Gardening for the Greater Good

For December 5, 2018

As cooler temperatures move into our region, you will want to prepare your property to manage stormwater throughout the winter months. Follow these steps, suggested by Zach Popkin, PHS Program Manager. “We always say low maintenance, not no maintenance, when it comes to stormwater management tools during winter months,” says Popkin.

“Although downspout planters and rain gardens won’t provide the same aesthetic beauty as they do during the growing season -- and it’s difficult to enjoy permeable pavers when they’re under a foot of snow -- some basic maintenance practices can help ensure your stormwater management system will remain beautiful and functional for years to come.”

Rain Barrels
Before temperatures consistently drop below 32°F, disconnect the barrel from the downspout. First, drain the barrel by opening the spigot at the bottom. Use a Phillips head screwdriver to remove the two screws connecting the downspout diverter to the downspout. Pull out the diverter and replace with the rubber winter cap that was provided during the installation. Screw in the cap using the same screws you removed from the downspout diverter. If you can’t find the winter cap, replacement caps can be purchased online. Store the accordion tube and downspout diverter in a safe place until spring.

Rain Gardens
Remove any remaining autumn leaves or other debris from your gutters and downspouts to keep them clear. Snow and ice are OK in the rain garden but be wary of any ice extending up the downspout. If the downspout freezes, this may indicate a clog. Make sure water can flow freely out of the downspout and into the rain garden.

Permeable Pavers
Permeable pavers will do their job all winter with the right care. Remove debris from the pavers by sweeping them regularly. After snowstorms, remove snow with a hand shovel or snow blower with a rubber edge. Use salt sparingly -- it can damage pavers -- and concentrate de-icing products in the areas of highest use. Remember that salt is not effective when more than 3 inches of snow has accumulated or temperatures are below 25 degrees. Sand, cat litter, and other non-soluble de-icing products should never be used on permeable pavers -- they will clog the system over time and prevent proper water infiltration.



Posted on November 14, 2018

This year, donations made to PHS on Giving Tuesday, November 27, will support the Roots to Re-entry program and the life-changing training the PHS LandCare team provides to Philadelphia Prison System inmates and Roots to Re-entry graduates. Roots to Re-entry provides citizens transitioning from the Philadelphia Prison System back to their communities with the tools and support they need to obtain meaningful employment in the horticulture and landscape industries.

The impact of this program was recently demonstrated at the New Kensington Community Development Corporation, an organization that cleans, maintains, and manages over 900 vacant land parcels in Fishtown, Kensington, Port Richmond, and beyond as part of the PHS LandCare program.

This season, under the direction of Tiffany Vidra, Crew Leader of NKCDC’s Vacant Land Management team, two recent Roots to Re-entry Bootcamp graduates went above and beyond their duties and achieved a milestone not met by any other graduates before them.

Spring 2018 Bootcamp graduates Perrice Goodlett and Dwoyne Martin started working for NKCDC in early April and continued through October 31. “We’ve worked with Roots to Reentry graduates in the past, but no one has ever completed the season,” says Debbie Kinkead, Executive Associate at NKCDC.

“Perrice impressed me,” says Kinkead. “She always wanted to learn more and she followed our guidance. She fought through a lot of barriers and plans to return next April.”

William Lighter, PHS Project Manager, Community LandCare, notes that “Trainees in the Roots to Re-entry program have to navigate the same challenges in everyday life that we do:  transportation issues, child care, health, relationship and community challenges. But they must perform flawlessly at work, without many of the familial supports and social experiences that we take for granted but employ every day.”

“Most often employers expect these graduates to be perfect in attendance, work performance, and cultural assimilation -- while they work under stigma, and often, with no margin for error.  The success of these graduates relies as much on our compassionate partners, as it does the hunger and tenacity of these graduates,” Lighter explains.

Over the past three seasons, 100 returning citizens have been placed into jobs with contractors and community organizations cleaning and greening vacant lots through the PHS Philadelphia LandCare program.


From left: Debbie Kinkead, New Kensington CDC; Dwoyne Martin; Tiffany Vidra, Maintenance Crew Leader; and Perrice Goodlett.

Posted on October 3, 2018 

The neighborhood is called Hunting Park, evoking images of green lawns and shady boughs. But the North Philadelphia community has one of the lowest percentages of tree canopy in the city, making it one of the hottest places to live and contributing to childhood asthma and other health issues.

“Planting trees is one of the best ways to ameliorate the problem long-term,” says Gabriella Paez, education coordinator at Esperanza, the Hispanic community development organization.

This year, PHS partnered with Esperanza to launch a Tree Tenders group in Hunting Park and offered the program’s first bilingual training for the community which is 60 percent Hispanic “Language tends to be a big barrier in getting access to resources,” explains Paez, who provided translation for the written and classroom instruction.

Twenty-two residents graduated from the training, and the new volunteers planted 15 trees in April. They will add another 45 street trees in November.

The young trees are already making an impact on the residents, who have added window boxes and other plantings around their homes and are spending more time outdoors with their neighbors. “The blocks look nicer, cleaner, and it just feels different. People say, ‘I love walking down this block now,’” Paez says. “People are feeling better about where they live. It’s literally transforming the neighborhood.”

In five years, the Tree Tenders will have planted hundreds of trees, Paez adds, and “20 years down the road they will give plenty of shade. We really will have a green Hunting Park.”


Members of the first bilingual Tree Tenders training for the Hunting Park community celebrate with Tree Tenders program manager Mindy Maslin (seated center, red shirt) and Esperanza education coordinator Gabriella Paez (blue and black shirt).

Two young residents of Hunting Park participate in the Tree Tenders planting in their neighborhood.

Posted on September 5, 2018

Beth Bowman has been a community gardener at Benjamin Rush Community Garden in upper Northeast Philadelphia for 15 years. As a member and treasurer of the garden, as well as a volunteer grower for PHS City Harvest, Bowman finds satisfaction in knowing “we’re doing something good that matters. We’re growing and harvesting vegetables for neighbors in need.” She has been both intrigued and delighted by her community and its diverse group of gardeners.

Originally from the Philippines, where she grew up on a farm, Bowman describes gardening as “very therapeutic – it’s a passion you can’t quantify.”

Bowman loves the community effort in the garden. “You meet people you would not meet otherwise. You gather in the garden with the same goal and passion, and you share your experience,” she says.

One of the most rewarding parts of her experience in the community garden is the people she has met from different countries. “I watch what they do and ask questions. Immigrants grow what’s indigenous to where they come from; it’s part of their culture and how they grew up,” she says.

This year, a couple from Cameroon brought in some special greens. “I kept asking them, what do you do with them? They said it’s greens, like spinach. They kept harvesting them, bringing home whole bunches of it,” explains Bowman. She inquired how they get seeds if they keep harvesting, and learned that in their country, they do four harvests, and the fifth time they leave the plants for seeds. “My priority is that I get seeds first, then I harvest, but theirs is very different,” she says.  

The same family did not want any sweet peppers when they were given out, describing them as bland. “They prefer growing hot peppers to make relish,” says Bowman. “I was fascinated!”

Two awesome gardeners, a couple from Turkey, keep two 30-by-60-foot plots. One plot consists entirely of potatoes, the other vegetables. Bowman learned that the couple eats potatoes every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In Eastern Europe, potatoes are a staple because they grow in the cold and some families don’t have the money for bread and pasta.

Bowman is hopeful new members will join the Benjamin Rush community garden and enjoy the camaraderie, as well as give back to PHS City Harvest. “It’s what we want to do,” she says. Learn more about PHS City Harvest here.

Beth Bowman is a community gardener at Benjamin Rush Community Garden.