Mike Leroy teaches kids a bit of magic at the Chestnut Hill Garden Festival. (Photo by Sue Ann Rybak)

by Sue Ann Rybak

People packed Germantown Avenue for the 16th annual Home and Garden Festival. The normally traffic-congested avenue was transformed into an outdoor market filled with an array of plants and stunning wares. This year’s festival featured 170 vendors and about 90 local businesses, and community and nonprofit organizations.

According to the Chestnut Hill Business Association, nearly 15,000 people attended. Participants from as far away as Ivyland in Bucks County and Audubon, N.J., came to enjoy the festivities.

There was “dancing in the street” as live music played on two stages. No matter what your age, the annual event had something for everyone. New to the festival this year was a motorcycle show sponsored by the Venetian Social Club.

“We were very happy with the turnout,” said Peggy Miller, a spokeswoman for the Chestnut Hill Business Association. “We love seeing people of all ages come together for the festival. It’s a fun event that brings the community together.”

A favorite of this year’s festival was Berg Toys’ pedal go-karts.

“Everyone gets off the cart and has this big smile,” said Kent Julye, a representative for Berg Toys.

“I call it the ‘Berg smile whether it’s adults, teenagers or kids who are riding on the go-kart. There seems to be a switch inside that people connect with.”

“It seems like a nice toy for big kids,” said Mukul Talaty, of Huntington Park. “My 4-year-old son got on it and had a blast. It could be a good Daddy-and-me activity.”

One of those “big kids” was Gayle Davidson, who just recently moved back to Mt. Airy.

“The ride was great – I felt like a child all over again,” Davidson said.

Back again this year was Eco Alley. Noreen Spota, a member of Green in Chestnut Hill (GRinCH), said Eco Alley consists of vendors “that are doing something good for the environment.”

GRinCH, which promotes sustainable practices and raises awareness about environmental issues, has sponsored recycling events such as

“Weird Waste Day.” Spota said this year GRinCH decided to host a “freecycle” event.

“For our first freecycle event, we wanted to make it simple,” said Spota. “So, it was just books, CDs and DVDs.

Spota said there was “a huge response,” adding that the group received “thousands of books.”

“The place was mobbed,” Spota said. “We will definitely do it, again.”

A staple of the event is the Chestnut Hill Library’s open-air book sale. Angela Archer, a member of Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library, said she likes to see people “still reading off books.”

“It’s a joy to see what people like to read,” Archer said, noting that “books have a strong connection, especially for a child. Just to see a whole table full of books reminds me of when I used to climb into a corner with a book and get lost in it.”
The festival also featured a wealth of activities for kids, including rock-wall climbing, face painting and arts and crafts. Kids could paint their own Adirondack chairs.

Jessica Jenkins, director of communications at the Woodmere Art Museum said the Adirondack Chair Public Art Exhibit, entitled “Take a Seat! Adirondack Chairs Reinterpreted,” is the result of a collaboration between the Morris Arboretum and The Woodmere Art Museum. The exhibit opens May 31 at both sites.

The festival also provided a chance for children to learn. The Elmwood Park Zoo captivated youngsters with a red-tailed boa constrictor, Eastern box turtle and a giant African millipede. The zoo also was educating people about how the white-nose syndrome is decimating bats.

“It’s an ecological crisis,” said Cindy Geiger-Jenkins, a volunteer coordinator for the Elmwood Park Zoo in Norristown.

Geiger-Jenkins said the fungus, which originated in Europe, causes bats to itch and wake up.

“Just waking up,” she said, “uses half of their fat stored for the winter.”

The festival also offered participants the chance to learn about horticulture. Kay Morrissey, vice-president of the Outdoor Gardeners Garden Club, said the Home and Garden festival is the club’s biggest fundraiser of the year. All the funds raised by the nonprofit go back into the community in the form of educational projects and plantings.

Sylvia Meyers, a member of the club, shared her thoughts on the event.

“I think this is a great day for Chestnut Hill,” Meyers said. “It brings people out and into the community. It’s a great day, and the weather is holding up. We are sharing our knowledge with the community as garden club members, and our prices are good.”

* Editor’s note: An original version of this story was titled  “Hundreds attend…,” which was accurate, but only if you were counting your hundreds by 150. The actual attendance was estimated to be approximately 15,000. Hence the title change above.