Rittenhouse Pop-Up Garden Delights

 

Photo: Theresa Stigale

The Rittenhouse Square pop-up garden recently created by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society reminds me of a school playground at recess; you’re only allowed there at appointed times, and there is lots of grownup supervision. But like recess, once you finally get to the pop-up garden at 1905 Walnut Street, it really is fun.

Like the school playground, the garden, in a repurposed vacant lot that’s been languishing for years, is meant for education as much as play. The folks at the Horticultural Society have set out to educate, bring awareness of the issue of food security, and provide space for passive recreation and the contemplation of the sensory delights of the garden. At this, they have succeeded.

Truly public gardens–think the Rose and Magnolia Gardens in Independence National Historic Park–can be a discouraging business for serious plant people; high-traffic public spaces can only be serviced by the toughest, most basic horticultural installations selected and installed for indestructibility. Aesthetics and creativity are by necessity relegated to the sidelines. Even then, the odds are against such spaces functioning remotely like a garden–it’s a jungle out there.

Coneflowers and tropical milkweed | Photo: Nicole Juday

While there’s something less inherently lovable about restricted-access gardens, they are more likely to be successful landscapes. On Walnut Street, inside the existing chain link fence, PHS has created gorgeous deep beds of ornamental shrubs and colorful herbaceous plants are interspersed with food crops like rainbow chard and hot peppers. The plant selections are cleverly designed, using lots of new introductions to create zingy color and textural combinations.

But unlike many demonstration food gardens, a visitor will not feel the invisible hands of the designer on their shoulders, exerting her to drop and genuflect in at the base of the open-pollinated okra or the heirloom variety Indian corn. In this garden, the plants themselves are a backdrop to the centerpiece, a series of wooden tables placed end to end, lined with mismatched, brightly painted chairs. On my visits, I saw people at the table checking their smart phones, playing chess, eating lunch, and reading.

Photo: Theresa Stigale

During open hours, PHS staff and volunteers are onsite to provide garden interpretation and information about their excellent City Harvest program, which supplies fresh produce to needy families. Some people loathe the idea of being guided in a public space, and would rather get their info from an app or a brochure. Fine. There are small informational placards placed in the garden and an information table next to the entrance. But for those who enjoy engaging with knowledgeable people, it’s fun to learn the names of individual plant cultivars or get information about the artists whose sculptures anchor the urban meadow at the rear of the garden.

It’s a confident approach. By allowing the visitor to engage as much or as little with the garden as she may care to, a certain degree of messaging opportunity may be lost. But The Omnivore’s Dilemma came out six years ago, and at least for now the food desert/urban ag/locavore message may have sunk in as much as it’s going to. If you haven’t heard that eating apples from New Zealand is a zero sum game, or that there’s a devastating link between poverty and poor eating habits, there may be other things for you to worry about.

Photo: Theresa Stigale

Unlike PHS’s grand dowager, the Philadelphia Flower Show, who is rumored to have lost her innocence after a sherry-soaked cotillion back in the 1950s, there’s something very un-jaded about the Pop Up Garden. Sure, it has a corporate sponsor, Chipotle, but don’t look for the logo made out in chili pepper plants. This garden is a generous offering to the citizens and doesn’t demand anything particular in return. Pedagogy comes after pleasure, which is true of every really good garden I’ve ever visited.

Last year’s pop-up garden took up a portion of the enormous empty lot at 20th and Market. Now this property is under agreement for development. Will this year’s temporary garden generate new interest in this longstanding chunk of urban blah? The real estate world is uncertain, but PHS would like to think it might help, and they could be right. Introducing life into dead spaces is surely one way to make us pay attention again.

Photo: Theresa Stigale

PHS Pop Up Garden, 1905-15 Walnut St. Open Tuesday-Friday from 11 am to 2 pm; Thursday evenings from 5-7; and the second Saturday of the month from 9 am to 1 pm. A farmers market takes place every other Friday from 5-7. For information about programming and renting the garden for private events, click HERE.

About the author

Nicole Juday spent many years as a horticulturist before trading her shovel for a laptop. She now writes about gardening and natural history for the WHYY website NewsWorks and a number of print publications, as well as giving lectures and tours. With a particular interest in landscape history and old plants, she loves exploring and researching forgotten gardens, and wants more Philadelphians to appreciate our city's remarkable horticultural legacy.



No Comments


Trackbacks

  1. PHS Pops Up on Walnut Street « The Philadelphia Flower Show Blog
Recent Posts
The Physical & Political Importance Of Goldtex

The Physical & Political Importance Of Goldtex

August 29, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Loft District conversion project finally complete, Manayunk parish to preserve historic church, Temple professor talks ’64 riot, major mixed-use for NoLibs, and previewing Greenfest Philly 2014 > more

Ruminating On Lost Columbia Avenue

Ruminating On Lost Columbia Avenue

August 29, 2014  |  Soapbox

In this third installment in our series, Ethan Wallace examines the long term effects the Columbia Avenue riot has had on this weary section of North Philadelphia. Dubbed an "extinction event", Wallace sifts through the ruins of the once vibrant neighborhood while considering the encroaching development of Temple University's campus and the social unrest happening in Ferguson, Missouri. > more

'Scared Half To Death,' Reporter Says

‘Scared Half To Death,’ Reporter Says

August 28, 2014  |  Vantage

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Columbia Avenue riot. For the second installment of our series, we have a first person account by Philadelphia Evening Bulletin reporter William Naulty, who was sent in to cover the mayhem on the night of August 28, 1964. > more

Roxborough Sawmill Preserves An Old Industrial Aesthetic

Roxborough Sawmill Preserves An Old Industrial Aesthetic

August 28, 2014  |  Morning Blend

One man's mission to preserve the physical history of industrial Philadelphia, groundbreaking for Rodin Square, street mural requested for Triangles Plaza, the genesis of JFK and 30th Street Station, and this weekend's Made in America Fest > more

Bridesburg, Riverfront Neighborhood Now With Riverfront Access

Bridesburg, Riverfront Neighborhood Now With Riverfront Access

August 28, 2014  |  News

With a land swap championed by Councilman Bobby Henon, Philadelphia gained a win-win scenario with the expansion of Dietz & Watson's facilities and a new riverfront park. Plan Philly's Jared Brey and Hidden City's Brad Maule explore the future park in Bridesburg—the riverfront neighborhood which will finally have access to the riverfront > more

Rodeph Shalom As A Beacon On North Broad

Rodeph Shalom As A Beacon On North Broad

August 27, 2014  |  Morning Blend

A look at the historic Jewish synagogue’s expansion, the economic importance of bike lanes, Suzanne Roberts Theater gets $2.5 million boost, remembering the Philadelphia Trades School, and approvals from the Historical Commission > more