When I stand on a corner in my neighborhood and look in any direction down almost any street I am met with the most wonderful explosions of color and shapes. It is almost May now, and Germantown, Chestnut Hill, and Mt Airy are bursting with trees, bushes and gardens showing off all their shades and shapes to the passers-by. I am in no way an arborist; I do not know the names of that many trees. But I am familiar with the ones that have taken root in the northwest section of the city and bring so much delight and joy to me each spring. Pink magnolias, white magnolias, dogwoods, ornamental cherries, Japanese and lacy leaf maples, weeping cherries, redbuds-the northwest is awash in these trees, and I love them. They are the final, visual proof that spring has really arrived and that our days will be long and pleasant ones. And as I move through these areas on my daily jaunts, I also see tons of people outside on hands and knees digging in the dirt-gardening. Planting pansies, daffodils, tulips and more, they help the lawns and streets come alive with more color and scents. Especially on sunny days these trees and gardens bring a smile to my soul, enliven my walking, and put me in a totally different place. It is spring in Philadelphia, and that is always a wonderful thing.
One of the many things I love about living in the city of Philadelphia is that many neighborhoods still hold to founder William Penn’s idea of a “greene countrie towne.” There are trees, gardens and green spaces in just about every neighborhood. Even the downtown still holds to Penn’s idea with four of his five original plazas. Rittenhouse, Franklin, Washington and Logan Squares still exist as green spaces. As the city expanded in all direction from between the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers, it has, for the most part, kept to Penn’s idea. We have an extraordinary amount of green space and trees even in some densely populated areas. Spring and fall really bring those things to the fore, and there is a profusion of shapes, smells and bright colors to be seen and experienced. Philly is a wonderfully walkable city, and just about anywhere one walks in the city one can easily see all the different trees, plants, and gardens. This makes the city attractive and manageable; it seems “human.” And if I am open and aware of these things, they can rescue me from getting too caught up in “life” and missing the quiet power of a tree lined street or a park or a garden. They can get me out of myself and connect me to larger, important things.
Philadelphians have always loved gardens and there are tons of lovely gardens all over the city. Many of them are public gardens; the Philly area, in fact, has the highest concentration of public gardens in the United States. Some of them were private spaces that were open to the paying public for festive occasions and entertainment. In fact the idea of “outdoor concerts” in Philadelphia seems to go back to colonial times with the “Cherry Garden” and “Spring Garden” sites in what is now Center City. As the years have gone by many wealthy garden owners have also opened their private estate gardens to the public and/or donated them to the city. Philadelphians seem to have always associated gardens with fun and good times, and we have many public gardens for people to enjoy.
Philadelphia is also widely known as a city of neighborhood gardens, and weather such as we have had recently has been getting entire communities out and into the dirt. This brings neighborhoods together, and it also beautifies them. These gardens also do an important job in providing fresh and nutritious food in urban food deserts. Community gardens in sections of North Philly and Southwest Philly have been doing that for years, but there is some concern about the future of these gardens. The rapid growth of the city and the press for development seems to be threatening the existence of some of them. Fortunately, there are some forces working on behalf of the gardeners and the gardens. I am hopeful that they can be maintained and continue to play the important roles they are playing in their communities. They are an important part of the “Philadelphia story” and we need them. (http://planphilly.com/articles/2016/10/13/neighborhood-gardens-trust-targets-preservation-for-28-more-gardens)
This week will bring more great May weather, and I hope you can all make some time to get out to walk, stroll, plant, or just look and admire. We are very fortunate to be in or around this greene countrie towne” and I hope you can take advantage of it. It is one of the quiet joys of being a resident of this city.
(If you are interested in Philadelphia gardens, the role of gardens in communities, or anything else about the social history of Philadelphia I recommend the website, The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia. It is a wonderful site about all the things that make Philadelphia Philadelphia, written by folks who know about and care about the city: http://philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/?s=gardens )
Some Special Gigs featuring John
Friday, June 1 Johnny Never & John Colgan-Davis at Jamey’s House of Music, 32 S. Landsdowne Ave; Landsdowne, PA; 8-10:30PM $15 advance; $18 door; www.jameyshouseofmusic.com
I started playing harp in coffee houses with folk musicians back in the 1960s, and while I normally play in band settings now, I still love playing good old country blues with a great guitarist. Johnny Never is such a guitarist, a master of Delta and other early blues styles. Great slide and finger picking work, a wonderful voice and a great repertoire make playing with Johnny fun and exciting for me. Jamey’s is a wonderfully intimate club which seats 60, has a great sound system and is the perfect place for this gig. Come out and hear some Son House, Robert Johnson and more as done by Johnny Never and John Colgan-Davis http://jameyshouseofmusic.com/
Saturday, June 16; The Blues Social Club at Jocelyn’s for the Media Blues Stroll;109 W. State Street; Media, PA.
Bert Harris, bass player with Philly Gumbo and one of the best bassists in the area, put together a group last year with the great Delaware guitarist Roger Girke, myself, and a couple of other folks to play a concert for the Rose Tree Park Summer Concert Series. It was so much fun we decided to do it again as part of the Media Blues Stroll. The Blues Social Club is the band and we do a variety of genres from Chicago Blues to New Orleans to soul to rockabilly. We have a great and fun time and you can too. Come catch us that Saturday evening at Joclyn’s