On the corner of 49th and Parkside Ave, just outside of the gates of the LandHealth Native Plant Nursery, sits an abandoned lot. 50 years ago this lot served as the turnaround for SEPTA buses as well as providing a resting place for drivers. After the construction of a new turnaround, this was abandoned and fell into disrepair. The was continuously filled with trash, needles, and short dumping from surrounding construction projects. The bathroom, which once saw regular usage and upkeep, now sits in shambles as it slowly decays due to years of neglect. This area had become increasingly hazardous to the surrounding community with little effort made by the city, or SEPTA, to correct its condition.
In the late spring of 2021, we began planning to reverse the years of neglect that the site had faced just outside of our doorstep. We decided to develop the lot and bathroom into a small community garden with a mural that could function as an alternative to the existing bus station. After completing a site walk and gathering measurements we began designing the garden by incorporating recycled wood pallets as the basis for the structure. Before being able to stick a shovel into the ground we quickly ran into the issue of land ownership. Landhealth does not own or lease the land that we had begun designing the garden on. Ownership sat firmly with SEPTA and they had little incentive to relinquish ownership or formally allow development on the site. So we decided to supersede municipal bureaucracy and construct our garden in a guerilla fashion just as many have done before us.
With combined support of everyone at LandHealth, we transformed the vacant, overgrown, and trash-filled lot. We removed approximately two full bags of trash that included clothes, beer cans, and even needles. After properly disposing of the needles we began to address the non-native plantlife and overgrown shrubs in the lot. All of the pruned and weeded plants were then placed next to our meadow to biodegrade and reenter the soil. Then we moved approximately 2000 pounds of gravel to level the garden bed and reveal the concrete adjacent to the old bathroom. After moving the gravel, we constructed the path edging and placed recycled mulch in the planter beds.
Determining the plant life for the gardens was another complicated endeavor due to extremely demanding conditions. The site is full sun with gravel as its primary planting substrate. That being said, we knew it could sustain plant life due to the massive Paulownia shrubs and mugwort that had been growing there for years. We chose plants such as mountain mint, panic grass, and black-eyed Susans that would be able to resist the harsh conditions of the site and one day flourish. Then it was time for the mural.
The artist commissioned for this piece wanted to place the West Parkside community at its very center. The character represents the duality of Mother Nature in our current world. She is shown as a strong black woman and as the native greenery that surrounds the brick and concrete world we have constructed. Both of which have been neglected by our rapidly changing world. The flowers in her hair, many of which are endangered and under immense pressure, are all native to the Philadelphia area. The blue skies symbolize the hope and bliss that can be achieved with community connection and the protection of the natural world. The artist would also like to encourage other artists to add to this piece, celebrating their own connections to community and nature. Through art, we can be reminded to love and respect all people and nature.
The site is almost finished and will be fully open for public use in the coming weeks. Make sure to come by the LandHealth Native Plant Nursery to view our garden, grab a native plant, and escape the noise and commotion of the city!
Learn more about our Nursery: https://www.landhealthinstitute.org/copy-of-landhealth-nursery-1