At the corner of Kensington and Cumberland avenues, dirt piles and weeds fill a lot stretching the length of the block. The same scene continues on Elise Hanks’ walk home to Sergeant Street, passing just one fence with purple-and-white trilliums vining across it.
A similar view is found in Hanks’ backyard—currently just a slab of cement with a few potted herbs and plants bunched up in the back corner. But Hanks has taken the first steps to becoming one of the first green spaces in the East Kensington community.
Living in her Kensington home since 2013, Hanks recently launched an IndieGoGo campaign to help her raise the funds to create an outdoor green space with hanging beds, a composting area and full herb garden in her backyard, designed by Scott Torr of Bluebird Native Plants. So far, she’s raised $1,157, as of Monday evening.
Hanks has been in Philadelphia since 2007, after moving east from Colorado to attend Philadelphia University for fashion.
“I graduated from fashion school and I kind of knew in my bones that I was not really ready to do that,” Hanks said. “I did work in fashion for a while and then I worked on some farms out West and I realized how much I love farming and gardening. That was kind of the first step where I realized that I needed to do something more in growing things—whatever that means.”
The Colorado native began experimenting with different herbs and began creating tinctures—herbs set in vinegar for about a month to be used as a daily regimen—and became hooked.
“When I started making the tinctures and some of the products it was such a great feeling having grown something, made a new product,” she said. “Then to give it to other people I just felt so, I don’t know, it was a lot of pride—I just felt peaceful and I had never felt that way before.”
Terra Luna, Hanks’ business, launched officially in 2015. She has been selling her tinctures, smudge sticks, cocktail syrups and oils online from her Etsy account since 2012. Her products are also sold in vintage stores like Ritual Ritual in Northern Liberties and Moon and Arrow in Queen Village.
Hanks wants to grow the herbs for her business in her backyard to jumpstart a greener Kensington. Once she has the funding, Hanks hopes to use Terra Luna for community outreach.
Next door to Hanks is 62-year-old Christine Mellon, a lifetime resident of Kensington.
“We consider this what we call the ‘concrete jungle,’” Mellon said. “You know you don’t see many trees, you don’t see many gardens—not everyone has that privilege of living in the country or the suburbs.”
“I love flowers,” Mellon added. “And just seeing people caring enough to put a tree out front or make a garden around it is nice. It dresses up the neighborhood—there’s color and sometimes aroma depending on what they’re planting. It’s just something that’s needed, it’s necessary.”
Hanks hopes to turn her backyard into a home base for her business and a place for community.
“I want to reach out to people in the community and say, ‘Hey have you ever heard about herbs?’” she said. “Do you want to know how to grow them? Do you want to know how to even just grow them in your kitchen?’”
Hanks has reached out to the East Kensington Neighborhood Association and the New Kensington CDC to arrange programs that support her community goals.
“I think it’s a good idea that she wants to share because a lot of people want to learn things, but they just don’t know how to go about doing it,” Mellon said. “They don’t have the resources, they don’t have someone they can go to. She’s going to teach people what to do or how to do it, then that grows more interest.”
“I want [my garden] to be a space that’s community based and also works for my business,” Hanks said. “I just think there’s such a need for this kind of thing in this neighborhood.”
Gillian McGoldrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Video shot by Patrick Clark, edited by Harrison Brink.