Could Mt. Airy have the best garden in Philadelphia?

The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) has begun the judging process for its City Gardens Contest and two of the nominees are from the Mt. Airy neighborhood. The 6700 and 6800 blocks of Germantown Avenue are a single nomination under PHS’ Garden Block category. Patricia Lewis’ private backyard garden located at 6821 Germantown Avenue is nominated in the Flower Garden category.

The blocks were nominated by Lewis and near neighbor, Elise Rivers, owner of Community Acupuncture of Mt. Airy (CAMA) and board member of Mt. Airy’s Business Improvement District (BID).

PHS judges, Rita Stevens, Kathy Weir and Eileen McDermott evaluated the blocks for criteria such as cohesiveness, impact, color scheme, maintenance, plant variety and community participation. “This is incredible!” exclaimed Stevens as the judges toured the area. Stevens said the group will be judging a total of four nominated city blocks.

Rivers presented before and after images to the judges to showcase the evolving look of the blocks since she bought the CAMA building in 2008. “It’s radically different,” exclaimed Rivers. Both Lewis and Rivers have made a substantial effort to beautify their properties with window boxes filled with vibrant flowers and lovingly maintained adjacent tree wells. Much of the blocks’ transformation, however, has come as a result of facade and street-scape improvements through neighborhood organizations, BID and Mt. Airy USA.

“Nothing is done alone,” Rivers acknowledged.

All three judges seemed impressed with the blocks’ transformation. “You can feel the momentum,” remarked McDermott. Lewis and Rivers admitted difficulties in obtaining participation from some of their neighbors. For 25 years the corner lot next to Fino’s Pizzeria was empty and overgrown. Rivers shared how she managed to convince Fino’s owner, Bob Moezi to let her turn the lot into a rose garden two years ago. BID was instrumental in obtaining the plants. Now the lot is a source of pride for Rivers and Moezi, who intends to eventually bring outdoor terrace seating to the space.

Individuals often need to see the impact “before they get it,” related Stevens, “It’s a difficult path to engage your neighbors.”

Lewis’ backyard garden also impressed the judges. A colorful paper lantern adorned alley led to a quiet urban sanctuary. Lewis’ garden is a enchanting blend of bold color and calming elements like a cozy loveseat swing and Buddhist shrine. Lewis told the judges that her garden is her private paradise where she can get away from it all. “You don’t expect to have this back here,” she said.

PHS has held the contest since 1975 with a mission to encourage others to improve their neighborhood and connect through horticulture. There are nine categories in the competition – Flower Garden, Vegetable Garden, Combination Garden, Container Garden, Children’s Garden, Park, Garden Block, Greenest Block in Town and Urban Farm. Judging takes place between July 5 and August 8 and very contestant receives a certificate of participation. PHS judges will make their decisions in August and the winners in each category will be invited to an awards reception in the fall.

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