What Committed Leadership, Ingenuity, and Sweat can Create

The Story behind The Eastlake P-Patch Expansion

In the densely populated neighborhood of Eastlake among the houseboats, apartments, homes, marinas and businesses, there is an oasis of greenery and flowers along the shoreline of the northern leg of Fairview Avenue – the Eastlake P-Patch garden.   Since its original founding in 1981, and subsequent enhancement in 1998, the beautiful urban garden has been very popular with local residents.  It has a waitlist of over 100 people vying to get a plot, with typical waits of over 5 years.

With the construction of the Eastlake2851 apartment complex between Eastlake and Fairview Ave., there remained a large area of stranded city-owned land behind the P-Patch consisting of a steep slope of tangled brush, weeds and blackberry bushes.  The P-Patch leaders, Barb Donnette and Mary Jones, wondered if this land, which was owned by the Dept of Transportation and Parks Dept., could be made available as an expansion to the existing 28 plots, thereby alleviating pent-up demand by Eastlake neighbors for garden plots.

In fall 2008, they began work with the city of Seattle to find a way to expand the garden.  They became aware of the Department of Neighborhoods grant program that could help underwrite this effort. This offered $15,000 grants to be matched at least 1:1 with volunteer labor (valued at $15/hr.) in a competitive review process that occurs four times a year.  In the course of determining how to develop an expansion plan to submit, they were introduced to a resident in the neighborhood, Lisa Hummel, who had been on the P-Patch wait list several years and was a professional landscape designer. She began work with them to develop a garden plan that, along with the proposal prepared by Valerie Margulis, was submitted in April 2009.

In late-May, the project was one of 33 of 100 total applicants to be awarded a $15,000 neighborhood grant; and was only P-Patch project in that funding cycle to receive such funding.   This was followed by numerous meetings with city departments throughout the summer of 2009 to provide design review and changes and to obtain all necessary land-use permits which was completed in August 2009.

The plan, which went through several iterations, consisted of 24 additional plots; a  “giving garden” for food bank donations; community herb garden; benches; hundreds of feet of plumbing and several watering stations; a stairway; and graded path.  These were spread among 3 different tiered areas up the hillside, as well as a paved area of raised bed handicap-accessible plots.

A key challenge for the landscape designer and project team was how to best utilize untrained volunteers, on a part-time work schedule, with scrap and donated materials, leveraging the grant cash, to create a garden project that, commercially, would have taken hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Ingenuity came into play.  In one example, walls were to be created from recycled broken-up concrete rubble generated by city construction work on streets and sidewalks.  This would typically have been delivered by workers to the Dept. of Transportation depot with transport to be arranged by the Eastlake P-Patch.  The expansion team convinced the city to deliver nearby rubble directly to Eastlake. In searching among the city’s surplus materials depot, hundreds of granite pavers were found that were subsequently integrated into the design.   Grant funds were used for purchase of materials such as concrete, plumbing supplies, wood, and soil and rental of machinery for grading, setting of concrete blocks and excavation.

The backbone of the effort was the volunteers and teamwork.  The P-Patch organization developed a mechanism for allowing expansion project volunteers to move up the wait list rapidly based on their hours worked, as an incentive to attract workers.  As of August 2010, there have been over 4000 volunteer hours committed in thrice-weekly work parties with hundreds of those hours alone from project managers, Brian and Rebecca Partington, and the original project leadership team.

Since the first work party in summer 2009, dozens of volunteers have contributed their time, along with several businesses that have donated materials and even gift cards.  Numerous skilled contractors have also contributed their expertise in excavation, plumbing, raised bed carpentry construction, concrete stairway building, etc.  The skilled taught the novices the finer points of how to build walls with rubble, gravel, stones and concrete; how to use string as a level; how to mix concrete, etc.  Thousands of pounds of granite, concrete sacks and soil were moved up the hill manually and by wheelbarrow.  Over time, project teams came to be managed by volunteers newly proficient in landscape construction.

The first new sites – six on the middle terrace overlooking Lake Union and 3 accessible beds – became available in mid-May 2010.  All the regularly working volunteers received plots and, to their delight, were able to plant gardens that are now in full bloom.  Work on the remaining 15 gardens on the upper terrace is well underway.

On August 21, 2010, a community celebration was held jointly with the Ward’s Cove marina and houseboat community and the Eastlake Community Council to celebrate completion of the first expansion phase and the Ward’s Cove shoreline enhancement effort.  There was music, informational booths, food and a “walking fish” decoration contest with a $100 local gift certificate award.  The mayor spoke and participated in the ribbon-cutting for both efforts and expressed strong admiration for the beautification of north Fairview, which he noted had changed significantly since he last visited the area.   He was quite familiar with the use of sidewalk rubble and SDOT salvage materials in landscaping and noted how impressed he was with the quality of the construction work and use of terraces in the P-Patch.

New volunteers have recently joined the effort to finish the 15 remaining plots on the top tier; however, there is still ample opportunity for dedicated volunteers to obtain a garden plot, most likely by time of fall planting and soil building.  The expansion of the Eastlake P-Patch garden is a testament to what can be done by individual citizens with a vision; dedicated volunteering; and responsive collaboration with the city of Seattle.

The following merchants were generous supporters and contributors to the project:

14 Carrot Café
City People’s Garden Store
Excavators Northwest
Fred Meyer (Ballard store)
Fred Meyer (Greenwood store)
The Home Depot (Bitterlake Store)
Honey Bucket
Lowe’s Home Improvement Whse.
Morgan Electric & Plumbing Supply

Napolitano Spa and Salon
Olmsted-Fairview Parks Commission
PCC Natural Market
Salmon Bay Sand & Gravel Co.
Stoneway Hardware
Trader Joe’s
Whole Foods

The Eastlake P-Patch owes special thanks to the: Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, the Seattle Department of Transportation, and the Seattle Parks Department for their support.

For video tours of the Eastlake P-Patch project during construction see the following YouTube videos:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1be0jdZCUf0 and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2guX4m3-KQ and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=owVXvfHitio

For a high-definition photo slide show of the garden see:  http://vicaso.com//16418

For information on becoming a volunteer, please contact:   Rebecca Partingon at rebeccaapartington@gmail.com


Comments are closed.