South Philly Walkabout: Gardens, Food and Art Finds

Over a week ago, I had the chance to do a garden and "Urban Farm" tour of South Philadelphia.  It was organized by the South Philly Food Co-op.  I've been wanting to post photos about our walkabout but never got around to it.  So, before it's the dead of winter, I thought I'd put the photos up and share the experiences of what we found and saw in and around South Philly.  The above photo is at Broad and Synder Avenue - at South Philadelphia High School - a school more infamous for all the strife and violence than for anything nurturing or growing there.  In a small reclaimed plot of land, the students and community have staked out a lovely garden, or  orchard.  In this spot are blackberry bushes, herbs, wild strawberries, a fig tree (planted by Mayor Nutter); crepe myrtle and other assorted flora and knit/yarn bombed artistic embellishments.  There's a compost bed and a water recycling barrel.  This was our first stop on the garden tour - getting us off to a great start.

 Next on our tour was a house and garden on Sartain Street owned by the most lovely couple, Randy and Erica.  They had a wonderful little house which they graciously opened to all and even allowed Nate to enjoy their garden and wagon.   This garden was out front and out back of their house.  Inside was their great collection of reclaimed house ware, art, furniture and home to a large Gila monster/iguana and some doves.

 After two gardens on the East side of Broad Street, we headed over to the West Side and made a pit stop at Cafe Ultimo for the best Macchiatto outside of Italy.

 Found some cool Street Art along the way too.

Then we visited this public garden in the middle of Hicks Street between McKean and Mifflin Streets. This garden is in a former space that once had a house in the middle of a block of row homes.  It starts on the street - and leads all the way back to where a traditional city back yard/patio would normally be located.  The owners/gardeners have worked on this for years, adding all kinds of embellishments - mosaics, brick pathways, trees, shrubs, butterfly gardens and a back pergola sitting area.  Nate thoroughly enjoyed walking through the garden and wanted to try his hand at a bit of gardening too.

 After we left the public garden, we were treated to a magnificent view of Center City on a clear and sunny day.  Almost makes me nostalgic for City Living.  Almost...
 Back on the Eastern Side of Broad Street, we visited a garden above the street - a back yard with a small street level garden but also with a garden up on a patio, above a garage.  Lots of self-contained vegetables growing, cucumbers, chard, herbs, in addition to flowers and bamboo.
 Having found a few hidden gems, I didn't think I'd see anything more magnificent in a South Philly back yard, until we came to this place near 12th and Dickenson Street. It was like stepping into another country.  Such a formal garden with a bit of whimsy too.  The owner said it's about 2 years strong now.  The garden crew from Urban Jungle on Passyunk Avenue helped to build the raised beds and put in the plants.  Very impressive and very large by South Philly standards.
 A few houses down the garden was a bit different.  Just as large, but the space was used more like an outdoor living room or patio.  A few tomato plants.  It was impressive for its size more than anything else.
A little stray we spotted along the way
 After a few more blocks, both Nate and I were nearly done for the day - we were out for over 3 hours and had walked about 3 miles.  Since there were a few more gardens on our way to our house, I meandered a little more.  We stopped at one house that I often pass by, so I had to stop in to see what was behind their doors.  The garden was big, but didn't have much in the way of plants or vegetables.  They did have a very lovely cat that tolerated Nate getting down next to him.  In my book, if the pet is cool with my kid sticking his face up against yours, then that's a great pet.  Nate enjoyed this garden far more than I.

 Last stop of the garden tour - along 8th Street.  Tiny house with a tiny garden but the owner made the most of both.  The back garden was a postage stamp size filled with plants and a tree! I was so tired that I forgot to take photos of the garden but remembered to snap a photo of her front stoop.  Love it when people take care enough of their homes to continue the pretty to the front for everyone to enjoy.

Home! After a proper rest, something to eat and a clean up, we went out that evening to see a friend's art at B Square Gallery off of 9th and South Street.  By this time, Liz had come home from a long day at work, so we made our evening art and food find a family affair. We made a quick stop in the gallery to see my friend, Diane R's drawings.  The theme of the show was the Insect Invitational.  There are many lovely pieces in the show, some of which include hand made jewelry with a bug/insect theme.  Even the catering, by Gerri Demitry, was bugging out.  As much as I loved the art, and really enjoyed having the chance to a) get out and do another fun thing with my family and b) do

something adult and run into an old friend, I really loved finding this beautiful catered food-as-art.  Ideas I will definitely be incorporating into my Bicycle Chef recipes and techniques.  It's funny, but it's been so long since I've had any artistically creative food design ideas but I used to do stuff like this a lot when I worked at Whole Foods.  I really loved the chef's creative use of food and vegetables.  She had beautiful displays using food in clever ways.  The food was edible and approachable while being whimsical.  A lovely touch for an art show opening and a great last find of my long wonderful day.  For the full photo show of the garden tour, visit my Flickr page - The Bicycle-Chef via this hyperlink!


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