Gifts from the garden come in all forms – the beauty of a new blossom, nourishment from a freshly grown pepper or sweet potato, skills learned while growing, and the connection with others who share the love of plants and gardening. We look forward to sharing all of these gifts from the garden with you throughout the new year.
For Carly Freedman, Community Garden and Food Sustainability Program Coordinator at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Nicholas and Athena Karabots Pediatric Care Center, these gifts are bountiful. The Karabots Center opened in 2013, and since then has provided primary care services and programs to more than 33,000 patients and their families in West Philadelphia.
Created by CHOP to complement the Center’s model of community health and wellness, the Garden at Karabots cultivates a wide variety of fruits and vegetables under the direction of Freedman, with the help of interns and volunteers. Freedman recently became the first gardener ever employed by CHOP -- in her role, she is responsible for the garden as well as the educational programming designed around it.
With the support of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Community Gardens program, the Garden at Karabots receives thousands of organic seedlings that are distributed throughout the growing season. “The garden has been a member of PHS’s City Harvest program since its first year,” says Freedman. “We have received seeds, supplies, plants, education and support from PHS since our inaugural year.” Produce is grown by Freedman and team, then shared with local families experiencing food insecurity through onsite programming, Early Head Start, and CHOP’s Healthy Weight programs. Since opening, the Garden at Karabots has grown 4.2 tons of fresh produce to share with the community, about 2,000 pounds yearly.
Totaling 1,200 square feet of growing space arranged in concentric circles of raised beds, the garden produces more than 50 types of vegetables, from lettuce, chard, kale, beets, peas, radishes, beans, and cucumbers to tomatoes, squash, and herbs. “It feels like a real gift to be able to connect the resources of CHOP and the garden to the community in this way, through the produce we grow and the experiences we offer,” says Freedman.
“Growing food is one of the greatest gifts that we have in life,” says Freedman. “To nurture a plant through its life, then take it home and share it with others -- it’s such a joy. Sharing knowledge about growing and nutrition is one of the best gifts I give to others.”
Jenny Rose Carey, Senior Director, PHS Meadowbrook Farm, finds that her time surrounded by the beauty of her garden provides her the gift of peace. “Gardening puts me in a very nice frame of mind and I quickly lose track of time,” she explains. “I start doing something, picking, weeding, and it’s a very good way to lower my blood pressure. I engage fully with the garden on a sensory level – seeing the beauty, hearing the birds, smelling the rosemary and lavender, tasting a fresh tomato. It engages me in a more meaningful way.”
In addition to enjoying the peace and beauty of gardening, she gets her exercise – physically and mentally. “Spending time in the garden lifts my spirit,” says Carey. From bending and lifting to weeding and watering, tending to her garden gives her an entire aerobic and weight-bearing exercise routine.
Carey also gets a sense of pride from her accomplishments in the garden. “It’s my creative outlet,” she says. Decisions like “where shall I plant this, and in how many rows,” are just a few of the decisions she makes while gardening. “I feel pride in making it look nice.”
“For someone who rents an apartment and can’t have a pet, they can find this satisfaction and joy with a cactus on the windowsill or a collection of African violets,” says Carey. It’s the interaction with a living thing that she finds rewarding. “You trim it, you turn it, you’re caring for something else that needs you to survive.”
“Gardening is like a stocking stuffed to the top! There are many small gifts – on a sunny summer’s day, when the oils are coming off the herbs – it’s aromatherapy. The herb garden at PHS Meadowbrook Farm -- filled with rosemary, lemon verbena, lavender, sage – is a gift of fragrance, says Carey. When Carey thinks of her own personal garden, Northview Gardens, as well as the gardens at PHS Meadowbrook Farm, they are gifts to everyone who visits. “The garden is a gift to me, but also a gift for friends and family. I make gathering spots in my gardens because I believe they are a perfect place to talk, enjoy a meal, and take in the beauty all around us.”
Renee Henry, a long-time PHS member, 1827 Society member, and year-round volunteer, finds the gift of service and volunteering most rewarding. “When I moved to Center City, I asked myself, ‘How can I be of service?’”
She found that the more she gave of her time volunteering for PHS, the more it gave back to her. As far back in the 1980s, she remembers always saying “Yes” to whatever volunteer project she was asked to do,” she says.
“I helped clean up on the Parkway, planted bulbs, judged in the Gardening and Greening Contest, volunteered at the Flower Show, volunteered at the Rittenhouse Flower Market, and assisted at the Jr. Flower Show at Temple University,” says Henry.
As part of her volunteer efforts with the Philadelphia Flower Show, Henry has worked in the office upstairs, as well as on the Show floor. Most recently, she worked with Tu Bloom at the Potting Parties, assisting and cleaning. Not one to shy away from behind-the-scenes duties, she has spent time at the PHS warehouse, labelling items and making sure
everything is accurately marked. At the Pennsylvania Convention Center, she’s gone in VERY early to get everything ready for the judges in the Horticourt.
Henry has also been very generous with Flower Show tickets, buying them and gifting them to her mother, as well as friends, seniors, and neighbors over the years. “One year I bought about 20 tickets, rented a bus, drove everyone to the Show, and gave them dinner,” she recalls. “People are already asking me if we are going to the Flower Show this year – maybe I should start budgeting now!”
“Volunteering brings me joy,” says Henry. “If I give of myself, I know that I will grow, and I will help somebody else.” In return for giving her time, she meets new people and gains a wealth of knowledge. “People embrace you in and around the garden – gardening makes it easy to make friends.”