By Callista Popp
The Viola Street Community Garden fosters an infectious sense of community among local residents. This neighborhood in East Parkside carries a rich history of unity and positivity, ever since the original homes were built in the 1800s. Mandy Katz, a current resident and gardener, says it best: “People have been there for generations. They put in a lot of energy to make their neighborhood beautiful and are fighting really hard to keep it beautiful.”
Recently, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) helped organize a volunteer workday to “re-vamp” this community space. The project was funded by the AARP Community Challenge grant awarded to Neighborhood Gardens Trust (NGT) to support improvements in garden accessibility. PHS’s Community Gardens team partnered with NGT to enhance Viola Street Community Garden into a more accessible community space that local gardeners -- and especially older gardeners -- can continue to use to support health and well-being.
Thanks to over 20 amazing PHS volunteers and current Viola Street gardeners, Viola Street Community Garden got the renovations this well-used community space needed. The crew embarked on multiple projects throughout the day, including clearing vines off fences and clearing trees from the back of the garden to increase the amount of sunlight that will reach the garden and help the plants grow.
In addition to clearing the vines and some trees, the entire team helped install 15 new raised garden beds! “The new garden beds are two beds high so that you don’t have to be on your hands and knees to garden,” says Cassidy Cabrera, PHS Manager of Community Gardens Operations. They even built a raised bed for one of Viola Street’s original gardeners, Ms. Naomi, who started gardening at Viola Street over 50 years ago!
Ms. Naomi (pictured above) also participated in the workday and cannot wait to garden in her new raised bed next growing season. Raised garden beds help reduce the physical toll gardening can have on an older person’s body. Now, these gardeners can focus on the enjoyment of gardening and a sense of community, rather than physical aches or pains from gardening on their hands and knees. Another major benefit of increasing the accessibility of the garden is how Ms. Naomi, as well as other elder gardeners, can continue to inspire fellow gardeners for years to come.
The Viola Street Community Garden is not just a site for neighbors to grow produce for their own use. This community garden also joined PHS’s City Harvest initiative last year, which encourages gardens to grow enough produce to donate to local food pantries.
Community gardens have always been a source of unity within the neighborhood. They encourage neighbors to come together to enjoy fresh produce or share gardening tips, and they give residents a sense of belonging. Neighbors share produce amongst one another, and new residents come to the garden to meet their neighbors. Building community and growing fresh produce have been traditions for this garden ever since it was established over 5 decades ago.
Through the dedication of many volunteers, Viola Street Community Garden will be a source of inspiration and unity for years to come.