It’s time for a little summer getaway to a beautiful, relaxing spot. There’s no need to pack a bag: Just step out the back door into your own garden.
Going on vacation in your own backyard may not sound very adventurous, but it’s actually a very fine thing to indulge yourself in the pleasant surroundings you have worked hard to create. Instead of making all the arrangements and paying for airfare or hitting the road to get to a crowded beach, you might want to freshen up the flowerpots on the porch, get that mixed shrub bed you’ve been dreaming about off to a really good start, or simply take on a weekend project in a leisurely way, without worrying about whether you’ll have a chance to finish by Sunday night. You don’t need an itinerary; a modest agenda will do. You can cook out every day, get plenty of exercise and spend lots of time in the hammock.
People are catching on to taking time off in the garden. Every summer, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society makes garden time a priority in Philadelphia, with pop-up gardens designed to inspire visitors to get the most out of gardening in the city. Inviting and imaginative pop-up gardens “show what you can do with a good sense of design and an appreciation for excellent horticulture, without spending a whole lot of money,” says Alan Jaffe, PHS communications director.
Last year, 75,000 people popped into the city’s pop-up gardens, which are open from late spring through the end of the gardening season. They’re essentially urban backyards — on a grand scale, considering that most Philadelphia gardens are the size of postage stamps — but the ideas planted in these gritty urban settings can quickly find their way home to tiny backyards, rooftop gardens, balconies and suburban yards, too, Jaffe says. The pop-ups are, of course, full of pretty plants and colorful flowers. They also make imaginative use of recycled and repurposed materials for tables and seating. Above all, they take advantage of easy, hard-working plants that thrive in local conditions. They’re fun, not work, and that’s the point of a backyard vacation; think of it as play time, not garden chores.
Smart, low-key design ideas are abundant. In one PHS pop-up garden on South Street in Philadelphia’s center city, old galvanized washtubs, aged to a soft, silvery gray, have been repurposed as planters full of roses. Raised flower beds burst with hollyhocks, zinnias and lavender. A 10-foot-long planter on an industrial-looking base is devoted to an herb garden full of parsley, dill, sage, rosemary and five different kinds of basil.
The ideas behind these planters and plantings are intended to be portable: Visitors can easily re-create them at home, Jaffe says. Mixing ornamental and edible plants makes sense in a small space, he says, but, beyond that, the combinations of flowers with herbs or vegetables prove that plant choices do not have to follow conventional rules. “We want to teach people about expanding the palette they bring to the backyard, to use unusual containers and found objects,” he says.
This summer, a pop-up garden at uCity Square expands on the edible-as-ornamental theme. Parallel rows of large raised beds filled with summer flowers run along either side of a wide walkway. Simple iron arches over the walk will be covered with morning glories, cardinal vines, moon vines, scarlet runner beans and other vining plants as the summer progresses.
Big picnic tables encourage visitors to share the space. There are also bistro tables for more intimate conversations, and big patio umbrellas work their usual magic, rain or shine. The lighting at night is simple, too: Strings of bistro lights twinkle over the garden like stars.
Go ahead and steal a few ideas from these gardens for your own backyard vacation. Then share them in the best way possible: Fire up the grill, fill the cooler full of ice and beverages, invite a few friends over and take the rest of the day off.
For more information about the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s annual pop-up gardens, check the organization’s website: phsonline.org.