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Exploring the Eastern State Penitentiary Gardens

One of the things I’ve loved about living in Philadelphia the past 9 years is witnessing the transformation of the city. In the Fairmount neighborhood, where I’ve lived the last 6 years, one of the most obvious transformations is, without doubt, the beautification of the Eastern State Penitentiary grounds. There, surrounding the remains of a the first true penitentiary in the country, is a lush, beautifully maintained garden. Run by volunteers at Friends of Eastern State Penitentiary Park, the garden is really a hidden gem in Philadelphia, exquisitely maintained by volunteers from the neighborhood.

VSCO Film 02 - Fuji Superia 100 - Flowers

Processed using Fuji Superia 100 from VSCO Film 02

There’s a private, member-only garden on the east side of Eastern State Penitentiary, but you don’t have to go inside to enjoy the garden. It’s clear that the volunteers also devote a lot of time to the entire perimeter, with a lush variety of plants.

VSCO Film 02 - Kodak Portra 400UC - Lush Plants

Processed using Kodak Portra 400UC from VSCO Film 02

If you do want to go inside the member-only section of the garden, you’ll be confronted with a locked gate. If you happen to be there on a day when members are out working on their patch, they will probably let you in.

VSCO Film 02 - Fuji Superia 100 - Garden Gate

The garden itself (on the east side) is fenced off. But if you’re lucky enough, perhaps a volunteer will let you in! Processed using Fuji Superia 100 from VSCO Film 02.

Inside the private garden, it’s really cool to see the exterior of this once terrifying space converted into a beautiful and usable garden. It’s actually quite a bit larger on the inside then you would imagine from the outside, with a winding path, a large sand pit (for kids?) and picnic tables.

VSCO Film 07 - Kodak Ektachrome 64 - Geometric Plants

Processed with Kodak Ektachrome 64 from VSCO Film 07.

It’s also slightly more elevated along the garden then you might expect, up a good 5-7 feet above street level. And because it is so expansive, without any really tall buildings in the way, you actually have a great view of the Philadelphia skyline.

VSCO Film 02 - Fuji Superia 100 - Philadelphia Skyline from Fairmount

The inside of the garden has a surprisingly uninhibited view of the skyline. Processed using Fuji Superia 100 from VSCO Film 02.

So there you have it: the Eastern State Penitentiary Gardens. One of the hidden little gems of Fairmount, and all of Philadelphia really. If you get the chance to stop by on a rainy summer afternoon, don’t miss it!

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