For the second year in a row, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society has identified a long-vacant Center City lot and decided to do something about it. Once again, a pop-up garden will take over and activate the space for the summer.
This time, the lot in question is a one-third acre parcel on the 1900 block of Walnut Street, where a fire destroyed the UA Eric Rittenhouse move theater in 1994. Amazingly, the site has stood empty for almost two decades now.
Through mid-October, though, it will burst into bloom with a wildflower meadow designed to enhance the field that’s already sprung up over the years, six raised beds overflowing with vegetables and herbs, and a small event space set aside for lectures and kids’ programming.
Last year’s debut garden occupied perhaps the city’s most prominent empty lot a few blocks north, on the corner of 20th and Market. About 6,000 visitors passed through its gates. Based on the response, this year’s version will offer longer opening hours: Tuesday through Friday from 11am to 2pm, Thursdays evenings from 5 pm to 7pm, and the second Saturday of each month from 9am to 1pm.
In keeping with a theme of “bringing everyone to the table” — to promote PHS’ City Harvest program, which grows and donates produce for families in need — a 64-foot long table will occupy pride of place near the Walnut Street entrance. Some 60 donated wooden chairs, painted in vivid hues of raspberry, turquoise, and lime green by Mural Arts volunteers, will be set around it, offering a perfect lunchtime or picnic setting.
In an effort to raise money for the program, the Society is planning a social media campaign in which donors who make a contribution to City Harvest can submit a photo of themselves in the garden. Each donor’s face will appear in a virtual “tablecloth,” which will grow throughout the summer. A real tablecloth/photo montage will be produced and presented at the closing of the garden.
The lot’s owner Castleway Properties LLC, has granted PHS the use of the land for the summer and has provided financial support for the garden. Sponsors so far this year are the fast food chain Chipotle Mexican Grill and First Trust Bank, both of which have branch locations near the site.
As it did last year, PHS will re-use materials from its most recent Flower Show display. These include two walls made from recycled wood — everything from lath strips to window shutters to even an old keyboard cover from a piano appears in the construction — and the metal armature from the Society’s memorable “wave” installation at the Flower Show’s entrance.
Philadelphia-based artist Mat Tomezsko is using the metal pieces to build walls along several paths that cut through and around the meadow. Over the weeks, he plans to insert his colorful abstract paintings into the metal frame. “I’m a painter who uses found objects in my work,” he says, “so we’ll see how this ends up. Sometimes what you’re painting on is as important as what you’re painting.”
A garden is a constantly evolving project, he points out, and this one is no different.