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Logan Circle “Meadow” Harbors Butterflies, Hookers, and Other Native Species

The neat white signs tacked to the chain-link fence on the southern edge of Logan Circle promise an idyllic urban jewel: “Logan Meadow: A sanctuary for the native wildflowers, butterflies, and birds of the District of Columbia.” Yet the meadow—a jumble of low-lying weeds, concrete, and Magnum Malt Liquor bottles—looks suspiciously like any other vacant lot around town. And to the naked eye, the only things native about the meadow/abandoned lot are the discarded Jack Evans posters left over from the September primary.

Appearance aside, the raggedy flora have imbued the Logan lot with an ecocachet few empty lots achieve. Since its debut in 1995, the meadow has made a feature appearance on the Logan Circle Garden Tour, it’s been visited by a German television crew, and it’s slated to appear on an Audubon web site.

The idea for the meadow germinated in the back yard of Logan Circle activist Pat Durkin. “I’m a butterfly freak,” she explains, adding that she’s active with the Audubon Society and other environmental groups. A few years ago she managed to attract 21 species of butterfly to her backyard sanctuary. Energized by her success, she set her sights on the big empty lot next to her house. She organized her neighbors to support an urban gardening project, and they got the lot owner, developer Jon Gerstenfeld, to lease the space to them for a measly $12 a month. (Gerstenfeld reserves the right to obliterate the urban preserve with an eight-unit condo or the like whenever he wants.)

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Then Durkin went to work securing grants from the EPA, the Urban Forest Council, and the New Columbia Audubon Society to expand the local butterfly habitat. While Logan residents may have envisioned an undulating alpine landscape straight out of The Sound of Music, they got milkweed and other “native” plant life instead. “Butterflies have a very specific host plant for caterpillars, but they’re kind of weedy looking things that people don’t want to grow,” says Durkin. The other plants selected for the meadow are ones native to the Washington area and hardy species that could live on the annual rainfall. “It’s not a unique idea. I just liked the idea of having a meadow in the middle of D.C.,” says Durkin. “It’s giving us all a place to get in touch with nature.”

But apparently some of the people getting in touch with nature weren’t the kind of neighbors Durkin and her fellow horticulturists had in mind. In August, they had to mow the meadow because the wildflowers were providing convenient cover to the hookers and crackheads doing business in the alley behind it. Durkin says the criminal element wasn’t the only reason for the mowing. The people who contributed to the meadow’s upkeep were all going on vacation, and the meadow was getting unruly. “You have to mow a meadow every year anyway,” she says.

Even so, Logan’s entrepreneurs will not be trysting among wildflowers next year. Jack Reed, the Logan resident who has taken over meadow management, says neighbors have decided to divide the meadow into 10-by-12-foot garden plots that they can adopt. Durkin will still have a wildflower plot, but the common space will be turned into lawn that gardeners will take turns mowing. So far, Reed says 15 families have signed up, and depending on how many more join, “There will be more or less lawn.”

Urban gardening has its limitations, however. One new Logan Circle resident, thrilled to discover that his new condo comes with garden privileges, approached Reed to see about planting some tomatoes, basil, strawberries, and sunflowers. But Reed told him that the sunflowers would obscure hookers and crackheads, and the tomatoes and strawberries would attract rats. “They said basil was OK,” said the resident.—Stephanie Mencimer