Peter Verrecchia could claim going green has become ho-hum if he were not so talented at redefining what the distinction means. For the last three years, he has graced his Passyunk Square neighborhood with his horticultural skills by planting and nurturing an array of flowers and greens at Columbus Square Park, 12th and Wharton streets.
Verrecchia, of the 1400 block of South 13th Street, moved to his neighborhood in 1996 and began planting trees in Fairmount Park in ’97. The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society made him a Tree Tender soon after and the nurse at Pennsylvania Hospital organized seasonal tree-plantings for community members following the ’04 establishment of the Passyunk Square Civic Association.
Though numerous trees, including bald cypresses, hawthorns and London plains, adorn the park’s perimeter, the floral aspects dominate.
“I plant whenever the spirit moves me,” he said of the impressive area, which includes dazzling Mexican sunflowers and 30 varieties of roses.
The spirit has moved him enough to consider additions to the park, but his motivation stems from nature’s flexibility.
“I see that adults and children are inspired by the ever-changing natural world. All of this stuff truly uplifts people and allows them to consider new possibilities,” he said.
To accentuate novel opportunities, Verrecchia often calls on tradition for guidance. His family has lived in the neighborhood for the last century and he has propagated his grandmother’s fig tree over the years, adding one to the park and giving others to diverse admirers. The tree, its arboreal brethren and the flowers receive his attention daily.
“All Italian South Philly grandmothers have fig trees, so I had to honor my grandmother,” Verrecchia said.
As for the honor of earning recognition as a Difference Maker, he is humble.
“It’s nice. I can’t be anymore articulate about it,” he said.
Of the recipient of his kindness, however, he is less laconic.
“I believe that public spaces like this park and garden should be revered and cherished,” he said. “We have the opportunity to change a ‘no-man’s land’ into a center for public discourse.”
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