Visita a los espacios verdes con la coordinadora de la huerta

Capital City main garden

One of the many things that makes an education at Capital City exceptional is our beautiful and functional school garden!

The garden at Capital City has been in operation for more than 10 years. It allows students, staff, families, and neighbors the opportunity to engage with a natural environment in an urban setting while gaining knowledge and a sense of stewardship.

Garden experiences are embedded in our PreK-12 curriculum and connected to many school activities. For example, this spring, students in Aftercare have been able to participate in a Garden Club, and every Thursday families are invited to attend the Open Garden Hour from 3:30-4:30pm. There are plans to again offer the School Garden Market in May, which allows high schoolers hands-on experience handling produce and encouraging community members to eat local, healthy food.

School Garden Market
Thea headshot

April is a busy time for many gardeners, but Thea Klein-Mayer, who joined our team last year as Garden Coordinator, took time to answer questions about our garden and their hope to grow the program even more. Read on to learn more! 

Can you describe how and why you got into gardening? 

I was thinking a lot about this because sometimes it’s hard to find that one spark. I grew up not far from here, near Howard University. We had a paved backyard, which was not very green but my parents always grew plants in containers, like little seedlings and flowers. They encouraged and taught me to take care of plants and to look for bugs, and that stuff really stuck with me. I would say that’s what inspired me. That’s the seed.

In school, I started an on-campus student-run vegetable garden. That’s where I first got my hands dirty growing vegetables in the ground. From there, I realized it was a passion of mine and I’ve been doing it ever since. 

What attracted you to applying to the Garden Coordinator position at Capital City?

I remember this pretty distinctly — a year ago one of my former co-workers at the National Arboretum and a person who is a neighbor and a really great gardener both sent me the job description. I took note because I respect both of them as people but also as gardeners. I read the job description and it seemed like the perfect fit for me. 

For the past about 10 years I’ve been working in either farming, gardening, or garden based education. To get to bring together some of those different aspects in this role and to be connecting teachers, students, and families to the garden. It just was a really good fit for me. I’m so glad to be here. 

When I toured, I remember I met Ryoko [the former garden coordinator], and we did a garden walk. That’s really what cemented me. Ryoko is so knowledgeable and had such a wonderful way of showing the garden and interacting with the garden. Getting to see how much has been built over the last 10 years is pretty incredible. That’s how I knew it was the right fit — when I got a tour here. 

What have you learned so far during your time as Garden Coordinator? 

It’s a very unique being in education spaces and gardening with kids. It’s different from my other job as a fine gardener [working in private gardens]. It’s so much more exciting to me to see kids interacting with the plants with wonder and excitement and joy. I’ve been learning about the balance between caring for that joy and creating opportunities for that, and also trying to take care of the plants and make sure they grow…That’s a balance that I’m getting better at striking as a gardener who likes to garden with and for young people. 

Thea with school garden map

I feel like I’ve been learning a lot about Capital City and how it is really different from a lot of places I’ve worked. There are so many different people here and I’m learning to navigate the different campuses. That’s been a big thing I’ve been learning about, how to do lessons in the various campuses and with different ages. It’s really exciting to me there are 3-year-olds here and also 18-year-olds. Something that excited me last week was seeing how the high schoolers can be mentors and resources for the younger students.

The garden has been set up so intentionally. I’ve been learning more about perennial species of plants. 

Why do you think it's beneficial for schools like Capital City to have dedicated garden space? 

It makes so much sense to me. I wish all schools had garden spaces because gardens are such a rich and special space for learning in lots of different modalities, learning problem solving, negotiation. We’ve been doing stuff that’s just about the plants but also about building and engineering. Garden spaces can be really magical spaces for learning and falling in love with learning too. Some schools I see in the area do a really beautiful job with integrating the garden into lots of different subjects — like integrating the garden’s produce into the cafeteria. I know that’s the vision, to some extent, of my role is to plug the garden into the curriculum better. 

Fourth graders work in the garden.

What is your favorite part of the job? 

I think getting to witness the excitement and joy of students connecting with nature is my favorite part. There was a child I met here on the first day and he was so excited to show me bugs. I just saw him last week and he said, “Come here gardener Thea, I have a bug to show you!” Those are my favorite parts. 

Do you have any hopes and visions for the garden for the future? 

I’m excited to support a program where youth from Capital City take the lead in land-based stewardship while at Capital City and after, go on to long lives of commitment to nature and caring for each other. I have a vision for the Edible Forest Garden to grow and thrive adding to a diverse forest ecosystem as it was designed to. The CCPCS gardens, whether it’s the forest garden or the raised beds, are sensory, interactive places where students can be safe and engaged, and where they develop skills that enrich their lives. 

Is there anything about yourself you think the Capital City community would be interested to know? 

I bet they can guess that I love to cook, and I love to eat vegetables. 


If you have questions about the garden or are interested in collaborating with Thea, please email You can read more about spring garden updates in this newsletter.