by Bobby Harrell
This is part of an ongoing series of reprints from the Local’s nearly 60 years of print archives. With the Chestnut Hill Home and Garden Festival celebrating its 20th anniversary on May 15, we’re running an article that details some of the activities that went on at the event way back in 1998.
Gray skies overhead, combined with a nasty weather forecast for the weekend, threatened to spoil the opening ceremony of the Comcast Chestnut Hill Garden Festival last Friday. But the rain held off – at least until midday. The balloon went up, as they say, shortly before noon.
Among the V.I.P.s seated on a raised platform outside Robertson’s were State Senator Allyson Schwartz, City Councilman Frank Rizzo Jr., and jazz great Grover Washington Jr.
As promised, all of the greetings were short and sweet, including that of the Honorable Marjorie O. Rendell, who stole the show with several witty jokes at her husband’s expense. “If Ed shows up later,” quipped, “he’ll pay for his own lunch.” Judge Rendell is also very tactful. “A little sprinkle will be good for the planet.” Within seconds she had the audience in the palm of her hand.
She got her biggest laugh, however, while struggling to cut the official, magnificent rope of flowers with a pair of garden shears almost as long as her arm. After a dramatic countdown – five, four, three, two, one – she attacked it valiantly (without success) until Councilman Rizzo came to her aid. The crowd burst into applause as the stubborn vine finally snapped. Our festival was off to a happy start.
There followed a tasty lunch al fresco catered by Rollers. Everyone dug in and enjoyed this feast of sandwiches, fruit, pastries, wine and beer while mingling happily with representatives from Chestnut Hill HealthCare, the Chestnut Hill Business Association, and the Comcast Family of Companies. It was most festive.
On Saturday, I looked in on the Children’s Story Thyme Tea Party. This charming event was held in the upstairs dining room of Best of British. Tickets to it, we were told, had sold out within 48 hours of its announcement. At $5 per person it is no wonder. There were at least two seatings – 40 souls at each seating – and I arrived at the 10:30 a.m. experience. As a World War II veteran, I thought myself a trifle old to qualify for admittance, but the young lady in charge said I would be welcomed as an observer. This despite the fact that I had failed to bring along my favorite stuffed animal. The fourth estate hath its privileges.
Darling children. All toddlers. You had to be pre-kindergarten to get in. The little angels were astonishingly well-behaved as they devoured crumpets and listened to Miss Cindy the Storyteller reading aloud from a book entitled, “Miss Spider’s Tea Party.” I learned this from Wendy Concannon of Mes Enfants Boutique, a shop which co-sponsored the event with Best of British. She explained that the proceeds from these parties will benefit the maternal newborn units at the Chestnut Hill Hospital.
“The ideal cause,” I thought, and left the restaurant feeling newborn myself.
The rain had stopped, and next on my agenda was the third in a series of six lectures presented by the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania and Rodale Press. These were all held at Christ Ascension Lutheran Church Community Hall a few blocks down the hill. Inasmuch as my wife regularly cooks with herbs, I had no trouble selecting a lecture on that subject to be given at 3 p.m. by Larry Sombke. Its title was “Beautiful, Easy Herbs.” (My wife is the herbivore and I am attracted to the concept of easiness.)
Professor Sombke, who probably has more degrees than a thermometer – we didn’t ask – is the garden editor for the Times-Union in Albany, New York, and hosts a weekly radio program on Northeast Public Radio. He is also a landscape consultant and has been a guest on many TV shows.
It is always a pleasure to listen to a specialist who is crazy about his work and knows how to communicate verbally. Such a man is Larry Sombke. One got the feeling that what he doesn’t know about herbs and other flora isn’t worth knowing. He touched upon the cultivation of herbs out of doors and in the house. Sunlight is critical. He said little about the medicinal use of herbs, preferring to deal with their use as condiments and spices in the culinary arts. He spoke of herbs as ornamental, as well as useful. Stress was put upon the fact that not all herbs are edible. A few are even toxic. The feeding habits of deer was discussed, for example, whereupon Sombke rattled off a long list of herbs that deer won’t eat. I had always assumed that deer, like goats, will eat anything when hungry. Not so. When the 50-minute hour was up – it had flown by like lightning – Sombke thanked us for coming and headed for Borders to sign copies of his books.
Sunday: Blue skies. Sunny and warm. Thousands of happy Hillers and visitors paraded up and down the Avenue. There was dancing in the streets. Music everywhere. Is there a theme for the Garden Festival of 1998? One springs to mind: “All’s well that ends well.”