A Philly family fought 40 years to turn drug-infested land into a garden. Then, it was sold at sheriff’s sale.


A garden was created by Marcelino Esquilin, pictured, in the vacant lots behind his family’s house. Charles Fox / Staff Photographer

“That’s more than 40 years he dedicated to soil,” Cartagena said. “He saw the gardens as an art piece. The majority of his life lessons in regard to us were teaching us how to determine when a particular crop is ready, when it’s not.”

By Samantha Melamed
The Inquirer
April 17, 2019


It was to protect his kids that his father, Marcelino Esquilin, began cleaning up the lots on North Palethorp Street, in a section of North Philadelphia near Kensington. He put up fences and “no trespassing” signs. In the subsequent four decades or so, he transformed the lots into a ramshackle, but safe, haven. He planted peach and apricot trees, cultivated grape vines, sowed eggplant and vianda, a starchy tuber.

“His plan was to utilize it in a way that not only he benefits from it but the neighbors benefit from it,” Cartagena said. His father would run informal workshops for neighborhood kids, share produce with passersby, buy fencing from scrappers, and hire those who were struggling to help with the yard work. It became an eccentric neighborhood landmark, known for its carousel horses planted high up on posts, like sentries.

Esquilin died six months ago, leaving unfinished the business of seeking to safeguard his life’s work. He never knew that three of the four plots that make up the garden had already been sold at sheriff’s sale.

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