Tuesday, April 16, 2024

The Gardens of "The Greene Countrie Town"



(I watched the solar ellipse last week from the plaza next to the Chestnut Hill Library. It was wonderful-there were people of all different ages and ethnic groups and colors, all looking up and oohing and ahhing as the process began. And when the moon was in front of the sun and the air felt immediately cooler, we were all amazed and simultaneously aware that in the scope of the universe we humans are rather insignificant and there is still so much to marvel at that is beyond human accomplishment. It is important for us to be able to know awe” as in the original meaning of the word-worthy of the divine.   

That, the weather this week, and the growths going on around us have reminded me of one of the joys of living in this city. So I am reprinting some of a post from 2018)  

   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 part of the city. 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. And as the city expanded in all direction from its' start 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 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 what it has to offer. 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