Gardening for the Greater Good

For July 10, 2019

If you find yourself in Summer Winter Community Garden in West Philadelphia, be sure to pick a fresh Japanese red plum from the trees. When eaten straight from the branch, its deep flavor is a reminder of why we celebrate fruit trees each summer. 

This time of year, local trees are brimming with flavorful, versatile fruits. Branches hang heavy with peaches, plums and cherries, and even overripe, fallen fruit finds purpose creating food for birds and groundhogs. The bounty of fruit season is familiar to us all, but in our communities, fruit trees are more than just delicious.

According to Joe Revlock, coordinator of volunteer services at Summer Winter, fruit trees hold an abundance of lessons for gardeners. He believes that the symbiotic relationship between some trees –including cross-pollination and communication through fungal networks—demonstrates how gardeners can also benefit from sharing ideas and growing techniques. “I’m sure that the shared benefits of the soil under tree roots is very analogous to the intermingling of our cultures and our tastes,” says Joe.

Perhaps the synergy between trees is exactly why orchards work so well in community gardens. At Summer Winter and gardens across the city, the benefits of partnership are obvious during fruit harvest season. Local favorites like peaches, pawpaws and juneberries are best enjoyed in the company of others, with recipes shared through friends and family.

Organizations like Philadelphia Orchard Project understand the importance of sharing the delight of fruit trees. In fact, they dedicate an entire week each June to “Juneberry Joy,” an initiative that aims to bring attention to the native juneberry (also known as serviceberry or saskatoon). City-wide harvests and partnerships with local businesses and restaurants encourage people to understand the unique plant, and more importantly, to eat it.

“These gatherings are a really good way of getting community members together. Having someone show you how to harvest is pretty invaluable because once you do it, you can feel more comfortable doing it by yourself,” says Sara Ozawa, PHS community outreach and engagement specialist serving the City Harvest and NGT networks. 

At their core, Juneberry Joy and the PHS gardens program hope to educate people about making use of their harvests. Both Joe and Sara fear that a lack of understanding about fruit trees will result in the loss of their many benefits. When people opt for store-bought fruit, gardens lose the essential shade and greenery provided by local trees.

“Native fruit trees serve multiple purposes by providing habitat for native species and providing food for people as well,” explains Sara. “That provides really great value since there is such an issue with food access in this city.”

While providing shelter for animals, fruit trees also create a perfect environment for shade-loving plants, which maximizes space in city gardens. Beyond gaining this valuable ecosystem, communities gain the shared joy of growing and harvesting something familiar. 

“I think a lot of people have stories of their lives that enter into the orchard,” says Joe. “Some people grew up with a dad or a mom who introduced them to picking fruit instead of just shopping. That’s what it takes to understand the idea of the trees and how to nurture them. Learning to appreciate them and pick them is work, but it’s fun.”

By Julia Lowndes


A Cedar Waxwing enjoying Juneberries. 

Posted on June 5, 2019

A park is often the heart of a community -- a public area where children can play, families can picnic, and friends can meet. These green oases are even more important in a city. But over the years, weather and wear and tear take a toll. Such was the case with Wissinoming Park, a 43-acre park in the Near Northeast section of Philadelphia.

Over the years, this much-loved park fell into disrepair. Large areas of pavement contributed to stormwater runoff issues, play equipment was nearly 30 years old, and the sprayground area was aging and not ADA-accessible.

In 2013, PHS partnered with Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, Fairmount Park Conservancy, and the Philadelphia Water Department to transform six neighborhood parks, including Wissinoming. Working closely with the community and city partners, PHS landscape architects created a design that reflected the neighborhood values while prioritizing sustainability.

“We focused the design on what would make the most impact for the community,” says Sarah DiPietro, PHS Landscape Architect.  The design included stormwater management, a new playground and sprayground, and improved site circulation. “Along with the help of our partners, we worked with the community throughout the design process and used their input to shape the project.”

With funding from PWD, PHS made significant improvements to the stormwater issues that challenged the park. These involved depaving impervious areas and returning them to green space, as well as installing green stormwater infrastructure (GSI).  Two large rain gardens to manage stormwater runoff were planted with many native plants, including Aronia arbutifolia, Rudbeckia maxima, Liatris spicata, Eryngium yuccafolium, Geranium maculatum, Juncus effusus and Schizachyrium scoparium. Subsurface stone beds were designed under the rain gardens and provide additional rainwater storage.

PHS landscape architects also incorporated salvaged concrete from depaved areas into the rain garden design.  Sections of the concrete were stacked on-end to create “energy dissipaters,” which slow water entering the rain garden and prevent erosion.  Salvaged concrete was also used to create weirs in the rain garden, encouraging ponding and adding beauty.

The implemented stormwater management plan resulted in a 44 percent reduction of impervious area; 8,000 square feet of new rain garden area; and 6,740 cubic feet of stormwater captured by the GSI systems. The native plantings also provide pollinator habitat.  In addition to the rain garden plantings, 25 new trees, including serviceberries, elms, lindens, Kentucky coffee trees and magnolias, were added for shade and interest. Introducing new trees creates a succession plan for the park’s tree canopy.

With families in mind, the design merged two existing play spaces for different age groups into one large playground with new equipment and a porous safety surface. The new playground location allows for guardians to watch children of different ages, and the new play equipment will appeal to children of all ages and abilities. The design also transformed the crumbling sprayground into an accessible area with a variety of dynamic features and colorful non-slip surfacing with seating for children and adults.

The design elevated the park’s accessibility for users of all ability levels by creating new ADA-accessible paths and furnishings for ADA accessibility and durability. The picnic grove, a popular gathering space, was transformed with ADA-accessible tables. A new game table area incorporated donor bricks that were salvaged during construction.  PHS designers worked with the community to develop a design that used the pavers in a new configuration that honors those who have donated to the park over time.

The Wissinoming Park renovation project was completed in fall 2017.  “The park is more welcoming because it’s now accessible to people of all ability levels,” Sarah says. “It’s gratifying to visit Wissinoming now and see the community enjoying their new park.”


The new ADA-accessible sprayground is a popular attraction at Wissinoming Park.

Posted on May 1, 2019

The PHS Pop Up Garden at South Street features a colorful new plant palette with a purpose this spring. Cristina Tessaro, Project Manager of the Pop Up Gardens, filled the site with pollinator-friendly blossoms and native plants to create a healthy and beautiful habitat.

“By using native plants, the habitat nurtures and sustains a living landscape for pollinators,” she says. “These plants are already adapted to the soil and climate and do not require additional fertilizers or pesticides to grow.”

Planted with intention, natives in the Pop Up Garden include Echinacea purpurea, PowWow Wild Berry, also known as coneflower, and Aster ‘Raydon’s Favorite,’ a perennial and preferred nectar source. Camassia cusickii (Wild Hyacinth) is one of the few soft blue bloomers that will naturalize in moist soil over time. A native grass, Carex pennsylvanica was chosen for its hardiness and it makes an excellent shade groundcover.

While not entirely planted with natives, the meadow-inspired garden consists of many perennials grown or sourced by PHS Meadowbrook Farm, including 3,000 allium bulbs. Six varieties of allium were selected to bloom throughout the season. Not only will they attract butterflies and bees for better pollination, some species have a scent that will repel garden pests. The mixture includes Allium ‘Purple Sensation,’ Allium unifolium (ornamental onion) and Allium spaerocephalon (drumstick allium).

Sedum ‘Blue Pearl’ is a drought-tolerant beauty that attracts pollinators and performs well through hot summer weather. Salvia ‘Skyscraper Red’, a tender perennial, features large blooms that last throughout summer and fall and attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Guara linderheimeri ‘Sparkle White,’ also a perennial, is ideal for containers, edging, or in a rock garden. It forms a mound of narrow green leaves with airy arching stems of dainty white flowers tinged pink from late spring through late summer.

Citronella Geranium, also known as mosquito plant, is a tender perennial with strongly lemon-scented leaves. Cristina chose citronella as a natural bug repellent.

Even the repurposed containers at the front entrance to the garden serve a purpose. They are planted with a pollinator-friendly plant, Amelanchier x Autumn Brilliance, also known as Serviceberry. Flanking the bar, another native, Fothergilla Mt. Airy, adds beauty and attracts pollinators.  A pig trough has been recycled and filled with succulents, while an old porcelain sink will feature carnivorous plants to help with insect control.

“We are exposing visitors to a variety of plants, some native, some pollinator-friendly, that they can grow in their own yards, balcony, or fire escape,” says Cristina. “Hopefully, this will inspire guests to shop for similarly unique plants for their own homes that are beneficial to the environment.”

View upcoming programs and events at the PHS Pop Up Garden at South Street and the PHS Pop Up Garden at uCity Square.


A pig trough has been recycled and filled with succulents at the PHS Pop Up Garden at South Street.

Posted on April 3, 2019

The collaboration of a school principal, a community leader, and PHS Tree Tender volunteers will bring a significant change to the McClure Elementary School in Hunting Park this month with the planting of 16 trees around the campus.

“We have a lot of kids in the neighborhood with asthma, and this will allow them to have a healthier environment and shade to enjoy. It will benefit their physical and mental health,” explains Gabriella Gabriel Paez, of the Esperanza community development organization.

The project started with a PHS Tree Tenders course in January 2018. Gabriella, the Education and Community Development Coordinator at Esperanza, attended the training at PHS with seven neighbors. The Tree Tenders group in Hunting Park now numbers 35.

Gabriella was also instrumental in the first wellness fair held at McClure Elementary last fall, and she and Principal Sharon Marino partnered to create more green space in their community. “This tree planting was a natural next step for us to continue to beautify and create a green welcoming space,” Sharon explains.

Gabriella introduced the Tree Tenders program to Principal Marino and worked out a computer simulation for her to visualize where the trees would be planted. “I supported the school with the application process for the April planting, and we were grateful to receive a special grant from the Philadelphia Commerce Department to plant the trees,” Gabriella says.

Hunting Park is one of the hottest neighborhoods in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on a study done between 2013 and 2015 that showed neighborhoods like Hunting Park could be up to 20 degrees hotter in the summer than neighborhoods with a greater tree cover.

“Sparse tree cover affects more than comfort. Asthma rates, crime, and overall feelings of well-being are negatively impacted by the lack of neighborhood trees.  Students with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder might also benefit from another gift of trees. Exposure to trees and green space helps kids with ADHD feel calmer, concentrate longer, and retain more of what they learn,” notes Mindy Maslin, PHS Project Manager.

“Principal Marino’s environmental leadership at McClure is providing a gift to students and teachers that will grow more substantial over the years as the trees mature.”


Hunting Park Tree Tenders volunteers planting a tree last fall.

Posted on February 27, 2019

The PHS job-training program for returning citizens is having a growth spurt. The Roots to Re-Entry Bootcamp, which gets underway next week, imparts landscape management and other skills, and it is evolving in many ways that will increase employment and economic opportunities in Philadelphia neighborhoods.

The network of employer-partners has grown from 12 to 20 businesses and organizations, the curriculum is expanding, and the number of applicants is rising.

More than 80 men and women sought the 32 slots available this season. The Bootcamp is primarily focused on helping prepare prison inmates and recently released individuals transition back to their communities by providing new, practical skills and experience, says Nayo Shell, Program Manager of Philadelphia LandCare.

PHS is also receiving many requests for opportunities in workforce development from job applicants across the city. “Next season we will make a point to reach out more to people who are not coming from prison, and we’ll expand to a broader pool of those seeking jobs,” Nayo explains.

The first four weeks of the Bootcamp begin with safety training, followed by lessons in the efficient use of hand and power tools. This year, participants are also being trained in tree care, carpentry and masonry, skills requested by employer-partners.

“Decision-making and navigating workplace challenges are part of the training,” says William Lighter Jr., PHS Project Manager of Community LandCare. Because the program includes placement with employers, “getting a job is not hard for the trainees but dealing with the daily complexities of keeping a job is.”

Much of the training this season will be on LandCare sites in West and North Philadelphia that are overgrown or need fence repair and other work. Trainees will also learn wetlands restoration at Bartram’s Garden and invasive removal and site grading and seeding at Eden Cemetery in Darby. During the final two weeks, participants will be matched with employer-partners. “At the end of that period, it if works out, they move on to be hired with those crews,” Nayo says. “Over the past two years we’ve had a 98 percent hiring rate.”

As this PHS program reaches a broader base, more communities will understand and experience the benefits of horticulture. “Someone living in the city may not know this is a career path,” William says. “As in any career, there may be a ground floor, but there’s always movement upwards. The path can reflect the interest of the individual – maintenance, management, procurement, hardscaping – there are so many aspects to it. This is just a threshold.”


Isaiah Sango helped plant the North Broad Street landscape with other trainees of the PHS Re-entry Initiative.

Posted on February 6, 2019

Don’t be surprised if your doctor writes you a prescription for light gardening, three to five times a week, as needed, for well-being.

The healing powers of plants and horticulture have been documented as far back as 2000 BC. According to the American Horticultural Therapy Association, ancient Egyptian physicians prescribed walks around a garden for patients with mental illness.

According to Pam Young, Horticultural Therapist at Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital in Malvern, part of Main Line Health, “We all have an intrinsic connection to plants. They nourish our bodies, and they are a necessity in our life on many levels.”

Pam sees the benefits of horticultural therapy every day at work at Bryn Mawr Rehab’s Sydney Thayer III Horticultural Center, where she has patients recovering from stroke, brain injury, spinal cord injury, cardiac surgery, and other conditions. “We see lower blood pressure after working with plants, and increased engagement,” she says. “Patients who are in a hospital setting may be feeling a loss of independence and they have the opportunity to go into the greenhouse, choose their own plants, and design a dish garden – it’s a sense of accomplishment for them.” 

Studies have shown that for some patients, sensory stimulation is important because sense of smell is connected to memory. “We’re smelling lavender, rosemary or scented geraniums in the greenhouse, and lots of things are happening in a natural way,” she explains. “Fragrance memory can evoke rich recollections of times and previous events.  Memory of smells does not deteriorate as quickly as memories for other sensory modalities,” Pam adds.

“You don’t have to have a green thumb to come to the greenhouse and benefit from the plants. Sometimes patients need a change of pace -- even just getting out of their rooms and in a natural restorative environment helps individuals recover from mental fatigue and stress. It’s just what the doctor ordered.  It’s important for patients to get involved in a meaningful activity. They become engaged in the project and are not as focused on their pain.”

The Enabling Garden at Bryn Mawr Rehab is a garden with connections to the community. “We grow vegetables and herbs for the Chester County Food Bank. We start seeds in the greenhouse at the end of March, and then we transplant the seedlings out to the garden. Most importantly, patients are involved in the entire process, from sowing the seed to the harvest,” explains Pam.

“We share with them that the food is going to help someone else without access to food. This makes them feel like they are contributing to something larger than themselves, even while they are here. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

In addition to the Enabling Garden, Bryn Mawr Rehab raises monarch butterflies in their certified monarch garden outside. “It’s interesting to have a garden with a purpose,” says Pam. “I give patients milkweed seeds to take home and plant when they leave. For me, it’s more than just a pretty garden. There’s a lot of educational programming behind the space.”


Pictured, left to right: Sylvia Webster, patient, and Aimee Scafaria, Advanced Clinician, Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital.

Posted on January 16, 2019

While a healthy tree canopy is considered 30%, many of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods are well under 10% canopy. One of those with a depleted canopy includes the neighborhood of Nancy Boyd, a Board member at the Centennial Parkside Community Development Corporation, along with fellow Board member Juanita McFadden and community activist Roberta Lightly near Fairmount Park! The three women decided to do something about it and signed up to take the PHS Tree Tenders Basic Training class together last January.

Boyd, McFadden and Lightly learned that even though their neighborhood is near the Park, a lot of trees still need to be planted according to the data. “Seeing that information was eye-opening. We decided we needed to plant trees, and we had to form a group! I had never thought about it before, but after taking the class and learning the benefits of trees, we were determined,” says Boyd. Boyd was referring to an analysis undertaken by PHS that utilized multiple data sets (including tree canopy, population density, income, and crime) to determine the areas of Philadelphia that had the highest need for trees.

It didn’t take long before the three decided to form their own Tree Tenders group. “During the class, we had breakout sessions, we talked with Mindy Maslin, (PHS Tree Tenders Program Manager) and we saw the other groups that had been formed,” says Boyd. “They displayed a map of the trees in the city, and we saw where we lived. Our neighborhood was in the red for trees. When we saw all the red in our area and heard that planting trees could potentially lead to less crime, we thought we should fill this neighborhood with trees!”

To date, the new Centennial Parkside Tree Tenders group is seven-members strong and growing and has planted 27 trees.

The next Tree Tenders Basic Training will take place Saturdays, January 26 and February 2 from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the PHS Town Hall, 100 N. 20th Street, Philadelphia, PA. Register here for this two-part series


Members of the Centennial Parkside Tree Tenders Group

Posted on December 5, 2018

As cooler temperatures move into our region, you will want to prepare your property to manage stormwater throughout the winter months. Follow these steps, suggested by Zach Popkin, PHS Program Manager. “We always say low maintenance, not no maintenance, when it comes to stormwater management tools during winter months,” says Popkin.

“Although downspout planters and rain gardens won’t provide the same aesthetic beauty as they do during the growing season -- and it’s difficult to enjoy permeable pavers when they’re under a foot of snow -- some basic maintenance practices can help ensure your stormwater management system will remain beautiful and functional for years to come.”

Rain Barrels
Before temperatures consistently drop below 32°F, disconnect the barrel from the downspout. First, drain the barrel by opening the spigot at the bottom. Use a Phillips head screwdriver to remove the two screws connecting the downspout diverter to the downspout. Pull out the diverter and replace with the rubber winter cap that was provided during the installation. Screw in the cap using the same screws you removed from the downspout diverter. If you can’t find the winter cap, replacement caps can be purchased online. Store the accordion tube and downspout diverter in a safe place until spring.

Rain Gardens
Remove any remaining autumn leaves or other debris from your gutters and downspouts to keep them clear. Snow and ice are OK in the rain garden but be wary of any ice extending up the downspout. If the downspout freezes, this may indicate a clog. Make sure water can flow freely out of the downspout and into the rain garden.

Permeable Pavers
Permeable pavers will do their job all winter with the right care. Remove debris from the pavers by sweeping them regularly. After snowstorms, remove snow with a hand shovel or snow blower with a rubber edge. Use salt sparingly -- it can damage pavers -- and concentrate de-icing products in the areas of highest use. Remember that salt is not effective when more than 3 inches of snow has accumulated or temperatures are below 25 degrees. Sand, cat litter, and other non-soluble de-icing products should never be used on permeable pavers -- they will clog the system over time and prevent proper water infiltration.



Posted on November 14, 2018

This year, donations made to PHS on Giving Tuesday, November 27, will support the Roots to Re-entry program and the life-changing training the PHS LandCare team provides to Philadelphia Prison System inmates and Roots to Re-entry graduates. Roots to Re-entry provides citizens transitioning from the Philadelphia Prison System back to their communities with the tools and support they need to obtain meaningful employment in the horticulture and landscape industries.

The impact of this program was recently demonstrated at the New Kensington Community Development Corporation, an organization that cleans, maintains, and manages over 900 vacant land parcels in Fishtown, Kensington, Port Richmond, and beyond as part of the PHS LandCare program.

This season, under the direction of Tiffany Vidra, Crew Leader of NKCDC’s Vacant Land Management team, two recent Roots to Re-entry Bootcamp graduates went above and beyond their duties and achieved a milestone not met by any other graduates before them.

Spring 2018 Bootcamp graduates Perrice Goodlett and Dwoyne Martin started working for NKCDC in early April and continued through October 31. “We’ve worked with Roots to Reentry graduates in the past, but no one has ever completed the season,” says Debbie Kinkead, Executive Associate at NKCDC.

“Perrice impressed me,” says Kinkead. “She always wanted to learn more and she followed our guidance. She fought through a lot of barriers and plans to return next April.”

William Lighter, PHS Project Manager, Community LandCare, notes that “Trainees in the Roots to Re-entry program have to navigate the same challenges in everyday life that we do:  transportation issues, child care, health, relationship and community challenges. But they must perform flawlessly at work, without many of the familial supports and social experiences that we take for granted but employ every day.”

“Most often employers expect these graduates to be perfect in attendance, work performance, and cultural assimilation -- while they work under stigma, and often, with no margin for error.  The success of these graduates relies as much on our compassionate partners, as it does the hunger and tenacity of these graduates,” Lighter explains.

Over the past three seasons, 100 returning citizens have been placed into jobs with contractors and community organizations cleaning and greening vacant lots through the PHS Philadelphia LandCare program.


From left: Debbie Kinkead, New Kensington CDC; Dwoyne Martin; Tiffany Vidra, Maintenance Crew Leader; and Perrice Goodlett.

Posted on October 3, 2018 

The neighborhood is called Hunting Park, evoking images of green lawns and shady boughs. But the North Philadelphia community has one of the lowest percentages of tree canopy in the city, making it one of the hottest places to live and contributing to childhood asthma and other health issues.

“Planting trees is one of the best ways to ameliorate the problem long-term,” says Gabriella Paez, education coordinator at Esperanza, the Hispanic community development organization.

This year, PHS partnered with Esperanza to launch a Tree Tenders group in Hunting Park and offered the program’s first bilingual training for the community which is 60 percent Hispanic “Language tends to be a big barrier in getting access to resources,” explains Paez, who provided translation for the written and classroom instruction.

Twenty-two residents graduated from the training, and the new volunteers planted 15 trees in April. They will add another 45 street trees in November.

The young trees are already making an impact on the residents, who have added window boxes and other plantings around their homes and are spending more time outdoors with their neighbors. “The blocks look nicer, cleaner, and it just feels different. People say, ‘I love walking down this block now,’” Paez says. “People are feeling better about where they live. It’s literally transforming the neighborhood.”

In five years, the Tree Tenders will have planted hundreds of trees, Paez adds, and “20 years down the road they will give plenty of shade. We really will have a green Hunting Park.”


Members of the first bilingual Tree Tenders training for the Hunting Park community celebrate with Tree Tenders program manager Mindy Maslin (seated center, red shirt) and Esperanza education coordinator Gabriella Paez (blue and black shirt).

Two young residents of Hunting Park participate in the Tree Tenders planting in their neighborhood.

Posted on September 5, 2018

Beth Bowman has been a community gardener at Benjamin Rush Community Garden in upper Northeast Philadelphia for 15 years. As a member and treasurer of the garden, as well as a volunteer grower for PHS City Harvest, Bowman finds satisfaction in knowing “we’re doing something good that matters. We’re growing and harvesting vegetables for neighbors in need.” She has been both intrigued and delighted by her community and its diverse group of gardeners.

Originally from the Philippines, where she grew up on a farm, Bowman describes gardening as “very therapeutic – it’s a passion you can’t quantify.”

Bowman loves the community effort in the garden. “You meet people you would not meet otherwise. You gather in the garden with the same goal and passion, and you share your experience,” she says.

One of the most rewarding parts of her experience in the community garden is the people she has met from different countries. “I watch what they do and ask questions. Immigrants grow what’s indigenous to where they come from; it’s part of their culture and how they grew up,” she says.

This year, a couple from Cameroon brought in some special greens. “I kept asking them, what do you do with them? They said it’s greens, like spinach. They kept harvesting them, bringing home whole bunches of it,” explains Bowman. She inquired how they get seeds if they keep harvesting, and learned that in their country, they do four harvests, and the fifth time they leave the plants for seeds. “My priority is that I get seeds first, then I harvest, but theirs is very different,” she says.  

The same family did not want any sweet peppers when they were given out, describing them as bland. “They prefer growing hot peppers to make relish,” says Bowman. “I was fascinated!”

Two awesome gardeners, a couple from Turkey, keep two 30-by-60-foot plots. One plot consists entirely of potatoes, the other vegetables. Bowman learned that the couple eats potatoes every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In Eastern Europe, potatoes are a staple because they grow in the cold and some families don’t have the money for bread and pasta.

Bowman is hopeful new members will join the Benjamin Rush community garden and enjoy the camaraderie, as well as give back to PHS City Harvest. “It’s what we want to do,” she says. Learn more about PHS City Harvest here.

Beth Bowman is a community gardener at Benjamin Rush Community Garden.