ESP - that's Eastern State Penitentiary on Fairmount Avenue, which I pass every day on my way to and from work. Lately I've noticed the garden around the perimeter. It's wild! and I like it that way.

Yestererday Julie Snell from PHS gave me a walking tour. She calls this a "terrace garden," and I gotta tell you, that is some terrace. It's 800 feet long, 10 feet wide, smack up against 30-foot walls in a hot, south-facing exposure.

rsz_prison

The plants that thrive here are tough - ornamental grasses, butterfly bush, a few crape myrtles, the biggest viburnums I've ever seen, hundreds of bulbs, lavender, santolina and yarrow, and lots more that I'll detail in a story on Aug. 5.

Sally Elk, president of ESP, the nonprofit that operates the prison as a national historic site, offered an interesting thought. The prison designers' original intent was "to evoke a dungeon, a castle, that would scare people walking by," she said. (Good job there.)

"We love the garden because it's beautiful," Sally added, "but it's not portraying the historical use of the building." Thus, Julie said, "We like interesting foliage and colors but there aren't a whole lot of pretty flowers."

This is a serious site, a complex place, and the garden walks a line - you want to attract visitors, but you don't want to, as Sally said, "take away from the hardness of it." Don't worry.

The garden's pretty lush. The place - still - is pretty hard.

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