Monday, August 20, 2007

A Place Where Everyone Can Garden

This piece of land stretched between a busy Everett road and an alley used to be vacant and trash-strewn, a bit of urban blight.

But when there's a will, there's a way to garden.

One homeowner, tired of looking at that lot, rallied her neighbors to create a community garden on the land, owned by the city and nearby Kimberly-Clark Corp.

Today anyone can work a swatch of soil at the Bayside P-Patch, on the hillside by 23rd Street and Grand Avenue. More than 30 gardeners grow vegetables, flowers, herbs and fruit trees, harvesting the produce for their families and donating extra produce to the food bank.

Anyone can garden here. The only cost is a commitment to help maintain the garden's common areas and work a plot. Collectively the gardeners have put in hundreds of hours terracing the hillside with cement chunks that used to be city sidewalks and building wood chip paths.

Gardeners are encouraged to avoid chemicals and use sustainable gardening practices, such as regularly working some of the donated Cedar Grove compost into the plots. Fish fertilizer is free for gardeners to use.

This isn't just about a place for people to grow their own cheap, fresh veggies, although it would be better for our community if we had a place like this in every neighborhood.

This is a place for people to stroll and ogle giant heads of purple cabbage, ruffled tufts of kale, too-big zucchinis and trellises of raspberries. This is a place for people to swap stories and shovels with neighbors. This is a place for city people to sink their fingers in the soil and replace a vacant lot with something that feeds families and anybody's spirit who happens to walk by.

One spirit fed: Helen Hansen. The long-time gardener visiting from Southern California walked through the garden the other day. She described the p-patch as "a drink of water."

"You can tell the people who are doing this love plants," she said, studying a nearby plot that combined flowers, herbs and veggies.

Doris Olivers works three of the 150-square-foot plots, growing a variety of vegetables, herbs and fruit. Her plots will never entirely feed her family; she supplements what she grows with trips to the farmers market and the co-op.

It's important that more people try to grow some of what they eat, even if it's a few tomatoes in pots. Communities need a diverse food supply: some from local farmers, some from grocers and some we grow ourselves, she said.

Gardening in a public space is quite different from the years Olivers spent gardening acres in Lake Stevens before she moved here, she said. People walk through the garden and stop and chat with her about what she's growing.

"People want to be gardeners but they don't realize what a constant interaction you have to have," she said. "I don't go more than a few days without checking on the garden, watering, pruning and picking. Some people think maybe you throw the seeds down and it will all happen."

That's partly true, but people have to learn how to cultivate plants, Olivers said. Most of us have lost touch with how food arrives at our table. Growing a garden or having a p-patch flourishing in the neighborhood, even a small one, is one way to gain some appreciation, to put some nourishing food on the table, to green an urban neighborhood.

Part of what makes this p-patch successful is support from city leaders and business owners, who donated supplies and use of the land. A project like this goes nowhere, however, without regular people willing to take charge, ask those city leaders and business owners for what they need, and then put in the sweat.

The Bayside P-Patch started with one idea, one person. If you'd like to start something similar in your neighborhood, begin by talking with people in your neighborhood association, and the gardeners at the Bayside p-patch can talk about how they make it work.

Reporter Debra Smith: 425-339-3197 or Visit her gardening blog at The Herald Web site,

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