Temple helps create winter wonderland in the heart of Philadelphia

Several stories below the feet of William Penn at City Hall, a wintery land of gardens, mazes, skating, lights, topiaries and more is taking root.

Dilworth Park's Wintergarden, featuring America's Garden Capital Maze, will open for a second season on Friday, November 10 on the Albert M. Greenfield Lawn.

Center City District, partnering with Greater Philadelphia Gardens, of which the Ambler Arboretum of Temple University is a part, has had a dedicated group of volunteers working diligently to make this vision of willow-branch archways, evergreens, trees, perennials, shrubs, and topiary sculptures from 34 area gardens a reality and Temple students, faculty and staff have been right there in the thick of it building a winter oasis among the high rises.

"It was a wonderful opportunity to get an insider's view of what goes into creating the Wintergarden and help lay the foundation for this incredible public space," said Temple Landscape Architecture sophomore Michelle Armour, who assisted with installing the walkways. "I had a chance to see all of the plants that were being used and how they fit in the overall plan and gain some insight into just want an important location Philadelphia and the surrounding region is for gardens in horticulture. There's truly nothing like it in the country."

According to Greater Philadelphia Gardens, the goal of the Wintergarden and maze are to celebrate the region's horticultural heritage and its distinction as America's Garden Capital with more gardens in proximity than anywhere else on the continent. With more than 30 public gardens — including the Ambler Arboretum — within 30 miles of the city, Philadelphia is unique for visiting public garden spaces.

Last year more than 200,000 people visited the Ice Rink and Wintergarden, sponsored in part by Temple University. The Wintergarden is open to the public from now through February 25, 2018. The America's Garden Capital Maze was made possible by a generous $300,000 grant from the William Penn Foundation to the Center City District Foundation.

"This is a really important part of promoting all public gardens in the region while getting people outside and into nature when they usually 'hibernate,'" said Kathy Salisbury, Director of the Ambler Arboretum of Temple University. "It builds a greater understanding that gardens and 'natural' public spaces can happen anywhere, even at City Hall — I love how this space looks among the skyscrapers!"

According to Salisbury, the volunteer opportunities for Temple alumni, students, faculty and staff haven't ended with the opening of the Wintergarden. They are in fact just beginning, she said. For the first time, members of the Temple community will lead a series of "Ask the Expert" opportunities that will take place in the America's Garden Capital Maze following free educational workshops presented by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society in the Rothman Institute Cabin. See the complete free garden workshop schedule at dilworthpark.org and americasgardencapital.org/wintergarden.

"Volunteers will be available after educational programs at the park for one to two hours to answer basic horticultural questions. These "Ask the Expert" sessions will provide Temple faculty, staff, alumni and students an opportunity to interact with the public and answer horticultural questions about the garden and about winter horticulture in general while representing the Ambler Campus and Temple University," she said. "It's an opportunity open to anyone with background or knowledge in horticulture, whether they are horticulture and landscape architecture majors or something else entirely. We'll provide Temple swag so they'll be warm if there is cold weather!"

One or two "Ask the Expert" volunteers are needed per session. Session dates and times are: Saturday, December 2, 12 to 2 p.m. and 2 to 4 p.m.; Tuesday, December 12, 2 to 4 p.m.; Tuesday, January 9, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.; Saturday, January 13, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Tuesday, January 23, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.; Saturday, January 27, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Tuesday, February 6, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.; Saturday, February 10, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Tuesday, February 13, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.; Saturday, February 24, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. For information or to volunteer for "Ask the Expert," contact kathleen.salisbury@temple.edu or at 267-468-8400.

Master of Landscape Architecture student Karen Steenhoudt already got a taste of just how interested the community is in the Wintergarden and America's Garden Capital Maze while she was helping to install plant beds.

"I think I most enjoyed interacting with the people that passed by. Some would stand and watch us work while others asked questions — 'What is happening?' 'When will it open?' 'What plants are you using and why?'" she said. "One yelled out 'Great progress!' and that's when I realized many people were keeping an eye on what we were doing each day as they went to work or used the subway. Watching this place that they pass every day transform into this wonderful garden space was building excitement and anticipation for them as well — it's a great feeling to be a part of something that everyone can enjoy."

Salisbury said community partnerships like the Wintergarden "are essential to all of our success."

"We can't do things like the Wintergarden or events and programs at the Ambler Arboretum all on our own. Working together, look what we can accomplish," she said. "The gardens represented by the Wintergarden and America's Garden Capital Maze are unique, incredible resources for their communities and truly for each other. I hope that visitors will take the time to learn about each garden and then decide to go exploring — I think they'll be amazed at what they find!"