City Gardens – Philadelphia and Berlin

I didn’t WANT to go into Philadelphia yesterday, but was forced by the urgent need to be fingerprinted. Every volunteer who works with children must be fingerprinted. I also had to fill out extensive forms. The computer rejected my NJ mailing address and rebuked me for failing to list my parents under “who have you lived with since 1975?” Getting clearance to work with kids isn’t easy.

These days, fingerprinting is accomplished at the UPS store. (Cost is $27.) You touch a glass plate and the computer records your prints. No more ink!

Errand accomplished, I met my son for a stroll in the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood. We unexpectedly found ourselves at the gate of the Schuylkill River Park Community Garden. A sign invited us in, asking that we refrain from picking anything, and stay out of the garden plots. Fine! What a beautiful place! In the central gazebo, we found information about the organization that runs the garden. You can check it out at

Parts of the garden are dedicated to growing food for a distribution program. Every individually worked plot is different! Wildly different! Some are devoted to tomatoes, others to flowers. Sunflowers tower here and there. I was impressed by the number of birds to be seen, especially at the central arbor/gazebo. I felt jealous of gardeners who don’t have to worry about deer, and may even be protected against rabbits!

The day was hot. We saw no one working, but the place didn’t feel deserted. I’m sure if I had given in to temptation and snitched a cherry tomato, I would have been caught.

This is an aristocrat among Philadelphia’s community gardens. I see other, more casual gardens from the train as I come and go from 30th Street station, and I know there are cultivated lots in many neighborhoods. When we left, we wandered down to the bike trail beside the Schuylkill, another improvement that makes Philadelphia a pleasant city.

This surprise visit reminded me of the garden plots in Berlin (Germany), where I spent a summer as a student. World War II was almost 30 years in the past, but people were still contentedly living in sheds in the gardens! Periodically, the government tried to relocate them, but without success. The garden plots in Berlin were big – I’m guessing 25 by 50 feet or more. The sheds looked sturdy. Most plots had a grass section and lawn furniture. One evening an apartment dwelling friend took me out to his plot with his family. This was a ritual – evening drinks in the garden, a ten minute drive from home. Surely it made apartment life more pleasant.

I Googled ‘Berlin allotment gardens” and found this excellent article.

The author observed “The gardens were immaculately groomed, yet densely populated with vegetables, flowers and often a fruit tree or two. It made me wonder if Berlin’s multicultural quilt included elves and gnomes.”

Author Jonathan Thompson suggests similar gardens would improve American cities. I agree, and would love to see them added to the urban landscape.


1 thought on “City Gardens – Philadelphia and Berlin

  1. From RHC, currently summering in England: Allotments are a Europe-wide tradition, which successfully crossed the ocean in some of our oldest cities, such as Boston, where the Fenway allotments would compete successfully with those of Berlin. I’m old enough to remember Victory Gardens alongside suburban American homes during World War 2, where I was responsible for a clutch of Bantam hens, collecting the eggs every morning. I think the problem in the US is our extreme suburbanization (with back yards big enough for gardens), and the other temptations of affluence (and the advertising industry), and our MOBILITY, such that we lack cultural heritage and pride of place (which includes the social life of an allotment field). They (allotments) have been re-inserted into some of our most enlightened communities: Berkeley, West Philadelphia. The Atlantic County Park System offers about a dozen allotments in its Estell Manor Park, but it expects users to drive long distances every summer day to maintain them. You’d think a best place for them in Atlantic County would be derelict empty lots in Atlantic City and Pleasantville, but those places are apparently unlivable due to crime (drug problems). Egg Harbor City has lots of poor people living in rental units, but the tradition hasn’t been asked for – perhaps Hispanics don’t have the heritage for it, or food pantries and food stamps are too tempting as an alternative to allotments. Here in England, I remember that allotments tend to be ethnic: the folk operating the local allotment patch in Milton Keynes tended to be Portugese. There are MANY allotment fields in Oxford, available in virtually every neighborhood, generally walkable, VERY successful. They co-exist with five pick-your-own farms in the surrounds of Oxford. At one of them, today, I picked strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, and broad beans.

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