Where We Live

Gardened and Glowing in Trinidad

Freddie Stewart, Tony Golden, Elise Bernard, Yamilee Dambreville and Mabel Blocker show a tree box. Ivy City is a next-door neighborhood.
Freddie Stewart, Tony Golden, Elise Bernard, Yamilee Dambreville and Mabel Blocker show a tree box. Ivy City is a next-door neighborhood. (By Marianne Kyriakos For The Washington Post)

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By Marianne Kyriakos
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, June 17, 2006

Garden club members in Mabel Blocker's D.C. neighborhood have a preferred pastime for balmy weekend evenings: "We do a little planting," Blocker said. "Then we all sit out together on a neighbor's porch until late at night. Wine and cheese and crackers and fruit are passed around. We do a lot of that."

Such a scene might be taking place in Georgetown or Cleveland Park, or all over the suburbs. But it also is happening where Blocker and friends live, in Northeast Washington's Trinidad, a community whose name not long ago shared sentences with words such as "blight," "neglect" and "drug-infested."

Members of the year-old Trinidad/Ivy City Garden Club and others in the neighborhood are finding new adjectives to describe their gentrifying inner-city enclave. A mix of longtime African American residents and newcomers -- black, white, Asian, Hispanic and deaf (from nearby Gallaudet University) -- they have embraced a changing neighborhood.

Elise Bernard, 27, created her Web log "Frozen Tropics," with news, observations and photos of Trinidad. Three years ago, the George Washington University law student paid $150,000 for her three-bedroom, 1,600-square-foot house on Florida Avenue.

In her blog, she does not shy away from the tough race and class issues of gentrification, its value, and what it takes to help people stay when a community changes.

Bernard is white, and the majority of Trinidad residents are black. "At first, I worried that people might not want me here, or [would] somehow be hostile towards me. This was not the case at all," the Oklahoma native said.

"We don't have all the close-by amenities you might find in Dupont -- a movie theater, lots of restaurants. But there is a good vibe in the air right now," Bernard said. "People want to get involved and meet their neighbors. Trinidad is a neighborhood where old people sit on the porch and talk to you about the weather when you walk by."

Bernard is looking forward to the planned revitalization of the H Street NE corridor, two blocks south of Trinidad.

In the meantime, the garden club has revitalized Trinidad's tree boxes, those green spaces between curbs and sidewalks. A core group of 15 "diehards" and lots of volunteers salvaged bricks from an old job site. Grants of spring-blooming bulbs came from GrowDC. Other donations arrived through resident Aaron Cox, whose family owns Cox Farms in Virginia. Cox brought "two truckloads of stuff," Bernard said. "All this mulch and dirt and all these flowers. And a watermelon and drinks."

When there is nothing to plant, grills are dragged out for alley-cleaning parties.

There is a special effort to get the children involved, and they are rewarded with small gifts or ice cream money. Said Yamilee Dambreville, a thirtysomething consultant: "We keep them busy. Finally, they see that their hands are into something, and it's beautiful. One little boy always knocks on my door and asks, 'Can I water? Can I plant?' "

"The kids, they're our eyes," Dambreville said. "No one has ever stolen any of our flowers. You never see holes where anyone has yanked them."

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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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