Planning A Community Garden – With You!

– Posted in: Seasonal Gardening

After spending the past 5 years in Tel Aviv, several months ago my instincts told me that it was time to return to my hometown of Philadelphia this spring.

Chanticleer Cutting Garden

Chanticleer Cutting Garden – June 2013

I wasn’t quite sure why but over time it became clear that my inner motivation for going was a deep desire for  planning a community garden.

My dream location for it? West Philly. This section of Philadelphia, where The University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University are located, is filled with a vibrancy, richness, and diversity that I crave.

It is also an area that is in dire need of economic repair. As a matter of fact, it is one of the 5 U.S. Cities that is part of Obama’s Promise Zone Initiative.

For me, it is a ‘soulful’ place where I have always felt at home and been involved with and developed several community programs over the past 25 years.


How to make it happen?

First, I put my intention out to the universe and just sat with it for a few weeks. I knew that the answer would come to me if I had patience. It did.

I decided to make a phone call to a friend who is deeply involved in the community. He put me in touch with a friend who just happens to be involved in community gardens in West Philly.  And voila.

Within a few days, I was connected with Lombard Central Presbyterian Church in the heart of West Philadelphia. Because everything fell into place so easily (including being able to book my dog sitter for 2 months), I knew that my return to Philly and my yearning for planning a community garden was ‘meant to be’

I have taken it on faith that the church community wants a garden and will become active (and eventually take charge) in the cleaning up, digging, planting and maintaining once I arrive. All evidence points in that direction based on the e-mails that have been going back and forth.

Students from Drexel University are involved in running the daily soup kitchen and have told me that the chef would love fresh veggies from the garden. They have already planned an April clean up of the ‘garden area’ which is a good first step.

As I’ve been mulling over the photos sent to me and dreaming about possibilities without ever having seen the land or even have a scaled drawing or plot plan, I had an idea.

Actually, it’s an experiment. And it involves you.

I think it would be great fun if all of you helped me plan the garden.

What I mean by that is that every time I write a post or a few thoughts either here, on FB, Google+ or Pinterest and tell you what is happening, I would love it if you would respond with input, ideas, suggestions, and questions.

I want to make it clear up front that there is ABSOLUTELY no idea that is too ‘stupid’ or ‘inconsequential’. Consider your chiming in as a ‘brainstorming’ session, especially in the initial stages.

All thoughts and ideas will be considered and appreciated.

As of now, all I have are the photos to share with you. I have no plot plan or sketch so I am ‘guestimating’ the direction of the sun/shade.

The photos are in no particular order.

LPCC Community Garden

back exit of Lombard Central Presbyterian Church – into garden


LPCC Community Graden

Access from church to garden


West Philly Community Garden

Raised beds lined up against fence


Raised beds at LPCC Community Garden

Different view of raised beds at LCPC Community Garden


West Philly Community Garden

Community Garden street view

This is what I have been told thus far about the garden.

1. The only sunny location is where the raised bed containers are lined up. The rest of the lot is shaded by overgrown neighboring trees and the overhang of the building.

2. The only access to the garden is through the church’s back exit (which is illegal). Notice the condition of it.
Access through the street has been denied with a fence and lock due to the incidence of crime in the area.

3. There is no outdoor water source. Yep. I spoke with an architect who said he thought putting outdoor faucets could be done but he’s concerned about the fragility of the indoor plumbing which has not been touched for the past 40 + years.

Things we’ve already put into play.

1. Getting some large rain barrels from the city.

2. Sourcing out inexpensive mulch and compost through Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park Recycling Center. A big thank you to    Sally McCabe for turning me onto that.

3. ‘Product Donations’ from gardening companies. With just a mention on FB and/or a quick note, I have received offers for products from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Renee’s Garden,  Authentic Haven Brand Natural Brew  and Peace Tree Farm.

Oh yes, if you wondered why I posted a photo of Chanticleer Garden’s cutting and veggie gardens, it’s because I’m a dreamer.

I believe that LCPC Community Garden is going to be unique and represent the heart of that community. BUT it never hurts to have a vision of beauty and bounty in your head and heart as you dance your way through the creative process.


You will find photos and updates on any news about the garden at:


If you have any photos you want to share on twitter that you think might be helpful, always add the hashtag #LCPC Community Garden.

Please join in the fun! Your input will help turn this neglected area into a magnificent community garden that will help not only the church community and its soup kitchen but the entire neighborhood as well.

Fran Sorin

Fran is the author of the highly-acclaimed book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, which Andrew Weil, M.D., recommends as "a profound and inspiring book."  

A graduate of the University of Chicago with Honors in Psychology, she is also a gardening and creativity expert, coach, inspirational speaker, CBS radio news gardening correspondent, and Huffington Post Contributor.

Learn more about Fran and get free resources that will help you improve your life at

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Fran Sorin
12 Comments… add one

Leave a Comment

Robín García April 1, 2014, 5:31 am

Fran i found your church just Googling. Sun will roughly follow the Powelton Ave line east to west and south of it.

Fran Sorin April 1, 2014, 8:53 am

Robin Garcia- Thanks so much for checking that out. Much appreciated information. Fran

Juan Levy April 1, 2014, 10:55 pm

Fran–consider making the beds into sub-irrigated planters to conserve water (and for healthier plants). I’m in Center City. Let’s talk.

Fran Sorin April 2, 2014, 12:58 am

Juan – Would love to talk. Do you mean drip irrigation? Where are you in center city? Fran

Elle April 2, 2014, 7:23 am

Hi Fran, sadly I’m no gardener so I have no ideas to offer, but I absolutely love this idea and I think it’s wonderful that you have the cutting garden as a vision. The peace and tranquility of greenery soothes the soul and maybe having a bench or two for people to sit and be peaceful and breathe in nature might be something interesting to think about. 🙂

Fran Sorin April 2, 2014, 8:24 am

Elle – yes….a bench indeed would be a wonderful idea.
Without even seeing the garden yet, I already have visions of it becoming a safe urban paradise. Comfortable (and beautiful) seating in any garden is a ‘must have’. Keep your thoughts coming Elle. Am glad you’re feeling better. 🙂

Cathy Taughinbaugh April 2, 2014, 10:15 am

Can’t wait to see your progress, Fran! It could be fun to have a kid’s section, where a group of kids decide what plants they want and recruit their friends to help with the project.

Best of luck to you!

Fran Sorin April 4, 2014, 3:00 am

Depending on who ends up populating the garden, a kid’s section could be phenomenal. Thanks for that! Yep- it will certainly be an interesting and fun project. 🙂

Kristin April 4, 2014, 9:29 am

As a community garden mentor I am excited about your vision. Even if it means grabbing a watering can and getting water from inside I know the garden will be a success. If there is room I would add a picnic table and encourage potluck meals to celebrate the harvests. The raised beds are wonderful to grow in. We raised a few of our beds another level to make it easier for seniors to garden. Not only have you created a community garden but a new community will evolve within as well. I see potential for flower gardens just outside the back of the church so you can add pollinating flowers and really make it look great. Wish I was closer.

Tracey April 8, 2014, 12:48 pm

What a cool project!

I do wonder what kinds of planning you’ve done with the church community as far as sustaining the garden. Maybe you could work something out with the Drexel students as well in that regard. Getting it up and running for a season is hard enough work, I’d hate to see it fall by the wayside in a year or two.

Vera April 28, 2014, 8:23 am

Starting a garden anywhere is a great idea and it always leads to so much more than fresh vegetables! I have initiated a community garden in my neighbourhood here in the Netherlands three years ago and it’s led to so many wonderful things! The garden gets bigger every year, and there are more volunteers joining in. If you are interested, I wrote a bit about the garden on my blog last year:
About your garden project: annual vegetables need plenty of sun, so only the sunny part of the garden is suitable for growing them. But the shadier part could be used for berries (gooseberries, currants etc), herbs and perennial vegetables (good king henry, sorrels, damsons, etc) that do well in part shade. Edible forest garden can usually be grown succesfully even in less ideal conditions.
Good luck with your project!

Fran Sorin April 30, 2014, 5:03 am

I love your blog – am so glad to hear that your community garden in the Netherlands has grown and nurtured in ways that you can’t imagine. You did a beautiful design job and how wonderful that your children love the kale. Your advice on shade gardening is appreciated and your blog post inspires. With appreciation – Fran

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