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More Than a Dream: Girard Dream Garden Blossoms In Budding Community

A garden blooms on Girard Avenue, hidden in plain sight. Across the street from the Aldi, below the inspiring faces of Martin Luther King Jr, Ella Baker, Frederick Douglas and Malcolm X, sits The Girard Dream Garden. Though it may not be apparent to the casual passerby, this luxuriant spot at 31st and Girard is a testament to what happens when people come together.

Girard Dream Garden

Wide shot of the garden from within, with the backdrop of the Dream Mural in sight./Joe Palinsky

The lush foliage and bursts of colorful blooms are no accident. All of this greenery exists due to the hard work and dedication of several individuals who believe in their community. Specifically, the garden owes its current state to the efforts of Brewerytown residents Dallas Perinciolo, Ernie Lim, Marcus Hines and Alex Bauman. These four young men have taken to the helm of this project, working tirelessly to bring Girard Ave a place of solace, of bounty and of joy.  

This community-driven direction is exactly what was intended for The Girard Dream Garden when it first came to be in 2012. The garden was the product of a collaboration between the Brewerytown and Fairmount CDCs to revitalize land, owned by the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, and make it more accessible for public use. The two CDCs banded together to clean out the lot, opening up the space and planting several juniper trees along the entrance. Upon completion of the land’s restoration, the upkeep of the garden was left to the community. Residents immediately responded to this, spending free hours weeding, tending to the plants and enjoying the outdoors. 

Girard Dream Garden

Planters in the garden./Joe Palinsky

When Perinciolo, Hines and Bauman moved to the neighborhood in 2014, it was Lim who had brought them into the fold of what was happening at the garden. Other neighbors were involved, but for most of them it was more of a hobby, a pet project, than anything else. When asked how he and the others came to be the current masterminds behind the garden, Perinciolo responds with amusing honesty:

“We were the ones who showed up.”

And they continued to show up. Week after week, month after month, these four would be joined by other members of the Brewerytown community in the effort to create a thriving garden. Seeds were planted, dirt dug up, tree stumps were repurposed into stools and plans were made for the future of the space. As the group became more involved with the garden, residents whose property borders the lot would assist in any way they could. Electricity was provided by one neighbor, refreshments by another, all coming together to help see this garden take form. Unlike traditional neighborhood gardens, which rely on a plot system to allot space to each member, The Girard Dream Garden is a community garden where anyone can come at any point. The hope is that everyone pitches in and does the work and everyone reaps the benefits of the bounty when all is said and done.

Girard Dream Garden

Locals ​mingling in the garden for the April event.?joe Palinsky

Perinciolo felt motivated by his work with the garden and took a course on Permaculture Design at Heritage Farm in West Philadelphia (4300 Monument Road) in the summer of 2015. What he learned he was able to bring back to the garden. When Lim had the idea for a drip irrigation system, the group was able to combine their knowledge and resources to make it a reality. Materials were purchased, or donated by locals, and a permit was obtained to use a nearby hydrant for water. Drip irrigation helps to avoid overwatering, providing a precise amount of liquid to each plant over the course of a day. This conserves resources as well, as less water is ultimately used in the process. For the group, the goal is to eventually become less reliant on the hydrant by collecting and using rainwater.

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Fairmount Art Crawl/ Sponsored by Fairmount CDC

By the time the spring of 2016 rolled around, the dedicated individuals involved with the garden felt it was time to have a kick-off event. They reached out through their networks in the neighborhood to assemble a team capable of creating a gathering that would attract a wide range of locals.

Held on April 30th, the event saw many faces of the neighborhood coming together, offering their own unique skillsets to aid in the success of the day. Steven Parr, a Brewerytown chef and entrepreneur, provided fresh grilled chicken, slathered in a uniquely savory BBQ sauce. Likewise, vinyl enthusiast Steven Ferrell provided sound equipment and hit the turntables with his slick DJing skills. Living legend Jeannie Brooks, a resident of the neighborhood and renowned Philadelphia vocalist, brought The Brew Sessions into the mix. The group, comprised of musicians who used to meet at Sarah’s Place (1216 N. 29th St), played off and on throughout the event, opening up the mic to anyone who wanted to join in the music. Brooks herself got up several times and freestyled with an ease and passion that can only come with experience. Though the event was free, donations were accepted, mainly as a way to show thanks to the musicians and locals who had offered up their time and services freely.

Girard Dream Garden

Jeannie Brooks and The Brew Sessions performing in the garden at the April event./Joe Palinsky

The overall success of this event has led the group to plan for the future in a multitude of ways. On the planting front, they have tons of herbs and vegetables in the ground, including potatoes, runner beans, kale, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and Brussels sprouts, among others, with even more on the horizon. On the entertainment front, more events are in the works. On June 11th, there will be another gathering with local food, live music and good company. For updates on this event as it unfolds, be sure to find and explore the group’s Facebook page: Girard-Dream Garden (The Dream Garden). Additional information can be discovered on the page for those who want to lend a hand. The group is always outside working on the garden on Sundays around 1:00 PM. Though, they want to make sure that neighbors know they are encouraged to do work in the garden whenever they feel like it.

Girard Dream Garden

Food being cooked up at the April event by Steven Parr/Joe Palinsky

“We want everyone to come,” Perinciolo explains, “We want kids to come with their parents and learn about growing plants. We want the community to play a part in reclaiming this space so that everyone can use it. Come out, even if no one else is here, and get to work. Or don’t work and just sit and read a book and hang with friends.”

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