A column about local architecture, urban design and city planning.
by Diane Fiske
For the past year or so, an often muddy, eighth-of-an-acre lot behind the Weaver’s Way Co-op on Germantown Avenue has become a tiny oasis with seating for 40 or more people around trees and boulders arranged in an inviting setting, complete with picnic tables and benches.
Glenn Bergman, the former general manager of Weavers Way, conceived the little green space in 2013.
“There is not a lot of park land in Chestnut Hill, and there are not many places to just relax outdoors,” he said. “I thought it would be a great place for people to congregate and to have some events, but there was not much money to put it together.”
After Bergman left in 2015 to go to Philabuncance as executive director, the cause was taken up by Jon Roesser, the new general manager. In time, a Weavers Way team hired ThinkGreen, a landscape architecture firm led by Peter Johnson and Tom Johnston, who are both registered landscape architects. The firm uses the term “ecological design” on its letterhead
The two architects made up a master plan for the 65 by 50 foot wide site that included a path that could be accessible to wheelchairs and parents pushing baby carriages. It also had to allow drainage to take water away from the entrance and allow for a terrace and steps. All this was planned to change the soggy surface of the tiny site.
Johnston said that all the plants would be “dry laid,” planted in gravel which allows water to filter through and not collect in the ground.
The team said, first, they were told to consider an ancient catalpa tree that had been on the grounds for decades. They protected the tree roots with burlap and “made sure equipment didn’t clip the roots.”
Johnston said they then added a multi- stemmed river birch tree “because it is interesting during every season” He said its bark is russet red in the winter and is green in the summer. It provides rich shade in the summer. They also planted tall grass, switch grass, and another variety of native short grass because they don’t require a lot of irrigation and are very hardy.
In addition to the planting, the ThinkGreen team had to plan seating. They added three levels of seating. The first was an amphitheater made up of fieldstone boulders, which could be used for performances or just a place for people to sit and relax.
The boulders have also been used as a marketplace to sell food and flowers, and there are community events such as wine tastings, beer festivals, poetry readings, music festivals and more.
Finally, there is seating for about 40 on six round tables made to look like wood, but are actually reused plastic benches that the ThinkGreen team refinished – ever mindful of their mantra “reuse, reclaim, rebuild” – which is useful in situations with a small budget such as the one offered by Weavers Way.
Then they added old-fashioned benches for people who “just wanted to relax.”
Johnston said the budget considerations also were behind modification of some original plans including an outdoor kitchen, which could include cooking demonstrations and barbeques outdoors.
Still, since the outdoor area opened last year, it has been a popular place for employees and community members to eat lunch, drink coffee or just enjoy being in a cool, grassy place.
Typical of the daily visitors to the park were Jeffrey and Rachel Meyer, of Oreland, and their two young children who last week were enjoying a picnic lunch at one of the tables.
“It is just the only place in Chestnut Hill where you can go and relax, and you don’t have to spend lot of money to eat with your family,” Rachel said.
“This is the one grocery store in the area that provides a picnic place on the store property,” said Dean Stefano, Weavers Way Chestnut Hill manager. “Almost any other store would have paved over the area for parking.
He said that during warm weather, the area is constantly busy.
“We are using the space for events like movies, cooking presentations, yoga and more,” he said.