In January of 2018, we signed a lease at 1805 East Grace Street to convert the old firehouse (built in 1884) to our flagship café. Throughout our first four years in operation, we lamented the state of the empty lot beside us on the corner of 18th and Grace Streets. Terribly overgrown trees, weeds, a constant pile of trash and hazardous waste, and abuse by dog owners in the neighborhood with unhealthy amounts of dog poop were ever-present.
We took it upon ourselves to care for this lot even though we didn't own the lot. We were getting no use and no benefit from it -- this was done purely because we want to be good members of the community. Not having an unsafe eyesore directly adjacent to our cafe was the bonus.
Midway through 2021, a "for sale" sign appeared on the lot. We contacted our landlord telling him our idea for the lot -- namely, creating a lush urban oasis for use by our customers. He loved the idea and put in an offer on the property. Once the offer was accepted and the deal was closed, and we got to work planning out what we wanted to do with the space to achieve our vision.
As we discussed the concept and the plans with our cafe staff, one of our baristas mentioned the Home Grown National Park initiative. The idea behind this movement is to encourage more businesses and individuals to create spaces with native plants, thereby regenerating biodiversity and ecosystem function. We've already seen bees, butterflies, and other important insects enjoying their new habitat -- and the options for these tiny wildlife in terms of native landscapes within the city limits of Richmond are few and far between. We expect ironclad National Park to be bustling with diminutive wildlife more and more as our native plants grow to maturity.
Work began in earnest during the first quarter of 2022. The process included:
- Cleaning up the lot of all trash and animal feces (which we had been doing for several years, but it was time to do it for the first time as legal occupants and caretakers)
- Removing three of the six existing crepe myrtle trees and aggressively trimming the remaining three trees to a healthier shape
- Employing masons to create an archway in the old brick wall between our side courtyard and the new park
- Creating a custom made iron gate made for the archway
- Installing a 4.5-foot aluminum picket fence for security around the perimeter of the park
- Mounting floodlights for added nighttime security
- Pouring a gently winding stamped concrete footpath from the new archway to the far end of the park
- Removing the extensive spray paint tagging on both brick walls to restore their original appearance (this was difficult work)
- Planning, designing, and executing a landscape of exclusively native plants with the help of our local friends at Davis Natives — more than 130 plants comprised of more than 30 different native species
- Installing benches in the newly established seating areas throughout the park
- Placing custom plant name markers beside each different species of native plant in the park
There's nothing else in Richmond quite like Ironclad National Park, and we are proud of what we have created. Below are two brief photo slideshows -- one showing the "before" images, and one the "afters."