Northeast: Parkwood Community Garden a Go, Volunteers Sought

Varley and Coffin took a visit to the where the land.]

A community garden is in the process of becoming a reality for the residents in Parkwood with help from the community to politicians.

Here is a sky view of where the garden will be located.
Here is a sky view of where the Parkwoord community garden will be located.

With support from Councilman Brian O’Neill, R-10th, an 18,000-sq. ft. garden located next to the Community College of Philadelphia along Townsend Road can now happen. O’Neill has dropped an amendment to the zoning code that would have required Zoning Board approval for community gardens.

The real leg work, however, has been done by resident Rita Varley. She went and got up in front of the Parkwood Civic Association with the idea of doing a community garden. She and fellow green thumbed resident Jim Coffin have hopes of making the garden a permaculture garden.

What is a permaculture garden?

The term is shortened for permanent agriculture. It is a form of gardening that goes beyond organic gardening. It allows for things to grow all yearlong instead of just for a short time. The garden sustains itself. Some examples of year-round gardening are strawberries and asparagus.

Preparations for the garden first include coming up with a design. Varley and Coffin want to have an idea of where everything is going to go. Some plants might not need as much water as others so they can go higher up near the street. They also want to test out the soil to see if there are any dangerous chemicals in the soil. Once all that is complete they can start to plow, turn the garden and start planting.

Varley and Coffin look over plans for the garden.
Residents Rita Varley and Jim Coffin looked over plans for the garden.

“We want to try and get native plants,” Coffin said. “Stuff that’s going to grow naturally and come back every year.”

There is no official start date, but Varley is hoping to start as soon as possible once spring rolls around. The intentions by the people associated with the garden have the hopes of making it a beautiful garden with variety and a good place to visit and work.

Parkwood Civic Association Treasurer, Joe McCarthy, thinks that the garden can be more than just something nice to look at. He hopes that maybe the college and the garden can work together. The college could teach the kids and educate them on how to take care of it.

O’Neill said he has recently been learning a lot about community gardens and their benefits, and that he plans to get more active in the idea of having community gardens in the whole city — not just in Parkwood.

Varley and Coffin took a visit to the where the land.
Varley and Coffin took a visit to the 18,000 sq. ft. garden’s future location alongside Townsend Road.

The amendment he originally introduced would have required zoning approval for gardens in CMX-2 and CMX-2.5 commercial mixed-used districts. That change would have made the process more costly and more time-consuming.

“I have no problem with them,” O’Neill said. “They are a very positive thing. There’s still room to do a lot more to get a lot more community gardens in the city.”

O’Neill feels that the idea of taking a vacant lot, cleaning it and making it green is fantastic. One thing a lot of people don’t realize is that 90-95 percent of vacant lots don’t allow community gardens because they are in residential areas.

Varley is in the process of getting as many volunteers as possible. She has around 30 people who are interested in helping out, and nine who are interested in having their own plot. If you would like to help out or have your own plot Varley can be contacted by phone at 215-632-3867 or by email at She urges people to contact her by March 31.

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