March 13, 2024

MCCC Horticulturalists Win Gold Medal for “Two Cities” Urban Garden Display

“TWO CITIES, ONE GARDEN”: Mercer County Community College’s urban gardens display at the Philadelphia Flower Show won a gold medal for the second straight year and the fourth time since 2017. (Photo courtesy of Mercer County Community College)

By Donald Gilpin

Mercer County Community College (MCCC) horticulturalists have brought home a gold medal from the Philadelphia Flower Show for the second year in a row.

Their “Two Cities, One Garden” display of urban gardens at the Pennsylvania Convention Center March 2-10 was inspired by “the vibrant community gardens” of Trenton and Philadelphia, according to project overseer Amy Ricco, professor and coordinator of MCCC’s Horticulture, Plant Science, and Sustainability program.

In addition to their gold medal in the Education category, the college’s 700-square-foot display also earned two additional awards: the Chicago Horticultural Society Flower Show Medal, awarded to an educational exhibit showing outstanding horticultural skill and knowledge in a nationally recognized flower show; and a Special Achievement prize from the Garden Club Federation of Pennsylvania for unusual excellence in the Education category.

“I am so proud of the hard work, skill, and dedication our students have put into this competition,” said Ricco, as quoted in a MCCC press release. “We were up against some very talented schools.”

“United by Flowers” was the theme of this year’s Philadelphia Flower Show, which is recognized as the oldest and largest flower show in the world, and the MCCC team was told to pick a section of Philadelphia and focus their display on that area.

“Since we were the only New Jersey school that was a major exhibitor, we wanted to do Trenton, and we wanted to do a community garden,” said Ricco. They eventually worked out a sister city concept, including both Trenton and North Philadelphia.

“The two cities came together with the one garden idea,” she continued. “We are all united by that common cause.”

The MCCC horticulturalists, about a dozen students in the core group working after class hours throughout the past few months and dozens more helping out when possible, visited the Isles community development and environmental organization’s Tucker Street Garden in Trenton, and Isles came to MCCC to work with the students. In December, Ricco and an MCCC contingent visited a large community garden in North Philadelphia and worked with Philadelphia Horticultural Society community gardeners.

“We chose to incorporate elements of both cities, including an array of vegetables, pollinator plants, and educational features, such as a tool library, that emphasize the importance and accessibility of urban gardening,” said Ricco.

One of the most interesting and effective facets of the MCCC “Two Cities, One Garden” project was the students’ interviews with gardeners from Trenton and North Philadelphia. The gardeners’ stories were featured in the MCCC display.

“The students got a lot out of it because they got to see the project from someone else’s point of view, and they saw why it was so important,” Ricco said. “That was one of those moments that the students and I walked away from feeling really good. One of the things we wanted to do was to show that this can happen anywhere. You can do a garden anywhere. It’s completely accessible.”

Ricco noted that the students were also very excited about being interviewed by 6abc WPVI and being part of an ABC special that was broadcast the night the flower show opened and replayed throughout the week.

In preparing the exhibit, Ricco and her students were busy from the early fall until this week, when they had to clean up and move their garden back to the MCCC campus. “We were always doing stuff, even between Christmas and New Year’s, when I had a bunch of students in the greenhouse working,” she said. “When it came time for the show we had students volunteer to go down to Philadelphia every day to get it built — four days from the bare concrete floor of a convention center into a garden that looks like it’s been there for a long time — and the same for the cleanup.”

The lead construction person on the show floor, she noted, was MCCC Adjunct Horticulture Professor David DeFrange. “David’s knowledge and creativity really helped bring everything together,” she said.

Ricco’s class on integrated pest management helped too by keeping an eye out for insects, and she sent one of her students to the greenhouse to do special tomato fertilizing. “It is definitely a team collaboration,” she added.

She continued, “If you have stuff going on and you can make it into a learning experience, you just do it, whatever is logical for the students. This is a great experience for them. They get an opportunity to do things they might not normally get to do otherwise.”

Ricco pointed out that some members of her winning team will be back next year, some will be going on to four-year college programs in science or horticulture, and some are already in the work force in landscaping. “Our students end up at many different places, depending on what their interests are,” she said.

Ricco emphasized how impressed the Philadelphia Flower Show judges were with the MCCC students and their work, awarding the “Two Cities, One Garden” project 96 out of a possible 100 points.

“The judges said, ‘We saw what you did and it was professional quality. We had never seen some of this stuff done so well before.’ That’s a lot for all of us to be proud of,” Ricco said.