Latest pop-up garden offers cool retreat, refreshing drinks on South Street

A giant mulberry tree shades hammocks in the back of an 8,000-square-foot vacant lot on South Street in Philadelphia. Umbrellas protect white patio furniture, and palm trees greet visitors coming into the temporary pop-up garden to beat the summer heat.



“They can hold out in a lot of heat, because we’re going to have this hot summer,” said Patricia Sills, a volunteer with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. “They are getting burnt a little bit, but so far so good.”

She is not talking about patrons to the new PHS pop-up garden at 1438 South St. The chief gardener for the project spends three to four hours a day watering banana trees, tiger lilies, elephant ears, and oriental grass on the perimeter of the beer garden.

While Sills waits for installation of an irrigation system to keep these plants cool and happy for the next three months, another crew of volunteers is busy installing beer taps and rum punch coolers at the adjacent bar.

The latest PHS pop-up garden – a peripatetic summer tradition since 2011 – has become more about people and less about plants. What started as a working urban farm on Market Street four years ago has become a popular after-work watering hole – a small oasis of shade, foliage, and happy-hour nibbles.

“The first spot that we had was a very large space, we had room to grow a lot of production beds,” said PHS spokesman Alan Jaffe. “For the past two years – including this year – all the proceeds from sales of drinks at the pop-up will go to City Harvest. People will be helping to feed families who don’t have access to fresh vegetables in their neighborhoods.”

City Harvest, a program involving community gardens, food pantries, and a local prison farm, has grown and distributed more than 110 tons of fresh produce since 2005.

The garden, with its tropical theme, will feature four beer varieties, three types of prepared cocktails (think rum) and nightly visits by a rotating roster of food trucks. The flagstone patio area, with zelkova trees left over from the spring’s Philadelphia Flower Show (painted neon-green as part of an abstract flower exhibition), will accommodate occasional acoustic performances.

The PHS pop-up joins the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation’s Spruce Street Harbor Park on the Delaware River (opened last week) and the City of Philadelpha’s temporary park at Eakins Oval (opening next week). The Horticultural Society lays claim to the pop-up trend.

“Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery,” said Jaffe. “The idea of the pop-up was introduced in 2011 by PHS. The idea of taking vacant land and turning them into beautiful gathering places for residents and tourists is a great idea. We are thrilled to see other agencies and companies doing the same thing.”

Perhaps the agency most benefiting from the pop-up is the Jamaican Jerk Hut, a restaurant adjacent to the vacant lot. Owner Lisa Wilson has just installed a window facing the garden through which she will sell finger-friendly food to peckish drinkers.

“We’re adding stuff to the menu. Kids-friendly stuff, like chicken nuggets and french fries,” said Wilson. “We still want to still be Jamaican Jerk Hut – we’re just adding stuff to it.”

The vacant lot, owned by music producer Kenny Gamble, will host the pop-up garden until October.

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