating city-wide.
The Washington Youth Garden received positive attention outside of the immediate community. It was of interest to the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, which selected the Youth Garden concept as a model for consideration as a nationwide program to be sponsored by some clubs. Additionally Lady Bird Johnson’s First Lady’s Committee bestowed their More Beautiful National Capital Award to the Twin Oaks Garden Demonstration Center on June 6, 1968, specifically noting that the Twin Oaks program contributed “toward making Washington a more beautiful place for its citizens and the nation.” Twin Oaks was not only the headquarters for the Youth Garden program, it was considered the largest garden site in the Youth Garden program with about 50 plots under cultivation. This made it a logical choice when the program was expanded in 1970 with the first youth garden greenhouse, dedicated on May 15th of that year at Twin Oaks. The greenhouse remains a rare building type owned by the District of Columbia.
In 1971, a youth garden was established at the U.S. National Arboretum as a special project. The Arboretum garden was tended by 100 youngsters from four elementary schools: Logan, Peabody, and Nalle in Northeast, and Shadd in Southeast. Access to the Arboretum was provided by buses which ran twice a week. Due to D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation budget cuts in 1995, the Friends of the National Arboretum (FONA) increased fundraising efforts and “adopted” the Washington Youth Garden (WYG) in 1996. Today, the WYG receives in-kind support from the U.S. National Arboretum including land, soil amendments, office and greenhouse space, equipment use and horticultural expertise.
Following the budget cuts that ended the youth garden program at Twin Oaks, the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation continued to operate the site as a community garden. Currently, the Twin Oaks Community Garden contained about 45 plots – located on both the north and south parcels – each about 10′x15′ and altogether encompasses almost 3/4 of an acre.
(At the celebration opening the new greenhouse, the children wore Dutch costumes and performed Dutch folk dances as part of the ceremony)
 “Youth Garden Projects Start,” The Evening Star, May 10, 1963, p. A-19.
 Durbin, Louise. “Our Youth Garden Project,” The Washington Post, Aug. 17, 1969, p. 136.
 “Green, Margaret. “Youth Commended for Gardens,” The Evening Star, Sept. 8, 1971, p. C-2.