New trees and makeover for CH West train station

by Francesca Chapman
Posted 9/27/23

Attention, passengers! Now arriving at Chestnut Hill West station: Trees. Shrubs. Flowers. Please watch your step.

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New trees and makeover for CH West train station


Attention, passengers! Now arriving at Chestnut Hill West station: Trees. Shrubs. Flowers. Please watch your step.

The volunteer-led group that recently beautified Septa’s Highland Avenue station has moved up the track to the next stop on the line, the historic Chestnut Hill West terminus at Germantown and West Evergreen avenues.

New arrivals have come in the form of several new trees and shrubs planted behind the TD Bank branch at 8600 Germantown, around the station building and in another island of green wedged between the parking lot and West Evergreen. A planned community event to celebrate the tree planting was derailed twice by last weekend’s stormy weather, but on Monday morning volunteers came and planted young oaks, magnolias, serviceberry and witch hazel trees in the wet earth around the station.

The project was spearheaded by Beth Wright, who two years ago began the makeover of Septa’s Highland Avenue station parking lot into a lush garden of low-maintenance native plants meant to attract pollinators, birds – and neighborhood residents. Wright, a former development executive, solicited contributions of funds and garden materials and won the loyalty of a regular team of volunteers to help build and maintain the garden.

Their work at Highland station caught the eye of Shirley Hanson, a co-founder of the Chestnut Hill Conservancy. One of the organization’s “station leaders,” Hanson is a watchdog for the 139-year-old train station at the top of the hill.

“I admired Beth Wright’s whole-hearted, intelligent, and savvy approach for outstanding results at the Highland station grounds,” Hanson noted.  “She was able to work effectively with Septa, to encourage volunteers, and to raise essential funds.” Hanson urged Wright to consider the Chestnut Hill West station and its surrounding property as her next project.

Wright, who describes herself as “a squeaky wheel with something to offer,” readily accepted, knowing that Chestnut Hill West would present a more complex challenge. 

While the Highland Avenue project involved navigating between the regional and city agencies that operate and maintain the site, that station is a relatively simple setup of train platform and parking lot on a residential street. Chestnut Hill West offers similar bureaucratic complexities – and is steps from the neighborhood’s main business corridor. The garden is bordered by one commercial property, TD Bank, and surrounds another – Truist Bank, a lessee in the station building. 

That structure, designed by W. Bleddyn Powell and completed in 1884, is listed as a “significant” building in the Chestnut Hill Historic District inventory for The National Register of Historic Places.

Wright said she was eager “to have a collaboration among the Chestnut Hill Community Association, the Conservancy and the business community because this is a site that touches all three organizations. It’s not just an extension of the native garden theme, but the opportunity to highlight and help preserve the historic building.” 

In recent years, the building has suffered some water damage as storm runoff poured downhill from the Avenue, over long-clogged drains and into its foundation. Wright credits Septa executives with taking her appeal to the Philadelphia Water Department, which sent out crews to clear the drains. “They took out a ton of mud,” she said. “We’d had floods at the corner of the building, and now that’s no longer happening.” 

Wright lined a gully at a lower corner of the site with rocks and water-loving plants. Now, any storm runoff waters the “rain garden.”

The station property poses other challenges for the volunteer group: It is peppered with gas lines and electrical boxes that complicate garden planning. There’s a prominent, unlovely dumpster outside the Truist offices, and trash drifts down from Germantown Avenue to the platform and lawn below. 

Vandalism has also been a concern. Shortly after volunteers planted three trees within the hedge-bordered green space along West Evergreen, neighbors spotted two men stoking a bonfire of the wooden stakes used to support the saplings.  

“We want this to be a green that welcomes, not a green that remains pristine,” Wright said of the grassy areas. “We want people to get to know the plants and learn how they contribute to the environment.

 “We believe that, as with West Highland, when you make something beautiful, people will be more thoughtful about their trash,” Wright said. She’s asked Septa to provide additional trash bins and said she’s “prepared to supplement Septa’s own maintenance with volunteer cleanup. And the gardens are our responsibility, we’ll maintain them.”

On Monday, two volunteers were happy to assist. “An open space like this should have trees in it,” said Rob Sawyer, a retired arborist. “For shade, for birds and animals. They should be here for decades and decades for people to enjoy.”

Landscape designer Denis Lucey, who helped Wright plot where plants should go, worked with Wright’s husband, Fabrizio Franco, to get a sweet bay magnolia into the ground. “They do very well, they have fruit birds love, and white flowers, and it’s semi-evergreen.” 

With the new trees and shrubs securely in the ground, Wright has more planned for throughout the fall: bulbs will go inside the hedged area off the parking lot, invasive plants will be removed from the slope between the platform and tracks and new benches will be placed on the station’s concrete pad and on the grass.

The list of contributors to the effort is long. TD Bank funded plants and labor from its contractor, John Ferrandino & Son, which planted magnolia trees and hydrangea, summersweet and riverbark shrubs along the bank’s rear wall. Grants from the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s Tree Fund and the Weaver’s Way Environment Committee supplemented gifts from individuals, including developer Richard Snowden and Irma Fralic of the Chestnut Hill Business District.

“I want to see Chestnut Hill beautiful,” Fralic said. “This is just about making this place beautiful, and the garden district that it is.”