May The Philly Garden Swap Grow

If you’ve got a green thumb, or want one and you’re willing to share, Mt. Airy-based Philly Garden Swap and its memberscan be your nursery. Maybe you’ve already got a garden, but want to add some black-eyed susan, lamb’s ear or mountain fox and petunias. The three-year old group holds plant exchanges twice each fall and twice in the summer where neighbors and botanical enthusiasts meet and trade greenery of all varieties from their own gardens. The next swap is this Saturday, June 11 at the Allens Lane Train Station, just hop aboard for a 25 minute-or-so ride on the R8 Chestnut Hill West line at any of the regional rail stops. If their idea spreads those less colorful concrete Philly streets could be dotted with tiny scenes of shrubbery. When founder Ricardo Jefferson, a Michigan-born Philadelphia attorney moved to Germantown in ’06, he left behind a neighborhood tradition where neighbors dug the roots of their own plants to split and exchange them with one another. It saved money. It built community. It made the neighborhood look nicer. “When I moved,” said Jefferson, “because I didn’t know anyone in the neighborhood, I didn’t really have any ties. I didn’t feel comfortable knocking on the neighbors’ door saying ‘can I have some of this?’”

At the same time, he thought it was insane that anyone pay the high prices at a nursery for flowers that are so prolific in the area. But because he was rootless in Philadelphia, he spent the money, and like a botanist eager to design his patch of land Jefferson began to use his imagination to make his garden grow. He figured “the internet was a good tool to get people thinking about plants and trading.” What he thought at first would be similar to a Craigslist discussion page, where people could post about specific breeds and ask questions, grew into people wanting to trade one-on-one. That inspired Jefferson to create the swap gatherings. “But it was never supposed to be a Mt. Airy thing,” said Jefferson. He envisions the group could be citywide. Swaps could take place at any local school, church or park. All right, Mr. Jefferson, here you are. Philly, meet the Garden Swap. It’s easy enough to start in your own neighborhood and its volunteers and members will help you organize and run the swaps. In the words of us, let it grow. —Lou Mancinelli