Q. Do you have information on the history of community gardening?

I am a graduate student and just starting research on community gardening history. Can you suggest places to start? I’m also interested in the history of community gardening in Philadelphia and wonder if you can give me information about PHS’s involvement.


For a very brief overview of the history of community gardening in Philadelphia, see the link below to an article by Libby Goldstein, “Philadelphia's Community Gardening History.” According to Goldstein, "The Vacant Lot Cultivation Association provided land and technical assistance through at least 1919, encouraging children to garden and adults to begin for-profit market gardens on lots throughout Philadelphia." See the link below on a report of the Vacant Lot Cultivation Association -- it includes references to work in Philadelphia. Additionally, our library has some of the annual reports of the Philadelphia Vacant Lots Cultivation Association. You should also query Temple University's Urban Archives for this topic.

For PHS's community gardening projects, there is information here in our library in the PHS Yearbooks and our files. For material in our archives, contact the library manager at mcleanlibrary@pennhort.org.

All of PHS's Yearbooks have been digitized and are available on the Biodiversity Heritage Library. (see links below). To trace the activities of the early days of PHS's community gardening projects, start with the 1970 PHS Yearbook, when we participate in the first Earth Week. Continue to 1972 where Ernesta Drinker Ballard writes "I cannot say precisely what the outcome will be. But out of the mass of memoranda, proposals, discussions and meetings, I begin to see emerging the concept of an urban horticultural society serving the needs of a great city and its suburbs in an age when the quality of life is acknowledged to be of fundamental importance. It is a challenging vision to a growing society." (Report, 1972 yearbook, p. 4). By 1973, PHS started its greening program.

Here is a list of references on the history of community gardening. These books are in our library. The Hynes, Lawson and Rosan books have information on the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society's Philadelphia Green program.

The Bush-Brown book is about an earlier community greening effort in Philadelphia, before ours came into existence.

Bush-Brown, Louise Carter. 1969. Garden Blocks for Urban America.  New York: Scribner.

Gröning, Gert. 2006. Kleingärten. In The Oxford Companion to the Garden, p. 266. New York: Oxford University Press, USA.

Hou, Jeffrey, Julie M. Johnson, and Laura J. Lawson. 2009. Greening Cities, Growing Communities: Learning from Seattle's Urban Community Gardens. University of Washington Press.  

Hynes, H. Patricia. 1996. A Patch of Eden: America's Inner City Gardeners. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Pub.  (PHS Philadelphia Green program profiled).

Lawson, Laura J. 2005. City Bountiful: A Century of Community Gardening in America. Berkeley: University of California Press.  

Rogers, Elizabeth Barlow. 2001. The Weaving of Place and the Geography of Flows: Landscape as Bodily Experience and Vernacular Expression. In Landscape Design: A Cultural and Architectural History. New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang.

Rosan, Christina D and Hamil Pearsall. 2017. Growing a Sustainable City?The Question of Urban Agriculture. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. (PHS Philadelphia Green program profiled).

 Taylor, Patrick. 2006. Allotment. In The Oxford Companion to the Garden, p. 7-8. New York: Oxford University Press, USA.

 Tucker, David M. 1993. Garden and Community. In Kitchen Gardening in America: A History, 155-165. Ames: Iowa State University Press.  

 Warner, Sam Bass. 1987. To Dwell Is to Garden: A History of Boston's Community Gardens. Boston: Northeastern University Press.  

 Weissman, Evan. 2010. Community Gardens. In Encyclopedia of Organic, Sustainable, and Local Food, 189-193. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood

Here are selected publications about the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society's greening programs. Some of these references may be useful to you in your research, especially Bonham and Spilka's Old Cities/Green Cities:

Bonham, J. Blaine, and Gerri Spilka. Old Cities/Green Cities: Communities Transform Unmanaged Land. Chicago, IL: American Planning Association, 2002.

Bonham, J. Blaine, and Patricia L. Smith. “Transformation Through Greening.” In Growing Greener Cities:  Urban Sustainability in The Twenty-First Century, 227-243. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008.

Duffy, Marcia Passos. “Vacant Lots Grow Urban Solutions.” Turf. North Feature (May 2008). http://www.turfmagazine.com/article.php?id=1339

Fairbanks, Phil. “Green Strategy Works to Increase Property Values.” The Buffalo News, November 21, 2008.

“Fighting Blight Pays in Philadelphia.” ResearchWorks 7, no. 2 (March 2010). http://www.huduser.org/portal/periodicals/Researchworks/febmar_10/RW_vol7num2t3.html

Gates, Kellie Patrick. “Other Cities Come Here to See How PHS Does It.” PlannPhilly: Planning Philadelphia’s Future, June 15, 2010. http://planphilly.com/green-inclined-other-cities-come-see-how-phs-does-it

Greco, JoAnn. “PHS Vacant Lot Program Threatened.” PlanPhilly: Planning Philadelphia’s Future, July 13, 2010. http://planphilly.com/phs-vacant-lot-program-threatened

Hallberg, Basil. “Using Community Gardens to Augment Food Security Efforts in Low-Income Communities”. Masters of Urban and Regional Planning Major Paper, Virginia Tech, 2009. https://gcgdl.omeka.net/items/show/11

Jost, Daniel. “Firm Focus: Thinking Big...and Small.” Landscape Architecture 100, no. 3 (March 2010): 78-91.

Laskawy, Tom. “Philadelphia’s urban-farming roots go deep—and are spreading wide | Feeding the City.” Grist, September 22, 2010. http://www.grist.org/article/food-2010-09-21-philadelphias-urban-farming-roots-go-deep-and-are-spreading.

Lyman, Francesca. “From Vacant to Verdant: Rethinking the Shrinking City.” Parks & Recreation 43, no. 7 (July 2008): 6.

Merritt, Athena D. “Phila. Launches PhillyWorks Jobs Program.” Philadelphia Business Journal, January 11, 2010. http://philadelphia.bizjournals.com/philadelphia/stories/2010/01/11/daily12.html

Nairn, Michael. “Keeping the Community in Community Gardening: Aqui Estamos y no nos Vamos.” Progressive Planning (Winter 2007): 4-6.

“Not Garden Variety in Philadelphia.” Local ecologist, April 15, 2010. http://localecologist.blogspot.com/2010/04/not-garden-variety-in-philadelphia.html

Otterbein, Holly. “City cuts PHS’s land program by $840,000: The Clog: Blog Archive: Staff Blog: Philadelphia City Paper.” The Clog : Philadelphia City Paper, July 14, 2010. http://citypaper.net/blogs/clog/2010/07/14/city-cuts-phss-land-program-by-840000/

Philadelphia Vacant Land Management and Reclamation. Cooperative Conservation Case Study, n.d. http://www.cooperativeconservation.org/viewproject.asp?pid=999.

Shapiro, Howard. “Growth Factor.” Inquirer Magazine, February 23, 2003.

Staley, Willy. “Why Can’t It Work in Youngstown? Part 1 of 2.” Next American City, June 7, 2010. http://americancity.org/columns/entry/2367.

Walsh, Thomas J. “Looking Beyond Broken Windows.” The Next Great City: Philadelphia, February 4, 2010. http://www.nextgreatcity.com/node/1509

 And finally, I included a links to a resource guide we created called "Gardening When it Counts" (below). It includes both current and historic efforts on the topic of gardening in hard times, including victory gardens and related endeavors; as well as to our resource guide “Community Gardening.”

  • Last Updated Jan 14, 2021
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  • Answered By Janet Evans

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