By Melissa O'Brien
John F. Kennedy Plaza -- better known as LOVE Park – is an iconic public space in Philadelphia that is best known for being the home of Robert Indiana’s famous LOVE statue. But this park offers so much more than just pretty Instagram photos (although there is certainly no shortage of those)!
Conveniently located near City Hall, LOVE Park is the gateway to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway – leading visitors to other iconic Philly attractions like the Rodin Museum, the Franklin Institute, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Since major renovations were completed in 2018, including a new fountain with programmable lights, LOVE Park has been an essential gathering place for locals, visitors, and vendors alike.
PHS has always had a great partnership with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation (PPR), working jointly on street trees and larger nearby parks such as the Azalea Garden at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the iconic Logan Square. When the opportunity arose to work with PPR again on the gardens at LOVE Park, the PHS Public Gardens team was excited to get started. “Logan Square has become one of our more prominent mixed borders with lots of tropical foliage and annual combinations,” says Sam Keitch, Design and Procurement Manager of PHS’s Public Gardens and Landscapes team. “We were asked to conjure up something similar in style for the LOVE Park beds yet make it unique. Our intention was to create two complementary horticultural destinations where the public can see dynamic displays that change year to year.”
Learn more about what inspired the new planting design for LOVE Park, how it will evolve over time, and why you should visit this great garden while still in full bloom!
There were a few key considerations for the PHS Publics Gardens team when designing gardens for such a heavily used and landmark place. The existing plants at LOVE Park were edited first, with some left intact and others transplanted. The soil conditions vary, so it was important to pick a variety of moisture-tolerant selections and species that require little maintenance. “Many of the species were selected for their dramatic foliage or long bloom period, and in the end, we had a significant diversity,” says Sam, who led the design. The variety also helps to ensure that if something doesn't establish or acclimate fast enough, there is time to come up with a quick solution.
PHS’s procurement system allowed for plants to be sourced from multiple nurseries as well as integrate repurposed specimens from the 2022 Philadelphia Flower Show. The goal was to create dramatic foliage and high contrast. Rather than focusing on the flowering display first, the larger elements were placed first to act as high points. The Canna ‘Phasion’ and other topicals were then situated in large drifts. These provided a backdrop for the flowering annuals and dark leaves, such as Phormium ‘Dark Knight,’ Acalypha ‘Haleakala,' and Pennisetum ‘Jester.’
The PHS Public Gardens team plans to continue updating the LOVE Park plantings in the future, making them as exuberant and ever-changing as the palette at Logan Square over time. “We’re going to make this a unique space, but aesthetically in the next year or so, it would be amazing to share the exuberant styles of England's Great Dixter or Jimi Blake’s Hunting Brook Gardens in Ireland,” says Sam. Achieving such colorful, immersive, mixed borders in a heavily trafficked public space would be no small feat.
With this dramatic overhaul for LOVE Park, Sam is optimistic that City residents as well as visitors to Philadelphia will take the time to enjoy it. He says, “Everyone is in such a rush these days, and I hope they stop and just walk through the beds. Really, I’d love to inspire anyone -- children or a new homeowner -- everyone can get excited about gardening.”