September 30, 2019 /
Jona Elwell

Award Winning Trees, Thanks to a (literally) Fruitful Partnership with the Franciscan Monastery Garden Guild

It goes without saying that we plant a variety of species in D.C. (Afterall, diversity is key to a healthy tree canopy) and one of the types of trees we plant, mainly at schools, community gardens, and other areas that can successfully enjoy them, are fruit trees. When we plant fruiting trees, we dream of their ability to provide delicious, local food and learning tools – and our dreams recently came true thanks to one of our neighborhood partners, the Franciscan Monastery Garden Guild

Their impressive garden space boasts all kinds of fruits, vegetables, herbs, honey and more – enough that they donate 8,000 pounds of fresh, local food every year for parish food pantries and non-profits that provide healthy meals for neighbors in need. In hindsight, planting an orchard there seems like a wonderfully obvious choice. However, its journey was anything but linear (isn’t that always the way).

For starters, the Franciscan Monastery is an oasis in D.C. boasting acres of green space in the heart of Brookland and Ward 5. It’s truly an unusual space – so it’s wonderful that there is a dedicated group of folks stewarding the space. Of course, since we’re also in Brookland and are always looking for opportunities to work with green spaces in the city, it was a natural fit to work together. Brendan Durkin, one of our Urban Foresters that has organized plantings at the Monastery summed it up nicely, “By inviting Casey Trees onto the monastery grounds, the Franciscan Monastery Garden Guild is contributing to a resilient landscape that does more than beautify their grounds; their trees provide services to their community, to their neighbors, and demonstrate the diverse benefits of an urban tree canopy.”

Planting along the perimeter of the Monastery at our CTP in 2011.

Our partnership goes as far back as 2011 where our first Community Tree Planting took place as a way to help the Monastery add additional trees to their aging vegetation buffer along the perimeter of their property. These aided greatly with the growing stormwater runoff charges the Monastery faced due to the city’s efforts to reduce polluted rainfall from entering the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers.

Our Community Tree Plantings really took off with the Monastery in 2016. The all-volunteer Franciscan Monastery Garden Guild led by the incredible Lou Maroulis, discovered old maps depicting the historical iterations of the greenhouse, gardens, and ground of the Monastery. A map from 1942 included a massive orchard, which got Lou’s brain turning.

Historical Map of the Monastery grounds with multiple Orchards and Cultivated Areas (top left and bottom middle) that the Garden guild is looking to restore.

It was practically perfect timing then when we met with them to discuss a Community Tree Planting focused on reforesting an area that losing old trees to age and to adding flowering trees to accentuate the beauty around St. Francis Hall. Lou showed us the old map and we said we could make that happen. 4 years and 23 years later we are so proud to say that those fruit trees are award winning!

Lou mentioned that the Garden Guild has submitted (and won!) a variety of products from the Garden at various nearby state and county fairs, including garlic, strawberry preserves, tomato sauce, and honey. Fruits from the trees grown at the Garden Guild were a natural progression. Fruits are judged blind from a panel of experts in a closed room. The Garden Guild submitted 5 apples and 3 pears to local fairs including the Howard County (MD) Fair and the Montgomery County (MD) Fair. Both the Granny Smith apples and pears won first place at the Howard County Fair! The apples continued their winning streak winning first place at the Montgomery County Fair and even took Second Place at the Maryland State Fair. “It’s really an honor for the Monastery” said Lou, “Folks come over to check out the winners and they see something they often don’t – Washington, D.C. Winning shows everyone that urban gardening and green spaces and their products aren’t trivial.” Our urban forester Brendan Durkin, who has worked with Lou to spearhead plantings echoed, “We are especially excited that our trees augment [Garden Guild]’s work tending and educating the public about pollinators, food production, and the power of trees to impact a landscape.”

While we’re super proud of our award-winning trees and meaningful partnership with the Garden Guild, we’re equally thrilled of what the 182 trees we’ve planted since 2011 have done:

  • Riparian (riverside) areas around the perimeter of the property will reduce erosion, flooding, and improve water quality
  • The monastery loses an average of 30 mature, large ash trees a year to the invasive pest, Emerald Ash Borer. We planted a diverse array of large canopy trees to replace them.
  • Native trees are helping to reforest and rewild a hillside area that has been taken over by invasive, choking vines
  • Ward 5 and Northeast D.C. suffer mightily from the effects of urban heat islands (areas with less vegetation and tree cover get even hotter thanks to wide, undisturbed swaths of asphalt and concrete) – any and all trees we plant will help lower temps and shade areas
  • The Garden Guild’s apiary and pollinator garden benefit from nearby flowering trees for nectar

We’ve kept the ball rolling – planting there a few weeks ago. Working with them is exciting for us because their property represents diverse cross sections of urban forestry from stormwater runoff mitigation, to naturalized area restoration, to ornamental and shade tree installations. We are grateful for the opportunity to plant at this iconic property, and we are thankful to the monastery and their community for taking an interest in the tremendous benefits of trees in an urban landscape. Here’s to many more ribbons and people served.