Gathering to Showcase Civic Horticulture

In Sept. of 2011, Charles Birnbaum, founder and president of The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF), penned a love letter — via his Huffington Post column, City Shaping — to Philadelphia’s past and current public greening efforts. It’s no wonder, then, that the D.C.-based nonprofit has chosen the city as the site of its first Civic Horticulture conference.


“Philadelphia is a city that was built on horticultural exhuberance,” says Birnbaum. “And today it’s a leader in showing how public-private partnerships can help build and maintain those spaces.”


The event includes best practices presentations on Friday, May 17 and weekend tours of public gardens, parks, and greenways. It wll be co-hosted by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS), whose president Drew Becher says he’s “thrilled at the recognition. It’s a testament to what Philadelphia and PHS and our partners have created. 


“We have some great examples of civic horticulture,” he continues, “starting with the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and Washington Square Park and continuing to Race Street Pier and the 26th Street Greenway.”


The Friday sessions will follow three tracks: the street (the role of street trees, public greenways and the like), the productive garden (urban agriculture, public engagement), and parks and plazas. In addition to Birnbaum, speakers include landscape designers Raymond Jungles, Matthew Urbanski of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Eric Kramer of Reed Hilderband, and Susan Weiler of OLIN Partnership, as well as Penn professors David Brownlee and Harris Steinberg. 


“Our audience is primarily landscape architecture folks,” Birnbaum says, “but we’re really interested in going beyond the talk about designed landscapes to address the role that plants themselves play in the design process.” 


Participation in the Friday session is eligible for Landscape Architecture continuing education credits.


The free weekend of “What’s Out There” tours will treat the 1,500 attendees to everything from peeks at several area college campuses to behind-the-scenes walks through historic cemeteries to neighborhood tours. To register, visit


The conference kicks off next Thursday evening with a sneak preview of this year’s entry in PHS’ now-annual Pop Up Garden, to be located across the street from Hamilton Hall, at 313 S. Broad, in a vacant lot owned by University of the Arts. 


The Pop Up opens officially on May 29, and promises to be the most ambitious one yet, with PHS also adding greenery to the two spaces on either side of the  entrance to Hamilton Hall and perhaps to the Broad Street median. In addition, the main garden space will feature a restaurant open during dinnertime, and the overall hours of the garden will be considerably extended from previous versions. 



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