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The 45-acre garden near the Schuykill River will revitalize public docks and add new programs to educate people about watershed

Credit: Courtesy of Ty Holmberg

At a ceremony in mid-July, Bartram’s Garden unveiled a $2.7 million restoration and renovation project that updated the garden for the first time in almost a century.

The funds went toward the restoration of the Ann Bartram Carr Garden, the only 19th century flower garden in Philadelphia, and towards various improvements to the property’s buildings, including installing geothermal heat sourcing.

The unveiling also served as an update for the Bartram’s Mile trail, a project spearheaded by the Schuylkill River Development Corporation to connect the Southwest Philadelphia green space to the ever-expanding Schuylkill River Trail.

The garden, situated on the Schuylkill River southwest of Penn’s campus, is actually a 45-acre National Historic Landmark. Established in the 18th century as the home of botanist and Quaker John Bartram, the property was passed down through two more generations of diligent caretakers, including Ann Bartram Carr, the namesake of the newly renovated flower garden.

After decades of different owners, The John Bartram Association now operates the property and has taken advantage of Bartram’s Garden’s location in Southwest Philadelphia to serve as a resource to the surrounding community.

JBA Assistant Director Stephanie Phillips said Bartram’s Garden “is committed to being a welcoming green resource for Philadelphians.” Phillips noted the property’s full calendar of community events and programs, and the year-round free access to a green landscape it provides for the community.

The new garden fulfills its purpose as an important resource of botanical knowledge, but it also acts as a way to connect visitors to Ann Bartram Carr, who Executive Director Maitreyi Roy said was an essential figure in the garden’s history.

“Ann Bartram Carr remains important because she opened Bartram’s Garden up to the general public and spread the importance of horticulture and open spaces,” Roy said. “She was also one of the first women to run a gardening business in our young nation, carrying on until 1850.”

An avid gardener and educator herself, “Ann taught her visitors and customers about the need for beautiful plants and open spaces in their lives, paralleling a time when heavy industry was blossoming in the Philadelphia area,” Roy said.

Bartram’s Garden is, however, not so easily accessible by public transportation. Those without cars can access the property by taking the 36 trolley, or by biking on Lindbergh Boulevard, but its lack of connectedness to the surrounding neighborhoods could serve to limit its accessibility and visibility.

A desire for that connectedness is why the JBA is so excited for the Bartram’s Mile project to be completed, which should be by the end of the year, at last estimates. The project, a trail along the west bank of the Schuylkill from Grays Ferry Avenue to 56th Street, will connect Bartram’s Garden to the existing Schuylkill River trail, allowing for greater access for pedestrians and bicyclists.

For the JBA, the trail is “a great, safer connection for bicyclists and recreational users, attracting new audiences to the Garden who may not otherwise come from University City,” Phillips said.

In providing would-be attendees with a safe, accessible way to reach the property, Phillips said, Bartram’s Garden can begin to transition from a destination for those who know the property well to those looking to explore the city and access a new recreational amenity.

And in turning a once industrial but long mistreated section of shoreline into a trail, JBA curator Joel Fry said, “it is hoped the trail will sparks development of these open, post-industrial lands.”

Given Bartram’s Garden’s steady progress over the past decade, the JBA will look to implement further improvements and changes to the property.

According to Phillips, the projects will include revitalizing the half-mile of riverfront the garden boasts to provide safe river access and protect tidal wetlands, adding a revitalized public dock and adding new public programs designed to educate the public on Philadelphia’s waterways and the Schuylkill watershed.

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