August 24th, 2016 (WPVI) --In the 1800s, before there were public parks, cemeteries served as community picnic spots and the tombstones were adorned with beautiful grave gardens.
The Woodlands on the banks of the Schuylkill River in West Philadelphia is a prime example, an oasis of green in the city, and the non-profit is hosting a special event to celebrate their newly restored garden cemetery and invite visitors to discover this hidden treasure.
The Woodlands dates to 1788. It was built as a private estate, then converted a half century later into a cemetery. "We're still an active cemetery but we're also an historic site," says Executive Director Jessica Baumert, "and we act very much like a park for the community."
This spring, they launched The Grave Gardeners project, asking volunteers to help restore some of the cemetery's cradle graves-Victorian style tombstones with built in container gardens.
"We had over 70 people who were extremely enthusiastic and interested in becoming what we're calling our grave gardeners," says Baumert.
Saturday, September 17th from 1-4pm, The Woodlands is hosting Grave Garden Fète to show off their work and raise money to restore even more cradle graves next year.
"We're really excited for the Garden Fète," says Baumert, "it's going to be a great event, an opportunity for the public and hopefully for a lot of new visitors to come explore the site."
She encourages visitors to pack a spread and come picnic. There will also be a handful of workshops.
"We're going to have a natural dye workshop using all things that have been collected from the ground-black walnuts, acorns," says Baumert, "It's a really fun place to come and explore, and we're kind of a hidden gem right now so we're trying to bring more people to the site all the time and show them this is a really significant place in Philadelphia."
You can learn more about the history of the Woodlands and the Grave Gardener's Project at www.woodlandsphila.org