Green Machine arrives at Chew

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“Can we plant blueberries soon?” Arnera Bryant girlishly asked overseer Sean Roulan.


The inquisitive 10-year-old, a fifth-grader-to-be at F. Amedee Bregy School, 1700 Bigler St., posed her question before she and 19 fellow campers posed their bodies in front of a vivid Subaru Outback Aug. 11 at Chew Playground, 18th Street and Washington Avenue. Children and adults will cultivate their fondness for flora through the vehicle, which the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society will use for its Green Machine Initiative.


A 13-park project, the four-month-old undertaking has sought to strengthen gardens and transform young minds. A PHS consultant with the society, Roulan has added his expertise to both objects and will continue to do so through October. 


“There was almost nothing here when we started,” the Northern Liberties resident and tender of all the sites said of last month’s planting. 


Roulan revealed some locations needed little modification while others required extensive treatment. Chew found itself a mix of the descriptions. Seeking to morph the renovation with the camp activities, he devised Friday-morning meetings with the youngsters to plot their management of plots. 


Volunteer community members built 12 beds for the participants, allowing the playground’s southeast section to give passers-by an aesthetic treat. PHS supplied the soil and compost through a $30,000 grant from the William Penn Foundation, and the Philadelphia Committee of the Garden Club of America offered $2,500 to cover the sites’ plant expenses. The Chew children made apparent their appreciation for the endowments last week.


“This is my first time planting, and I can’t wait to continue in the fall,” Arnera, of 20th and Ritner streets, said of her efforts.


Confident she will convince her instructor to add antioxidant-rich blueberries to the offerings, she seemed content with the current contents, as a couple raspberries gave her cup of water additional benefits.


“The children love to come out to work with the plants,” Roulan said. “They almost overwater because they are so eager.” 


A landscape designer, he has involved children in garden work for four years. For his Chew assignment, he focused on items with aromatic and/or edible leaves. French sorrel, figs, sunflowers, raspberries, peppermint and lemon verbena dominated the day. The children giddily asked attendees if they wanted leaves to flavor their drinks. Receiving affirmatives, they placed samples in cups and retreated for reinforcements.


“We’ve had a great relationship with the Friends of the Chew Playground,” Drew Becher, head of the 184-year-old PHS, said as the children, all donning camp shirts, made a uniform trek to onlookers. 


He celebrated his first anniversary as its 36th president in June, two months into the plan to keep gardens thriving. His organization assists 70 such entities through the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Department. That many sites suffer from neglect prompted the Green Machine design’s birth. 


“We are aiming for a transportation of space and solid interaction between kids and adults,” he said.


Location choice depended on the presence of infrastructure, a close union between a spot and PHS through the department and advocacy from community members. The trio of traits sealed Chew’s selection. South Philadelphia gives the project nearly a quarter of its beneficiaries, as PHS also picked Bella Vista’s Cianfrani Park, Eighth and Fitzwater streets, and Pennsport’s Dickinson Square Park, Fourth and Tasker streets.


Placards told that Cianfrani has improved sight lines, aesthetic planting beds through shrub pruning, new plants and a revised maintenance plan. Dickinson Square had its diseased roses replaced with Gold Medal shrubs.


“Sean will be with everyone until around mid-autumn, at which time we will start to teach about harvesting,” Becher said. “People move away and sites decline. We want to stabilize involvement.”


Becher and PHS are certainly not averse to giving and receiving loyalty. With the crowd gathered, he spoke of Chew’s master plan, a labor that will include a learning garden with a seat wall, a low-fencing secure play area, asphalt pavement removal, seating areas for educational activities and extra benches.


“To reduce stormwater runoff, we will also have new street trees and tree trenches,” Becher said, giving a nod to the Philadelphia Water Department.


Representing the City, Michael DiBerardinis spoke of the Parks and Recreation Department’s 20-year affiliation with PHS.


“Today proves the commitment the city and PHS have to increasing the beauty and utility of our neighborhoods,” the deputy mayor for environmental and community resources said.


Tom Angelucci has enjoyed being a contributor to that beauty. The dealer marketing manager for Subaru of America’s Philly Zone presented the Outback, which remained under a white cover until the end.


“We are excited to help PHS to continue its outreach to its many communities,” Angelucci said of the organization, whose International Flower Show — the world’s largest indoor flower exhibition — has received his company’s title sponsorship for 11 years.


With the children’s excitement nearing its apex, Chew’s fourth-year leader Octavia Cherry capped the presenters’ portion. The resident of 18th and Federal streets applied last year to have her site receive attention and shook off nerves to declare her gratitude.


“I am so thankful,” she said. “The children have taken the chance to be creative and have been happy every second. Thank you for giving them cause to feel so productive.” 


Terming them “my babies,” she thanked the youngsters by name. With speeches concluded, her charges grabbed the sheet and unveiled the vibrant vehicle, eliciting cheers and exclamations of amazement. The fluorescent specimen features floral and gardening tool designs. 


“The Green Machine will go to numerous locations to deliver supplies and to present educational programs,” Alan Jaffe, PHS’ public relations manager, said, adding that his employer will look to build a fleet of vehicles to provide goods and wisdom.


“Say ‘trees!’” Cherry said, putting an opportunistic spin on the familiar “cheese!” as everyone huddled for photos.


The distribution of water ice enticed a few campers from the scene, but many took advantage of a chance to sit in the vehicle.


“Very cool,” Arnera said of the automotive experience.


“The children are always so passionate about planting,” Cherry said, labeling it the activity through which they show the most diligence. “Even with last month’s extremely hot days, they wanted to be out there.” 


If blueberries or another fruit joins the stretch, she knows enthusiasm will increase. If they must care for the existing items only, she knows their confidence will remain in bloom.


“They are always ready to be active,” she said. “They love helping the community.”

Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at jmyers@southphillyreview.com or ext. 124.

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