Parks in urban environments are crucial to the well-being of city residents. They encourage play for children and give residents — and visitors — a place to get fresh air and exercise. LOVE Park — best known for Robert Indiana’s famous LOVE sculpture — is the perfect representation of this type of space. Being conveniently located near City Hall and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, LOVE Park leads visitors to other iconic Philly attractions while also being an essential gathering place for locals, visitors, and vendors alike.
PHS partnered with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation to design gardens in this highly public space for greater public engagement. PHS Lead Project Manager and Designer, Erik Nash, discusses what considerations went into this renovation, including adding a greater diversity of plants and greater seasonal interest by incorporating spring bulb displays, seasonal summer annuals, and tropical plants to inspire and engage the public.
Gold Medal Plants are chosen by PHS every year in collaboration with professional gardeners, horticulturists, nursery owners, and growers. Ease of cultivation, multiple seasons of interest, commercial availability, appropriateness for the region, and value to wildlife are all taken into consideration when choosing the Gold Medal Plants.
Erik explains, “Some Gold Medal Plants that we are on planning on installing are Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’, Amsonia hubrichtii, Baptisia ‘Purple Smoke’, Stachys offcinalis ‘Hummelo’, Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ and Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle.'" However, the team is waiting until the fall to install the perennial layer because the plants will have a much better survival rate.
Avoiding chemicals ensures the addition of these plants does not contribute to harmful pollutants entering the ecosystem and harming wildlife. Neonicotinoids, for example, kill pollinating insects that feed on the nectar of plants. Pollinating insects are crucial to the strength and success of the garden, so avoiding plants contaminated by neonicotinoids needs to be a top priority. Sourcing from local nurseries is one way to guarantee the elimination of neonicotinoids and other chemicals. Erik explains the team for the LOVE Park gardens was able to source “over 90% of our plants from within a 150-mile radius. We are lucky to have some of the top wholesale nurseries in the country close by.”
Turning a park into a garden requires special considerations to be made regarding the maintenance of plants and how the plants affect the ecosystem. Plants that require little inputs, such as fertilizers and water, are essential to creating a garden expected to get mass amounts of public traffic.
Erik says it was important to install plants in LOVE Park that could thrive even in less-than-ideal conditions. “LOVE Park sits on top of a parking garage and, like a lot of the city, is surrounded by impervious surfaces. There is an area of the park that always seems to be saturated and as such we have selected plants that can tolerate wet feet in those areas. The park is also surrounded by glass-covered buildings and certain areas really do bake in the intense summer sun. Certain plants (like hydrangeas) do not like to have the harsh afternoon sun on them, so we must be very specific about where they are placed in the park.”
This garden renovation was initiated to create a more vibrant garden destination for the millions of visitors to LOVE Park. The plantings at LOVE Park were inspired by the plantings in Logan Circle which has become a vibrant horticultural epicenter of Philadelphia.
Creating a space for people to gather and share information forms a strong, safe community. Installing gardens at LOVE Park creates a space for the city to gather and collaborate. Ultimately, this garden will have signs like those at Logan Circle and in the PHS Pop Up Gardens that will be co-branded with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation and provide information on the designs and the plants.