Chestnut Hill Library hosts weekly plant exchange

by Samuel Frost
Posted 5/19/21

The Chestnut Hill Library is hosting a weekly plant exchange in the new horticultural space of its building while the Library remains closed due to Covid-19 restrictions.

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Chestnut Hill Library hosts weekly plant exchange


The Chestnut Hill Library is hosting a weekly plant exchange in the new horticultural space of its building while the Library remains closed due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Before the pandemic, the library’s back rooms were mostly used for storage.

The idea to transform the storage spaces into a horticultural center formed during a meeting with the Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library.

“We had to start thinking about what else we could do, and I just thought it would be great to have something that represented the neighborhood,” said Prather O’Donnell, Branch Manager at the Chestnut Hill Library.

“Everybody up here seems like they’re crazy about gardening and horticulture, so the Friends and I thought we’d put together a horticulture collection.”

Around this time, local volunteer Ross Forester met with the managers of six regional libraries in Philadelphia to present his research on plant swap prototypes.

Inspired by the exchange at a plant store called Plantacea in Baltimore, Forester proposed the idea of using the city’s libraries to host regular plant exchanges. 

“Almost everyone was immediately open to hosting a permanent plant swap station at their branch,” Forester said.

“The Chestnut Hill Library was the first I contacted, and the manager and the Friends were most supportive, gracious and helpful, all in all an amazing team and valuable asset to the community.”

With a grant for seed money to start the plant collection, the Chestnut Hill Library began setting up repurposed space to accommodate hundreds of plants.

After Covid-19 forced a shutdown of the city’s libraries last year, the branch’s staff and volunteers began working to make the space accessible in a socially-distanced environment.

When the horticultural center finally opened this April, over one hundred plant enthusiasts arrived to celebrate the first swap.

Some waited in line for up to a half hour as they were admitted two at a time due to Covid restrictions, and nearly everyone arrived with their own plant cuttings to exchange, Forester said.

“We were delighted, a little overwhelmed and unprepared for such a huge response from the general public."

Chestnut Hill resident Doug Teague brought plant propagations from his home to share at the event.

“I’m a gardener, so to see the books and the gardening combined and to be able to swap things for free is terrific,” he said.

“I’d like to see it spread, it’s a great way to bring people together.”

The Library is hosting its weekly plant swaps most Wednesdays from 2 to 4 p.m. and requests that participants check the website regarding last minute cancellations.

“Until we can have people in the branch, we’re going try to focus on this,” O’Donnell said.

“Now that things feel a little bit safer and people have been getting vaccinated and we can have outdoor events, we thought it’d be the perfect way to open it up and introduce it to the community.”

The plant exchange is taking place on Wednesdays, from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Chestnut Hill Library, 8711 Germantown Ave. For more information and to check for cancellations, visit


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