Stories From the Pop Up Gardens

For May 1, 2019

PHS has fine-tuned the art of turning vacant lots into lush, vital urban oases and creating gathering spaces where friends and neighbors can come together and connect with each other, and with gardening. 

PHS introduced the Pop Up Garden onto the Philadelphia scene in Spring 2011 as a way to energize and green an otherwise vacant lot. “It started off with a fairly elaborate vegetable garden of raised-bed planters at the corner of 20th and Market Streets,” says Cristina Tessaro, Project Manager of the PHS Pop Up Gardens.  In 2013, PHS opened the first Pop Up Garden with food and beverages at 313 South Broad Street. “We decided to offer a menu through partnerships with locally owned bars and restaurants who had a vested interest in the community,” says Cristina. “Through these partnerships, the Pop Up Gardens have become wildly successful.”

Today, the gardens are treasured gathering spaces for friends, colleagues, and families. “The number of families coming to these gardens has increased over the years, to the point where we’ve added stroller parking at South Street,” says Cristina.

Free or low-cost horticultural programming, fun activities, and crafts are offered, including seed and bulb giveaways, PHS plant swaps, macramé classes, succulent workshops with PHS Meadowbrook Farm staff, and Rain Check stormwater workshops.

“Our focus is to offer fun, easy, and educational programs to help people see the benefits of gardening in any space they have in the city,” says Cristina. “Whether it’s a window box, a planter, a rain garden or a fire escape garden, we offer a variety of classes to help teach people the tools and tricks they need to continue gardening on their own.”

Cristina witnesses people connecting at the plant swaps. “I see people who have only interacted with each other on Facebook actually meet for the first time in person at a swap.
They share their challenges of growing plants in their living environment – too tiny an apartment, too dark, no porch – and compare stories. They offer advice on how to overcome challenges and suggest different plant choices.”  

One frequent plant swap participant likes these exchanges because she gets to try plants out. “If a plant doesn’t work in her home, she brings it to the next swap and finds it a more suitable home,” says Cristina.

This year, PHS Plant Swaps will take place on the second Tuesday of each month at the South Street Pop Up Garden and on the third Thursday of each month at the uCity Square location. See the full calendar of events for both PHS Pop Up Gardens.

“PHS is seen as not only the pioneer of the Pop Up Garden, but as the pinnacle of horticulturally excellent outdoor spaces,” explains Cristina. This winning combination/formula continues, with the number of guests increasing annually. “The total number of visitors to the Pop Up Gardens jumped from 28,000 in 2013 to 100,000 in 2018,” she says.

In addition, neighborhoods see more people walking or riding bikes to the gardens, instead of driving, according to the Philadelphia Parking Authority. And the South Street business corridor has experienced a revitalization over the past few years since the opening of the flagship Pop Up Garden at 15th and South Streets. “We receive frequent requests from businesses on South Street to help them green their storefronts and facades,” says Cristina. “The horticultural standards have been elevated.”

” PHS puts significant care we put into the infrastructure and the plantings. We build from the ground up, making improvements to the site every year,” says Cristina. This year, the PHS Pop Up Garden at South Street has a new partial gutter system that connects to a rain barrel for stormwater management.

“Eight years since we started, the PHS Pop Up Gardens are exposing 100,000 people a year to PHS through programs and helping them understand the other work that we do to impact the City of Philadelphia and surrounding areas.  They may visit one of the gardens for a beer, but we’re hoping to turn them into gardeners, advocates and lifelong fans.”