Spring Reawakens Gardening Season

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GARDENERS Thom Hardenbergh and Shanna Flanagan stand proudly in the neighborhood community garden they tend with delight in the Southwark/Queen Village neighborhood. Photo by Eldon Graham

BY ELDON GRAHAM

South Philadelphia is greener than some might think. As spring begins to engulf us in warmer weather, you can find oases of natural beauty blooming forth in neighborhoods from Point Breeze to Queen Village.

Community gardens all across the city are enabled through the Neighborhood Garden Trust, an organization affiliated with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.

The NGT, which acquires and preserves open spaces to enhance the quality of life, is a leader in sustaining local green space and advancing community gardening. The organization works to support gardening and allow access to healthy food. Its staff teaches residents about the needs of plants, the maintenance of gardens and the environmental benefits they bestow upon the community.

Many of those benefits are found in Southwark/Queen Village Community Garden. This community garden is a purely organic garden in which no pesticides are used. It houses a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, flowers and other green treats.

For the winter months, NGT Executive Director Jenny Greenberg described how gardeners prepare their gardens for the harsh weather. “Most gardeners will put the gardens to bed,” she says. “They will put a cover crop on top of the garden to shield it from the elements.” The process also involves ridding the bed of any leftover produce so the dirt can be easily manipulated once spring comes around.

Now that the weather is warming up, this is the time of year to start working on those green thumbs – and for gardeners to begin reawakening their plots.

One program the Southwark/Queen Village Community Garden is involved in is PHS’ City Harvest. Through this program, gardeners share the fruits of their labor with families in need. “The food is donated and it is given to people who are less fortunate, who don’t have the ability to get fresh food,” says Thom Hardenbergh, a senior member with the garden for 22 years.

Hardenbergh is in tune with all things that take place in the garden. But he, along with fellow gardener Shanna Flanagan, make up just a small fraction of the 30-plus gardeners who have beds within its 20,700 square feet. There are 70 would-be gardeners on the waiting list.

Most of the plots were put to bed for the winter, but with spring’s arrival, the garden will soon flourish with greenery again. Photo by Eldon Graham

You can choose what you want to do in the garden as long as you follow the stated bylaws. Each gardener is responsible for their own plot. “At any point, you can go by a plot that might be strictly to plant or cut flowers, or any other material. Some people are very orderly and very controlled about the gardening environment, very thorough; others just want to see how it goes,” said Flanagan. Anything planted must be legal.

Diversity is one aspect of the garden not limited to the vegetation. Hardenbergh and Flanagan rave about how the garden is filled with people of different ages and cultures who all bring something different to the garden – a microcosm of what makes not only the community garden, but Philadelphia itself a role model for everyone.

Gardeners have a magical way of bringing out beauty in their crops and vice-versa.

Bees play a very important role in the gardening process. Flanagan described how bees work to help the garden and crops: “It’s important for our garden and other gardens to have the bees because they pollinate and they help things grow,” she said.

Working in the community garden is very much a democratic process, as members have a say in what goes into and around the garden. The Southwark/Queen Village garden is so beautifully taken care of, you wouldn’t be wrong to mistake it for a small but high-functioning farm.

The garden uniquely fits the community’s and the gardeners’ needs as they have arisen over the last decade. An irrigation system was installed in 2004. Solar panels were put in place in 2006 for sustainable electricity. In 2003, the gardeners, headed by Hardenbergh, rebuilt a broken-down gazebo so that the people could have a place to sit and relax in between their labors. In 2009, they added a roof to the gazebo to increase shade to the area.

One of the most distinctive things about the garden – but also one hotly debated at the time – was the installation of a compost toilet. This is a waterless toilet that helps create compost through a natural chemical process to help fertilize plants in the garden.

For anyone interested in joining the garden or in finding out more about the Neighborhood Garden Trust, go to www.ngtrust.org.

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